Energy bars have become the standard and convenient way for cyclists to carry food when racing or training. Used by professional cyclists in events like the Tour de France most amateur cyclists and weekend warriors follow suit, not even stopping to look at what they might be consuming.
Protein shakes have become popular among body builders and other athletes as a way to lose fat and pack on lean muscle. A whole new Sports Nutrition industry has sprung up, and a lot of misinformation is being fed to athletes along with the food products.
Most meal replacement protein shakes and energy bars contain Soy Protein Isolate. (Read the ingredients label.)
"Soy protein isolate is a dry powder food ingredient that has been separated or isolated from the other components of the soybean, making it 90 to 95 percent protein and nearly carbohydrate and fat-free."
On the face of it that might seem okay, but like all highly processed foods, it has little or no nutritional value left. The same with “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” another ingredient in many energy bars. It is corn processed until all that remains is pure carbohydrate and again very little nutritional value.
Some energy bars have the ingredient “Organically Grown Brown Rice Syrup.” This sounds much better than “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” but again it has little or no nutritional value, and is just the sugar or carbohydrate isolated from rice instead of corn.
The problem also with brown rice based products is that many of these are grown in fields that were previously used to grow cotton, and were sprayed with arsenic as an insecticide. This arsenic stays in the soil for years, and is absorbed by the rice.
Arsenic also occurs naturally in some soil, the problem is that rice absorbs arsenic more readily than other plants. Even if it is not enough to kill a person, ask yourself, do you even want to consume even trace amounts of this poison?
Soy too can be highly toxic. What makes soy products even worse is that 90% to 95% of soy grown in the US is Genetically Modified. It is modified to withstand the herbicide “Roundup.” This means the fields can be sprayed with this widely used weed killer and it will not kill the soy plant.
The active ingredient in Roundup herbicide is called glyphosate, which is responsible for the disruption of the delicate hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle. "It's an endocrine buster," says UK pathologist Stanley Ewen, "that interferes with aromatase, which produces estrogen."
It is especially dangerous to females and unborn children. There can be miscarriages or birth defects. Men and young boys can experience Gynecomastia. (Breast enlargement, or man boobs.) Some men experience decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
There is a lot of information on the subject of processed food on the Internet. I have provided a few links in this article, these in turn link to many more. Far be it for me to tell people what to eat, but I am finding it is not always a good thing to believe blindly what the food, and sports nutrition companies tell us.
I’ll agree that energy bars are convenient, but I have stopped using them altogether. I drink filtered tap water, and take electrolyte tablets to replace the lost salts and minerals. For the most part I have stopped consuming any highly processed food.
You might consider limiting energy bars to their use when racing only. If you are consuming them on a daily basis even when not riding, ask yourself what nutritional value are you getting? And worse are you slowly poisoning yourself?
When I started racing back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were no energy bars. My mother made me a solid rice pudding with raisins in it, sometimes a bread pudding. I would cut this into pieces and wrap in foil or grease proof paper.
Three ounces of deli roast beef has 24 grams of protein, a beef sandwich has as much protein as the average protein bar. On your next long ride, try taking some cold boiled potatoes. Small, bite size, boiled so they are soft enough to bite into, but not so soft they break or get squished in your pocket. Carried in a plastic bag they are easy to munch on as you ride.
Potatoes have a high glycemic index, which means they are quickly turned into energy. They are a nutrient rich source of potassium and vitamin C. Make sure you eat the skin because that’s where most of the nutrients are.
You can also make your own energy bars, that way you know what is in them. Some natural foods like bananas, potatoes, are not as compact as an energy bar, so I have gone back to what I did in the 1950s.
I carry a musette on my longer rides. (Left.) This can be folded up and put in my jersey pocket when empty. We used to call them a “Bonk Bag” for good reason, but thinking about it, it is more an “Anti-Bonk Bag.”