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Take a look at what is in your energy bars and sports drinks

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.”


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Reader Comments (20)

A contentious topic to end the year as so much of what is found in stores is designed for profits not health. Yes there seems to be so many choices but few are any better than what nature provides.

Let's hope there is a bonk bag for bloggers as I wish for many more months of Moulton insights and commentaries on the world of cycling.

Happy New Year Dave and let's hope that the continuing hatred and ignorance towards cyclists (demonstrated in the Rabinowitz rant below) comes to an end. I know it's a lot to wish for given our political climate so try to stay safe everyone.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Thanks Jack,
May I wish you and all those who stop here to read my articles, a Happy and Healthful 2014. Keep reading, keep riding, and always be safe.

December 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Over the last few months we've seen reports that more and more marketed products don't do what they claim. These include vitamin pills and many prescription drugs. The list grows almost daily and, as you noted, include highly processed food products.

It's hard to beat peanuts and raisins as a nearly perfect balance of carbs, proteins and fats. As far as drinks go lemonade is OK but water is best. Water is what your body expects and is designed to process. If you insist on a flavored drink my favorite choice is a heavy IPA but that has a few side effects that can wreck havoc if too much is consumed.

I personally can't stand energy bars and neither can any of our school P.E. teachers who feel that High Fructose sweeteners affect people in ways we really don't understand - yet. Is it any coincidence that the rise in obesity has mirrored the rise in food processing?

Dave, keep up the excellent work - both your investigations and your writing.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

I use fig newtons or kalamata Figs on my rides. Each fig newton has about 50 cals and that seems to keep me going for about 20-30 mins, so I know when I need to eat. They don't make me thirsty, and they seem to work for me. Also, they're easy to carry.

I tried protein bars once....it was a (Gastrointestinal) disaster! Never again!

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohann

Malt loaf spread with honey or old fashioned bread pudding. Yum
Happy 2014 Dave.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJW

The best thing I ever ate while riding was a ripe peach I had put in my jersey pocket. I salivate every time I think about that peach. I agree with Dave that real food is the best way to eat. A peanut butter and honey, or jam sandwich is easy to make. Each half PB&J becomes a "bar".

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P

When I think back to what I did eat in the late 40s early 50s when racing like Dave, I SHUDDER! BUT, Dave and I survived, rode raced and did pretty good at it, Of Course MAYBE if we had kept to a more HEALTY? (no fried foods!) diet MAYBE we would have done even better. Dave Keeler was strict vegetarian and he was one of the top riders in his day, I have always thought (dangerous at my age) that the modern health bars, drinks etc are nothing but another way to take your money and that by eating lots of fruits veggies, drinking lots of WATER is the only way to go. BUT once again CORP greed and profit is the motive for selling most the junk they do. The new take a pill to feel great is B/S gets to the point that you now take a pill to get over taking a pill, Just read on the label the negatives of taking THAT pill and you will NEVER take one again.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Happy Holidays Dave, May you have a great 2014.

One thing stuck out at me in your paragraph on arsenic. I remember reading that the phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." had to do with the fact that apple seeds contain arsenic and that trace amount tended to keep away common ailments. These days most of us toss the core and spit out the seeds but in the old days it was common to eat the whole fruit seeds and all.

On another note: There was an energy bar of sorts made for people intending to climb Mt. Logan (In Canada I think) called Logan Bread. I came upon the recipe in the NY Times Natural Foods Cookbook in the '70s and used to make it as a snack for hiking and bike touring. It was very much like a Cliff Bar in texture. You could also use it to hold down the corners of your tent in blustery conditions.


December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRob Hildebrand

New info From DM for me on a much covered topic - did not know about the rice/arsenic conflation. I use some of these products, mostly for anti-bonk purposes. Industrialized food - bane of our modern existence.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

Happy New Year to all!

Don't get my wife started on wheat! None of it is natural anymore, all genetically "enhanced" to the point of no value other than profit$. Intersting book on the subject titled "Wheat Belly".

I know there is a lot of fingers pointed at corporations driving for higher profits. That is what they do and should for the share holders. What drives this is the markets interest in what they produce. We hold the power of choice to consume or not. If we demand quality products and don't consume the the sh.., they will pursue other avenues of revenue. As a culture, we have to make the choice. Ignorance is not bliss either.

December 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

I too have been drawn into the energy bar/drink brigade and have found it to be unpleasant and not really that effective. Now back to plain water (not filtered but i think this is a good idea) and my own bars made from porridge oats, peanut butter, honey and raisins. Figs and dates also seem to work very well. All mass produced/manufactured food comes with hidden addatives.

December 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLen Clark


Apple seeds actually contain trace amounts of cyanide - not arsenic. I think the 'apple a day' saying was more euphemistic than anything else. Something like having something nice happen to you once daily at least being the best thing to improve spirits and health.

Of course, people who ride bikes have a really convenient 'apple a day' at hand - my bike rides certainly are a 'nice' thing every day. :)

December 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohann

I don't see how you can say that HFCS has "little or no nutritional value." Regardless of it's origin, it's a simple sugar and the body processes it as such. It provides calories in an easily digested, easily-absorbed form. Of course it's a bad idea to eat it all the time, especially if you're sedentary, which most people end up doing because of how ubiquitous it is. But we wouldn't be much better off if we simply replaced all HFCS with cane sugar.

December 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZen Punk

Up North, us cloth cap and clogs lot from Manchester used to call a Musette a "butty bag". You would have been laughed out of the evening chaingang ride as being too posh if you called it a Musette! Something like "Who do you think you are, Jaques Anquetil?"

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

And for us Surrey kids it was a bonk bag. In those days the bonk was the sudden lack of energie caused by forgetting to eat. Have a good 2014 Dave and keep up the good work.

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

We use to add glucose in our stinky alloy water bottles, But I always found that a good pint at elevenses solved any bonk problems, BUT Dave and the group HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR I will be going with www.creeksidebikes.com group on a 40 mile to morrow hammer down all the way! maybe I will win the King of the Mountain prize? John Crump Parker.Colorado USA

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

My son prefers an awful re-hydrating drink he makes using sea salt and other semi-combustable materials. The taste makes it nearly undrinkable to me but he seems to prefer it. Personally I like the idea of an icy cold pint. My urologist states (emphatically) that beer is one of the world's best hydrating liquids. Clams that it actually dehydrates come from people who drink an entire six-pack and then wonder why they have to pee.

California law prohibits open containers in motor vehicles but not bicycles. It's possible to get a DUI ticket on a bike and therefore one must watch amounts consumed, alcoholic content, and (ultimately) the ability to walk / bike / crawl a straight line.

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

My conclusion? Pastrami on rye with frites would make the perfect cycling food. Inconvenient to put in one's lovely Solo jersey pocket, but much more straightforward than these energy bars and gels. Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2014.

January 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTimJ

Funny thing. Just commissioned my daughter to sew me up a musette.
It's frightening to see what is being done to our food supply. We are not far behind here in Australia, I suspect.
Looking forward to your musings in 2014, Dave.

January 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

This weekend I did 81mi in a 20mph paceline in a rain/hailstorm. I ate 1.5 PBJs, a candy bar, and a pint of regular tap water. Amateurs worry too much about food, probably because it's an easier pro affect than huge base miles or winning races.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders
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