Battle of the Bars – Round 3!

So it’s been about 3 years since the last one of these. We’ve not only added more bars to the field, but this take on trail bars utilizes a more appropriate method of analysis – and to top it all of you’ll get a free lecture, ahem, sidebar on general nutrition. We’ve also migrated to a much better graphical tool so the results are super nice looking and easily readable. Have some fun, play with the interactive stuff and stay for the insights. This is a small start to the future of a larger nutrition project we’ll be working on, so please check it out and see how your favorite bars ranked.

Why Bars

What is it that makes bars sooo special? Perhaps that simple yet magical rectangular shape? It could be. Ok, probably not – more likely, it’s just the convenience of having a pre-portioned snack, wrapped up and ready to go. So, instead of bars what are some other options we might consider? Well, if you’re inclined to cook, bake, or assemble you can find just about everything you need to make your own right at the grocery store – and it’s almost a certainty that yours will be healthier than store bought, which is literally food for thought. Here are a couple of shockers which you’ll hopefully take away from this post:

  1. Most energy bars are far from health food, more like expensive candy bars.
  2. Candy bars are not always bad for you,

Don’t Trust People with Blogs

Right! We totally see the conundrum here, but mull this over… The previous two rounds of Battle of the Bars provided what seemed like a somewhat logical approach to ranking a handful of bars. For transparency, the scoring formula was even posted, but none the less the results are a bit misleading (in hindsight). So consider this post a correction.

The first problem was the math. While the approach was a logical one, it was just not a very mathematically sound method of compiling a score from multiple variables. This analysis will use a very simple, and much more appropriate tactic: the Geometric Mean (which you can read all about if you’re curious). This takes care of the math bit, the second issue is at least equally as important though.

The second problem was the failure to really consider what makes a “good” bar/snack. It’s not really enough to say “well, it has 120 calories per ounce, so that’s great!”. Different situations have different nutritional demands. Here are some scenarios (which will be discussed in more depth in a future article on nutrition)…

  1. Actively Burning Calories: When you’re exercising for extended periods of time, such as a long hike or run, your body will prioritize converting glucose into energy. You have a reduced insulin response and sugary snacks are actually good fuel to keep the engine burning. Likewise, snacks heavy in fats and protein will slow the digestive process down, forcing your body to switch over to burning glycogen and/or fat.
  2. Really Long Day or Back to Back Trail Days: Certain products out there tout the benefits of protein during exercise, and there are studies that back this up. Generally small amounts of protein ingested later into the day seem to be more advised than a steady intake of protein from the get go, which can actually slow digestion and create a bottleneck for glucose to find its way into your bloodstream.
  3. Thru Hiking or Extended Trips: Fats have more than twice the calories per gram than carbs. In cases where calorie expenditure is bordering on ridiculous, fats are friends (never saturated fats or trans fats though). In the case of thru hiking, it happens to be about the ideal aerobc exercise, and it happens to be one that most people do 10-12 hours a day or more. Aerobic exercise is the most effective way to burn fat, so it’s no mystery why thru hikers are so lean!
  4. Sittin’ Around Snacking: Periods of low activity, being lazy, binge watching Netflix… all good times to reach for a snack with low glycemic load. Sweeteners like honey and agave nectar balanced with whole grains and nuts are the kind of things to look for. Avoid spiking up your blood sugar which just kicks off the vicious insulin spike, then get hungry again cycle. There’s no reason to eat a bunch of carbs to go couch surfing.

At the end of the day we’re just talking about some snack bars here, but you can start to see why it’s not just a straight forward answer as to which is best. All of this will be the foundation for future analysis to come of other foods and meals for consumption out on the trail.

Just Figure It Out Yourself!

How rude! Actually you’ll like this… You can swap around the parameters (above the chart) to generate a custom scoring method. The results are scored 1-5, with 5 being best. Anything you put into the gray box will NOT count towards the score. It should be self explanatory but here are a couple of notes:

  1. You must have at least one parameter in the “Higher Values Increase Score” box.
  2. If you have only one parameter in the “Higher Values Increase Score” box, and nothing in the other box, the chart will display the actual value of the parameter instead of the 1-5 score. This is a quick way to compare a data point, such as how many calories/ounce the bars have.

Drag and Drop the Parameters to Change Scoring

  • Not
  • Cost ($/oz)
  • Protein (g/oz)
  • Fat (cals/oz)
  • Glycemic Load
  • Higher Values
    Increase Score
  • Calories (cals/oz)
  • Carbs (g/oz)
  • Lower Values
    Increase Score
  • Saturated Fat + Trans Fat + Cholesterol (g)

Nutritional Info

You can click here (oops, little hiccup… we’ll have the nutritional info up soon…) to display the nutritional information of all the bars in this survey. One thing we have learned from this approach of scoring the bars, is that it’s a very polarizing method of scoring. If you put any parameters into the “Lower Values Increase Score” box you probably noticed that all of a sudden a few bars jumped out – that’s the idea. It’s important to realize that if you just want a lot of calories and carbs, a candy bar is going to deliver that. On the other hand if you’re prioritizing protein and wanting to eat as little saturated fat and cholesterol as possible then the candy bars fall right to the bottom of the list. Ok, you’ve got the idea, now go have some fun. -JD

Jacob D Written by:

Dad, Runner, Student, Berserker, Questionable Partner... on my path to living an exceptional and real life.