There's no shortage of options when it comes to energy bars. (Amelia Clute/Ast. Dining Editor)

April 9, 2021

Stop Overpaying for Energy Bars: Grab a Snickers Instead

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To avoid costing The Cornell Daily Sun any lawsuits, I must first disclose that I am not a nutritionist — the information in this article is purely anecdotal and should not be taken as nutritional advice. You know your body better than I know your body. Make the right choices for you.

As a Division I athlete who spends anywhere from 20 to 25 hours a week practicing an endurance sport, I’m no stranger to overpriced — and frankly, nauseating — energy bars. One single stroll down the fitness food aisle in Wegmans reveals a plethora of cleverly marketed bars which, at their core, are nothing more than glorified candies. Clif Bloks, a popular quick-energy source for many endurance athletes from the creators of Clif Bars, closely resemble gummy bears in texture, taste and sugar content. One serving of Clif Bloks contains 14 grams of sugar, exactly the amount present in one serving of Trolli gummy worms. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disparaging these products for having lots of sugar. You need carbohydrates to fuel a long training session. Some nutritionists even recommend that athletes consume “approximately [one quarter to one third] of your body weight (lbs) in grams each hour of training or racing beyond 45-90 minutes.” For a 150-pound athlete, this could equal up to 50 grams of carbohydrates per hour, or about the amount in two Snickers bars. 

Of course, this is not to say that carbohydrates are the only nutrients which you should pay attention to while training. Sodium and fiber content can both play a huge role in an athlete’s performance and their sustained energy levels throughout a long workout. Companies like Clif emphasize the “sustained energy” that their bars provide, coming mainly from the four grams of fiber present in most bars. Clif Bars are very reliable workout fuel, but it can be hard to cough up the $1.30 per bar. Candies are a much more affordable — and tasty! — option in my experience, and their faults can be easily sidestepped with a little creativity. 

To make up for the lack of fiber in many candies, I have found that eating three to four “fun sized” bars during training works best for me. This equals out to a similar amount of calories and sugar as a Clif Bar, but I avoid the inevitable sugar crash that comes from eating 25 grams of sugar in one sitting by spacing the candies out. In practice, the breakdown looks a bit like this: one candy before the workout, and then one candy for every subsequent 25 to 30 minutes of endurance work. 

You may recognize this approach to workout nutrition as similar to the “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) line of thought. IIFYM emphasizes that all foods can fit into any diet if you do it right; it encourages the individual to focus more on a food’s macronutrient breakdown — the amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein — than its perceived “healthiness.” While many people prefer “unprocessed” sugars like maple syrup, someone following IIFYM might eat white sugar instead, citing their almost identical macronutrients. It’s worth noting that this style of eating has some obvious flaws; IIFYM can downplay the importance of vitamins and other micronutrients which are crucial to good overall health. Additionally, IIFYM does not account for fiber which will slow the absorption of sugar and help prevent crashes. For this reason, I only apply the IIFYM approach during workouts when the amount of carbohydrates I eat is undeniably more important than how processed they may be. As an old teammate once said, “If the fire’s hot enough, anything will burn.” 

Above all else, this is a call to recognize marketing scams in the health food sphere. Many companies advertise their products as healthy by labeling them with words like “unprocessed,” “organic,” “whole” or “all-natural” when in reality these products have similar effects on the body as their “unhealthy” counterparts. Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Crunch cereal, for example, adorns their packaging with phrases like “organic whole grain.” All the while, 100 grams of this cereal contains 30 grams of sugar, the same amount of sugar present in 100 grams of Froot Loops. At Wegmans, the Cascadian Farm cereal is $0.40 perounce while the Froot Loops (when bought in a Family Pack) come as low as $0.23 per ounce. Marketing ploys like these justify most health foods’ astronomical prices by making the customer feel like they are making the healthy decision while companies benefit from our ignorance. 

I’m not telling you to avoid all PowerBars, or to never eat Clif Bloks again. I am, however, trying to raise awareness about how easily fitness foods can fool us with a bit of clever language. When working out, your body just needs fast, simple sugars; it hardly cares if this glucose comes from a Milky Way bar or expensive Honey Stinger gummies. American grocery stores are already overflowing with cheap, sugary products, so why overpay? I don’t recommend that you apply this logic to every meal, as I truly believe that all sugar is not made equal. An apple will keep you fuller for much longer than candy will because of its fiber and water content, despite both foods being relatively high in sugar. But when working out, sometimes you just need some sugar — and your wallet shouldn’t suffer as a result. 

Amelia Clute is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She currently serves as one of the dining editors on The Sun’s editorial board. She can be reached at aclute@cornellsun.com.