Nutrition Supplement Bars


Nutrition Bars. Are they really good for you? What are you really getting? In
this article, we will focus on the multitude of nutritional supplement bars out
there, specifically we will look at the recent trend of high protein, low
carbohydrate bars being launched by many of the major companies in the
supplement world. Here, we will discuss one of the most popular ways in which
people are attempting to get their protein, from bars.

Let me be blunt, bars are always a nutritional compromise. Why? It is nearly
impossible (and no one has really done it yet so maybe it is impossible) to
create a supplement bar that is high in good quality protein sources while also
containing few carbohydrates while being low fat. Certainly consumers should
not equate a nutrition supplement bar to a meal replacement powder. A good MRP
will be far better nutritionally than supplement bar. For example, take a look
at a 3 Musketeers. It has approximately 8g of fat. Think that is a lot? It is a
candy bar right? Well many of the supplement bars out there that are high in
protein and low in carbohydrates also contain nearly, if not as much, fat as
some candy bars. Granted most candy bars have more carbs, simple sugars, and
less protein but are nutrition bars really low in carbs. How do manufacturers
get their bars to be low in carbs?

attempting to make a high protein bar it is necessary to incorporate something
that will keep the bars soft and pliable (read chewable) so they do not become
a protein brick necesitating a trip to the local dentist. Glycerine is
something companies seem to be using quite a bit. Glycerine and glycerol are
one in the same and represent the chemical backbone to which one, two, or three
fatty acid side chains are attached to create what we commonly know as fat.
Glycerine is generally used to make a bar stay soft, in the face of ever
increasing amounts of protein, by trapping water within the bar. The government
(FDA) clearly states in the Code of Federal Regulations that glycerine is to be
listed as a carbohydrate by “difference”. The government does this in
order to classify glycerine under one of the three macronutrient categories,
fat, carb, or protein.

Glycerine is not fat since it has no fatty acids. Glycerine is not a protein
since it has no amine group (nitrogen containing portion). The only category
left is carbohydrates. Look at the label of your favorite high protein low carb
bar. Most of them will not be listing glycerine as a carbohydrate. If a company
does not list it as a macronutrient then how can a consumer keep track of how
much glycerine they are actually getting. Well first we must ask about the fate
of glycerine metabolically. Hopefully they are counting the 4.32 calories/g
within the total calories stated on the label.

Ok biochemistry fans, this part is for you. As for the rest of you, please just
grin and bear it as this will provide you with the basics of glycerine
metabolism. Don’t worry it will be over soon. Glycerine can normally come from
food sources (via tri-acyl-glycerol a.k.a. fat, phosphosglycerides, glyceryl
esters, and other miscilaneous sources), supplements (bars, beverages, or plain
straight glycerine) and of course endogenously from the fat liberated from your
own personal storage (lucky you). The fate of glycerine once it enters the body
is highly variable depending mostly on energy storage status at the time of
consumption. Energy storage status is basically how well fed your body is at any
given point and time. This does not mean that obese people are always in a
high-energy balance. What this does mean is that if you have been eating
regularly, or overstuffed your face at Thanksgiving, you are probably in
balanced or positive energy balance. The metabolic destinations are numerous
and dependent upon this whole energy balance business.

Some journal articles and textbooks discuss glycerol as a direct precursor for
both gluconeogenesis (production of glucose by your body (blood sugar)) and glycolysis
(anaerobic portion of energy production within the body). It is common practice
for many bar manufacturers to state that “Glycerine is not a carbohydrate
but yields 4.32 calories/g”, somewhere on their label. Most of you are
aware that carbohydrates yield about 4 calories/g, so if glycerine does yield
4.32 calories/g there is only a small difference in calories between regular
carbohydrates and glycerine. So glycerine must be a carbohydrate right, well
sometimes. Recent research has shown that glycerine does not significantly
elevate blood insulin levels and only minimally elevates blood sugar levels.
Most interesting is that some of this research was done following a 36 hour
fast, and if glycerine really was gluconeogenic you would think that blood
glucose levels would have increased when glycerine was administered after the
fast. Fasting for 36 hours would lower the bodies glycogen stores (as well as
make you pretty cranky and hungry), therefore since glycerine did not affect
blood glucose or insulin levels it is difficult to conclude that glycerine is a

The research that is available is not conclusive with regard to the
gluconeogenic properties of glycerine. By definition glycerine is a trihydric
alcohol and is the building block of all plant oils and nearly all animal fats.
Glycerine can be incorporated into fat production by providing the backbone for
fatty acids to attach onto and create what we know as fat. Another possible
destination within the body is that glycerine can become part of
phospoglycerides (cell membrane compounds). Orally administered glycerine has
also been found in the urine meaning that some of it is actually excreted
without being utilized. Ok, so glycerine can be a carb on occasion, a fat
precursor on occasion, a phosphoglyceride precursor on occasion, and it can
simply pass through the body unused. Wow, that is a lot of possibilities for
one compound. Glycerine does have a few other interesting properties worth

When administered orally, glycerine has a hydrating/dehydrating effect. This is
based on the fact that glycerine has an ability to hold onto water. Glycerine’s
water binding ability helps keep bars soft and also may be of benefit to
endurance athletes and bodybuilders alike. Endurance athletes can utilize
glycerine in conjunction with extra water prior to an event in order to support
hydration and therefore enhance performance. The recommended dosage for
accomplishing superhydration ranges and each individual should experiment
sufficiently prior to use during competition. For reference start with
approximately 1-gram glycerine per kilogram body weight along with an
additional 1.5L – 2.0L of water, consumed 1 – 4 hours prior to the event.
Interestingly bodybuilders might consider taking glycerine prior to their stage
appearance in lower dosages without consuming the additional water to “dry
out”. Leaving the water out of the equation may cause a shift of existing
body water temporarily out of the tissues and into the blood. While this may
work to obtain the shrink wrapped look you should definitely test it out prior
to the day of the show to see how you react. Glycerine supplementation will not
help those who have failed to diet properly and are covered by a small layer of
blubber. Proper precaution should be taken if you are going to utilize
glycerine. Notify someone you know and trust that is going to attend the show
so they can help you if you begin to cramp up. Enough digression back to the

Now that you have a thorough understanding of the complex utilization, or lack
there of, as well as some of the unique useful ergogenic effects of glycerine,
what does all of this mean for the bar eater. Well as stated bars are a
compromise, and in the process of that give and take companies must use things
like glycerine to make their product palatable. The government has yet to come
after any of the companies not labeling glycerine as a carbohydrate and may
never. Unfortunately the consumer is left not knowing how much glycerine they
may be getting in their favorite bar. Hey, call them up and ask if it you want
to know and it is not on the label. Any reputable company will gladly provide
the info.

Is the consuming of glycerine a negative thing? No, not really, however for
those of you attempting to monitor your daily nutrient intake, you should be
aware of how glycerol can affect your individual body chemistry and most
importantly your goals. Consuming a bar once in a while when you are in a hurry
is certainly preferential to say a Big Mac, but bars are by no means equivalent
to a good meal replacement powder or a well balanced meal of (oh my!) real
food. There are other things to watch out for in your nutrition bars. For
instance, the type of sweetener and fat used in the bar. Often the protein
sources are far inferior to what you would get in a meal replacement powder.


Ok, now that you know your supplement bar probably contains some form of sugar
alcohol, glycerol being the most likely of the bunch, what about the other
drawbacks I mentioned last month. Many companies are making bars that taste
almost like a candy bar these days, sure many are low in carbohydrate as
discussed last month, still others are not, and many probably contain a compromise
in the type of sweetener they are using. You might also have noted that many of
the labels for the so called supplement bars are sporting a hefty 7 – 9 grams
of wonderfully tasting fat. What about all this hype surrounding the “high
protein” content of these bars? Oh, I think you are going to like this
little ditty (this whole bar issue really peeves me sometimes)

Let’s start with the sweetener of the day. Fructose. Ah the lovely little
byproduct of corn production. Look around you. It is everywhere. High fructose
corn syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn sweetener, sucrose (½
fructose), fruit sweetener, etc. all of which when found on a label should
scream to you, “HEY THIS IS FRUCTOSE”. Fructose is sweeter tasting
than regular sucrose (table sugar) and cheaper and sweeter than glucose (which
is a better choice for a human/bodybuilder to consume). In an effort to sweeten
their bar, and make it taste good, as well as keep costs down, companies will
often use some form of fructose in their bars. What’s the big deal you say?
Allow me to elaborate a bit.

Biochemistry time again folks. You see your muscles cannot use fructose, at
least directly. When you eat fructose and it enters the blood stream the liver
is where it gets sucked up. Your liver has a love affair with fructose and like
the movie “Fatal Attraction” just has to have it all to itself.
Glucose is the preferred fuel for your working muscles. Once fructose is in the
liver is does not leave and is eventually either converted to glycogen (long chains
of glucose units that acts as long term sugar storage that can be exported from
the liver to the brain and muscles on demand) or go towards producing
cholesterol and fat. Well at least one of the three options, glycogen
production, is beneficial. Think one out of three isn’t bad, think again. The
body is more likely to convert the fructose to fat and VLDL cholesterol in
persons who have filled their glycogen stores by eating regular meals that
contain other carbohydrates, because once your storage of liver glycogen is
full the fructose has no place else to go. So let us say you eat a normal meal.
The meal will likely have both complex and simple carbs and may contain some

Those complex and simple carbs might just fill up your glycogen stores (your
muscles can and will take up glucose from the blood if they need it or their
glycogen storage is low) then you are left with fructose having nowhere to go
but towards fat and cholesterol. Scared yet? Well it is not all bad, because
the liver does like fructose so much so that it is better at replenishing liver
(not muscle) glycogen than glucose, about 50% better (mostly because fructose
is pulled out of the blood into the liver so easily while glucose can pass on
by and be utilized by the muscles and other tissues). Therefore, fructose would
be ok for someone who is an ultraendurance athlete with very low glycogen
stores that wants to replenish their supply of liver glycogen. On the
bodybuilding side of the coin, I know some people that use fructose as part of
their carbing up cycle (works for some and not so much for others). Overall, if
you are trying to lose body fat, fructose is something you probably can do

The fat content of supplement bars is often as high or higher than some candy
bars. What do companies think we are dumbbells, “dah nope those are them
things we lift in the gym”. Well some of us must either not care or
actually are dumbbells because these bars are selling and more are coming out
every day. Try this, next time you are in the checkout line at your local feed
store, pick up some of the “candy bars”. Don’t be surprised when some
of them have as little, I mean as much fat as your favorite supplement bar. Not
impressed yet, think that your supplement bar has “better fat” than those
candy bars? Think again. Often the fat in candy bars is from very similar
sources as to those found in your favorite supplement bar, cocoa butter from
the chocolate coating, cotton seed oil, fractionated vegetable oils,
fractionated palm oil, hydrogenated oils, etc. All of these are pretty much on
the bad side of the coin. Sure some use canola oil, essential fatty acid
mixtures and other fancy names for fat be it good or bad. Most of these
supplement bars that do contain some good fat still have more fat than you will
find in a good meal supplement powder. So here you are trying to get a healthy,
convenient, meal alternative, and they give you a high protein “candy
bar”. This is one of the reasons I always say a bar is not a replacement
for a good meal supplement powder. Check out the labels for yourself and then
think twice about shoving a couple bars down your throat when you are trying to
stay lean or diet down.

Another issue worth mentioning is the cholesterol content of these bars.
Someone please explain to me how you can have a whey protein concentrate, milk
protein concentrate, or some other milk protein source and list 0mg of
cholesterol on the label. If the company is using a whey isolate or calcium or
sodium caseinate, both of which have fairly low cholesterol, for most their
protein I might understand, but some of the companies making bars actually
expect us to believe they have 0mg of cholesterol. Honestly, they must really
think we are stupid or something. While 0mg cholesterol looks great on the
label it is not and cannot likely be the truth. Some bars may only have 5mg or
10mg but why lie about it and deceive consumers and those keeping track of
their cholesterol for health reasons. Sorry, in my book that is just plain
wrong. Call up the manufacturer of your 0mg cholesterol bars and make them
explain to you how this is possible. Send their response to my email (listed at
then end of this column). I just have to hear what some of these folks will
come up with to cover their proverbial hind sides. The only logical explanation
they could have is that they are really not using very much of the milk
proteins and are therefore they might be telling the truth about the
cholesterol content. Now that would be an honest and probably unlikely response.
If you do call them up and can’t get a response, or get an unsatisfactory
response maybe you ought to find another companies bar to purchase. This all
leads me to the familiar (for those of you who read my little column regularly
see September 1999 Volume 4 Number 7)) world of proteins.

Many of today’s supplement bars proudly proclaim “high protein”
content and herein lies one of the greatest of all compromises. Back in the day
when high protein bars were hard and chewy instead of the now soft and easily chewed
bars (some anyway), soy protein was often used to make up much of the protein
found in supplement bars. Today you will find such things as hydrolysed whey
protein (might be expensive might not), whey protein isolate (fairly
expensive), caseinates (a little cheaper than WPI), whey protein concentrates
(pretty inexpensive), soy protein isolates (ranges greatly but about the same
as WPC), hydrolysed protein (usually cheap low quality protein most often
collagen) and occasionally egg or beef protein. Hydrolysed collagen is often
used in bars because it is one protein that does not get hard as the bar ages,
is inexpensive, and does not taste bad. Collagen is not a biologically high
quality protein, meaning its’ amino acid profile is not optimal for humans.

So, one of the major protein sources in your bar might be collagen, or some
slightly hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate, better biologically speaking. You
might find some calcium caseinate, some whey protein concentrate, some soy
protein isolate, and a little of this and a little of that. Now pick up your
favorite meal supplement powder. If it is any good it will mainly be composed
of a whey protein concentrate or isolate and possibly some type of caseinate.
Incidentally, I recently read an article in a popular magazine saying casein is
inferior to whey and is a cheap way for companies to fill in protein rather
than using whey in their meal supplement powders. This is far from the whole
truth. While whey is absorbed more quickly into the body and promotes protein
synthesis better than casein, whey is also subjected to higher rates of hepatic
amino acid oxidation. The liver is partly responsible for maintaining amino
acid balance in the blood and when it senses a sudden rise in blood amino acids
it will start oxidizing them to bring the level back to normal. Casein’s amino
acids, on the other hand, are not subjected to as much liver oxidation because
casein is absorbed more slowly and the amino acids enter the blood at a slower
rate. Recent studies show a combination of whey and casein to act most
effectively for promoting protein synthesis while minimizing liver oxidation.
Hey that’s funny, cows milk is a mixture of both casein and whey and baby
calves grow like crazy on the stuff. Hmmm? Sorry for the tangent but as I said
some of this stuff peeves me and I felt it was necessary to clarify. The point
is that your supplement bar does not and probably cannot contain the protein
profile that is optimal (at least no one has done it yet). Your high protein
bar is going to have protein for sure, but it is going to be a non-optimal
compilation of protein sources that to date cannot match the quality of
proteins found in a good meal supplement powder. Keep that in mind when you
reach for a good tasting (usually because of the extra fat), high protein (not
necessarily high quality) supplement bar instead of a meal supplement powder.

The tale of the tape here is that supplement bars are definitely a compromise
on optimum nutritional content. Bars are a source of food yes, but so is a Big
Mac, fries, and a milk shake and you don’t go out and eat that, hopefully not
regularly. Think of supplement bars as a healthy alternative to eating a triple
chocolate cake for desert. At least most are fortified with a vitamin mineral premix.
By the way some of these bars are getting up their in size and therefore
calorie content so you might actually be getting a deserts worth of calories
and fat in one of these supplement bars. Just be aware that simply because the
supplement bar has pretty packaging that screams “HEY BOZO, I’M HEALTY BUY
ME” does not make it so. Read the label, call the company, know what you
are getting and you will not end up with a clown sized midsection in the
process. Till next month.

“Train Hard, Eat Right, Rest Well”

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