Choosing the Right Nutrition Bar – A Few Simple Tips

Nutrition bars have become a “go to” snack for many health conscious individuals. They are convenient, require no preparation, and are easy to store in a desk or take along in a purse or backpack. They require no refrigeration and come in a wide variety of flavors to suit every taste and palate.

Depending on the bar, they can function as a snack or as a meal replacement. There are literally hundreds of brands, recipes and flavors on the market which makes it hard to choose the best one for you. They vary wildly in terms of caloric content, ingredients, and Protein/Carbohydrate/Fat ratios. And, some of them are not much more than expensive junk food bars. All of this leaves you wondering, just how healthy are these bars?

If you want to choose a healthy bar, and one that works for your particular needs, you have to understand that it is all about the ingredients. And, you have to learn to read labels. Whether you are looking for a healthy snack, a protein boost, a carbohydrate fix or a meal replacement, you need to understand what is in the bar if you want to get the benefits you desire.

A good place to start is with the ingredient list and the nutritional facts label. Every bar has one, and just reading these two labels will tell you everything you need to know.

Regardless of whether you are looking for a nutrition bar that is high protein, high carbohydrate or a combination, there are certain ingredients that are simply not healthy for you.

For a nutrition bar to be healthy, it should not contain a significant amount of added sugar. Dried fruit such as dates, cranberries, apple etc should provide enough sweetness. If however there is added sugar, it should not be among the first 3 or 4 ingredients and it should not contain corn syrup of any sort. Nor should it contain any “sugar” with a chemical sounding name. Natural sugars such as honey, agave or brown rice syrup are healthier as long as they are used in small amounts.

While you do not want a nutrition bar to contain a lot of fats, there are good fats and bad fats. The body needs fat to function properly. Nuts and seeds are high in fat but these are good fats. They are good for your body and regulating metabolism. Bad fats include any product that contains hydrogenated fats. These should be avoided.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to provide detailed nutritional counseling, certain basics apply. Carbohydrates are digested quickly and give a quick burst of energy. Protein takes longer to digest and thus helps one feel fuller longer. Fats slow down the digestive process of carbohydrates and help with metabolic and brain function. Fiber helps move waste and toxins through the body ad any calories not used are stored as fat.

Based on their specific needs, you should look at the amount of fiber, calories, protein and carbohydrates in a whichever nutrition bar you plan to choose. Each of these items serves a particular purpose. So the individual needs of each consumer come into play here.

Perfect for runners, bicyclists and other athletes, anyone needing a burst of energy should opt for a high carbohydrate nutrition bar.

Many people are following a high protein or zone diet should pay attention to the Carbohydrate to Protein ratio. If the goal is to use the bar as a meal replacement it should contain about 1/3 each of carbs, protein and fats.

Nutrition bars can be a great addition to a healthy eating program. They can curb cravings, help level out blood sugar, give you a quick burst of energy or, in a pinch, act as a meal replacement. Choosing wisely can help achieve weight loss and good health. However, if you don’t pay attention, you may be buying very expensive candy bars.

What You Should Know About Pre-Workouts

 

Pre-Workout-SupplementThe pre-workout frenzy is reaching a new high but the opinions on the benefits of such products are divided. Some can’t live without them, others use them occasionally as a pick-me-up and others still say they’re a complete marketing ploy. So let’s take a look at what we really pay for and what we can and should expect from pre-workout supplements.

What Are They Really?

You probably already know (the clue is in the name) that these supps are designed to improve focus and energy. Most of them contain stimulants and other ingredients such as creatine, beta-alanine, and citruline malate, as well as nitric oxide boosters such as agmatine and glycocarn. Some products exist on the market that don’t contain strong stimulants for those who don’t like that feeling of caffeine ‘high’

What They Contain

You should really look into the ingredients before consuming a pre-workout (or any other supplement). Some may contain doses too high for someone unaccustomed or can influence medical conditions or drugs. Here are some of the most common ones.

Caffeine: A stimulant found in most pre-workouts and fat burners. Dosed correctly, it can promote increased attention, physical performance and increased muscular recovery. Needs to be used with caution – especially for people with health conditions. Used late at night can cause trouble sleeping.

Methylhexanamine: strong stimulant included in many pre-workouts. It causes a strong energy rush, improved endurance and it can enhance your mood.

Creatine: It promotes and helps maintain strength by replenishing ATP during exercise. Creatine is the most tested supplement which has proven time and again to support strength and muscle gain.

Beta-alanine: Helps maintain energy and decrease fatigue. A known side-effect of it is the so called paraesthesia, also called ‘the tingle’. It may feel strange but it is harmless and many people like the sensation.

Citruline Malate: Present in most pre-workout supps it is proven to improve aerobic performance.

Agmatine: stimulates the release of hormones such Luteinizing Hormone and Growth Hormone as well as Nitric Oxide (improves blood flow – the so called ‘pump’).

Taurine: improves physical performance, reduces muscle pain and acts as a cell volumiser by hydrating the muscle.

Arginine: Helps stimulate production of Growth Hormone and Nitric Oxide.

How To Choose The Right One

Choosing whether or not to use them or which pre-workout to pick may be hard. The market is truly flooded with fancy products. But don’t let marketing fool you. Firstly analyze if you have any health risks or contraindications. If not, test a few brands and see what works for you a great pre workout that I like is Rule One Pre-Train
. Some people with low tolerance feel the effects strongly and others need to use more to feel anything. Go for a smaller dose when you start with any given supplement. You don’t want to stay up for the next 3 days, trust me! Also, to avoid building up a tolerance, don’t use them every day. Alternatively pick the weaker ones or ones without any stimulants.

What’s Wrong with Fad Diets

Fad DietsIf you are reading this article there’s a huge probability that you have been on a diet at least once in your life. Some of us tried multiple ones. Low carb, low fat, raw foods, fruit diet, cabbage soup, meal replacements, fasting – name it – we’ve done it! Every ‘diet’ is based on the idea that it is a certain food or food group that is to blame. Headlines read: sugar kills you, carbs make you fat, fat causes obesity and heart disease!  Long story short – all that is simply not true! The reason why people get hung up on such reasoning is because it’s easier to believe in a miracle diet  which will solve all your worries than to realize it is hard work and balanced eating that will get you to your goal.  Secondly – marketing. Companies selling miracle diet books, meal replacements such as bars shakes and soups and other gimmicks want you to believe them!

According to Alan Aragon, a hugely experienced nutrition and fitness expert:

‘You should completely ignore fad diets. All of them falsely scapegoat a single nutrient or food group. This is missing the forest for the trees.’

He goes on to explain that by demonizing a single food we give it too much power over our emotions, we crave it even more and we ignore the main problem which is the lack of balance. Nobody is overweight because of sugar or fat. People are obese because they adapt a certain lifestyle. In the western society people have minimum physical activity, they consume huge portions of calorie dense foods and they eat too much sugar and fats. All that, combined with jobs becoming more and more sedentary (technology now enables you to work from your couch – you don’t even have to get out of you pajamas) is what makes us fat and sick.

Alan discredits fads such as keto or paleo by pointing out that cutting out a food group simply tricks you into reducing calories – hence they produce results.  It is important to see that many followers of such diets, which frankly often remind cults, base their convictions on limited and biased evidence. For example, there is no evidence that the Paleo diet is anything but a fad. Firstly, how can we put all our ancestors into one bag? As Alan points out their diet depended on where they lived and what they had available.

We all know it is hard to accept the thought that in weight loss, cancer and other disease prevention there is no miracle cure! No secret. No hidden answer. You have to make a conscious effort to learn about healthy nutrition and then implement small but sustainable changes. Exercise regularly (no, I don’t mean a walk in the park on a Saturday) and eat 80-90% whole, unprocessed healthy foods (yes, have that donut once in a while) and you will, truly, see improvements.

Remember, fads are dangerous and research shows that in the long term they lead to obesity, health and psychological issues such as eating disorders. Just a reminder: check our Rule 1 Proteins fad diets

Flexible Dieting-You can have your cake and eat it

flexible dietingYou may have come across the term IIFYM or Flexible Dieting but yes, we agree, it sounds a bit cryptic to say the least. So what would you say if we told you that you can eat everything you like in moderation and still lose weight, build muscle and achieve all your fitness goals? Crazy, right? Yet, there is a whole community of fitness people who do just that to stay in shape or even compete in international bodybuilding competitions. Yes, you heard that right, they eat donuts too!

What is IIFYM?

IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros. The term ‘macros’ refers to macronutrients you consume daily – protein, fats and carbohydrates. The diet approach is based on a calculation – the amount of calories you need daily to lose weight safely (small deficit compared to the maintenance number) made up of the right proportion of carbs, fats and protein. Usually you will consume 35-40% carbs 35-40% protein and the rest will be fats (20-30%). There are multiple calculators online that will help you estimate your numbers based on age, weight and activity rate. It will also vary depending on your target – weight loss, gain, muscle bulk or maintenance. Then, all you have to do is track all your meals so they add up to your daily macro and calorie targets. If you want to eat a donut and it fits into your daily plan – go for it! It is very important to stick to healthy, whole unprocessed foods 80-90% of the time, though to ensure you are healthy and losing weight consistently.

Why it Works

You may say – ‘so IIFYM is simply reasonable, healthy eating.’ Exactly – no rocket science here! You can eat lots of nutritious foods with occasional treats and get in the best shape of your life. Unnecessary restrictions or excluding food groups will only lead to emotional eating and binging in time. Foods should not be labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘clean’ or dirty’. According to a nutrition expert Alan Aragon blaming or excluding single foods gives them power and can lead to further problem such as eating disorders. We should look at the issue of nutrition from a wider perspective – there are many elements that make up a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle. You shouldn’t shame yourself for eating anything. Just make it fit in with your goals and keep a balanced approach.

There is a bit of a debate recently on Flexible Dieters promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Some of them may share more junk food photos than seems reasonable but that’s ok. If they feel like it fits in with their goals and lifestyle, who are we to judge. However, we strongly recommend a 90% healthy foods approach which will ensure you stay not only slim but healthy and energized! Here is a tip as well to help you if you are finding it hard to get in all your protein.  Why not try a Protein shake.  Optimums Nutrition has a delicious whey protein gold standard that comes in a large variety of flavors so you don’t get bored!

The Cardio Truth

cardioThe belief that cardio is the most efficient way to lose weight and stay fit was and still is popular in the fitness world. People who don’t exercise also believe that only hours spend on the treadmill can make them look better and they never dare try. But is this true and where does this stereotype spur from?

Myth #1 – You need to do at least an hour of cardio to burn fat.

Of course, many bodybuilders do cardio daily, sometimes for extended periods but remember they usually eat a lot and they prepare for competitions where single digit body fat percentages are a must. Even then, many of them only do cardio a few times a week for half an hour at a time.

You have to remember that weight and fat loss are a process that comprises of exercise and nutrition. So how much cardio you need to do will depend on your nutrition and other physical activity you perform daily. For example, if you have a sedentary job, yes, more cardio will be both healthy and optimal for weight loss. But if you spend most of the day on your feet, you may want to reduce cardio and focus on weight lifting or interval training.

Myth #2 – Fasted cardio burns fat better and faster

This is a popular one. We assume that in a fasted state our body has no choice but to turn to fat stores for energy. It turns out the opposite may be true – we will waste out muscle tissue away and end up ‘skinny fat’. A 2011 study concluded that fat burning is consistent regardless of whether or not you’ve eaten before a workout. Other research shows an increase in muscle catabolism from fasted cardio. Stick to basics – calories in vs. calories out. Perform cardio and mix it up to keep your body guessing and you are set for success. No need to be doing your cardio passing out from hunger. Eat a nice nutritious breakfast and it will enhance your muscle growth and cardio performance.

Myth #3 – You can’t lose weight without cardio

The one and only way to lose weight (and fat) is by creating a calorie deficit by diet or exercise and preferably both. The healthiest way to lose is to combine a balanced diet, cardio and resistance training. Lifting weights is important since it helps build muscle mass which increases your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This means that the more muscle you have the more calories you will burn just ‘living’ and performing everyday tasks. You can create a calorie deficit by dieting and lifting but we certainly recommend adding cardio for improved effects and cardiovascular health!

 

To summarize, the best and healthiest approach to weight loss is balance. A healthy diet with a moderate amount of cardio, interval and resistance training will definitely show results and the variety will keep you on your toes, too!