Monday, July 3, 2006

The education of Julee: Lesson 1. Energy bars.

The last time I did any serious hiking/camping, we carried out plastic bags filled with dried fruits and nuts (otherwise simply known as "GORP") for munching on while we were on the trail - a quick way to fend off hunger pangs until we could get a "real" meal into our stomachs.

Now, there are energy bars that effectively cure the need for a quick snack. However, they have the advantage of delivering the same number of calories as dried nuts and fruit but in a much more compact and lightweight form - important in keeping the weight of a backpack down.

Since I'm such a foodie who will pretty much eat anything, I initially thought that filling an empty stomach was not going to be a problem for me but the more I read about the trip, the more I realized that there might be times when I will not be anywhere NEAR a place that sells food. So, I decided to bring some energy bars along in case I hit a sugar low and need to replenish the calories. The question was what bar to bring along.

My cousin Sandy is a product manager for Clif Bar Inc out in Berkeley CA so my gut reaction was to load up on these but I was curious about what other choices are available and so I opted to do a bit of "research" before making any purchases.

I began my education with a trip down the supermarket aisle where I quickly got overwhelmed with all the available choices. After a few minutes of reading nutritional labels, I decided I needed advice and so I asked a colleague, who I know actively works out, for suggestions. He introduced me to the Tri-O-Plex bar which is not available on supermarket shelves but there are a number of websites that you can buy from. Of all the bars I tested, the Tri-O-Plex has the most fiber (from whole grains) and protein - a whopping 30g which is about 25% higher than any bar that you can buy in the supermarket . It also weighs in at a hefty 118G - nearly 40% heavier than any bar you can buy in the stores. Given that I wanted to keep the weight of my backpack down, it wasn't going to be possible to load up on just Tri-O-Plex bars so my search for a suitable energy bar continued.

I went back to the store and bought some sample bars. In total, I tested and compared 8 different bars - Luna and Clif Bar (both made by Clif Bar), Tri-O-Plex, PowerBar (the granddaddy of energy bars), and Larabar (developed by a woman based in Colorado). I documented the nutritonal label contents for each bar so I could also compare them from a purely nutritional vs. taste perspective.
Based on my purely "unscientific" testing, my conclusions are:

a. For pure calories, fat, protein, and carbs, the Tri-O-Plex wins hands down - it is the ultimate bar for anyone who seriously works out. The Tri-O-Plex costs about the same as the PowerBar Protein Plus bar (around $2) but delivers more "punch" from an energy perspective.

b. For fiber, the Larabar is the winner though they are also the ones most loaded in fat which comes primarily from nuts.

c. For a protein/vitamin/mineral supplement, PowerBar Protein Plus is the way to go.

d. For overall balanced nutrition, my vote is for the Luna bar which is also provides essential vitamins/minerals - not surprising since Luna bars are specifically targeted at women who are "on the go".

e. For taste, Clif Bar has my vote. (...and it's not because Sandy works for the company!)

f. A Snickers bar would do just fine for "sugar lows" and quickly replenishing calories but with the heat and humidity that I will be encountering, carrying anything chocolate is not an option.

So....what am I taking with me? Clif Mojo Bars for those times when I want something sweet/salty that is also light in calories and PowerBar ProteinPlus for dealing with serious pangs of hunger.

....and the learning process continues. Stay tuned as I report back on how I plan to quelch my thirst during this trip!