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Energy bars, beverages: What's in them?

January 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Grab any product with the word "energy," and you think you've got some secret ingredient to stoke your engine and keep it revved for a while. One thing that is magic is the marketing because all these products sound so good, but what are you really getting?Hugely popular energy drinks get most their energy from sugar and caffeine.

Some sugar-free options provide a caffeine cocktail of sorts with artificial sweeteners, vitamins and amino acids that sound good, but a cheaper albeit less sexy way to get something similar is a cup of coffee with a packet of sugar.

Do you Gu? Along with drinks and bars, there are gels. These were created for endurance athletes to consume while they're running or biking to refuel their depleted carbs and electrolytes. You don't even have to chew. It's a plus if you're exercising at high intensity for more than 90 minutes, but if you're simply hitting the gym, many feel it's more satisfying to have something you can sink your teeth into.

Then there is Sport Beans, which are also designed for long distance athletes to replenish diminished carbohydrates. They also contain some vitamins and minerals, but some experts claim they aren't much better for you than regular beans.

Of course there is no shortage of energy bar choices. If it's a quick pick-me-up you want rather than a meal replacer, look for one no more than 150 calories, and preferably one with fruit, nuts and whole grains.

If you listen to talk radio, you've no doubt heard the ad for 5-hour Energy. It is a condensed version of a Red Bull-type beverage. It's just two ounces, and it's sugar-free with a massive blast of B vitamins and a smattering of sodium. The claim of one cup of coffee's worth of caffeine doesn't tell you much, as they have a proprietary-blended caffeine cocktail, so it doesn't reveal how many milligrams that it really has.

But good news, you can always get a kick of caffeine and a dose of energy from real food and it will be cheaper.

Something as simple as banana and peanut butter with a cup of coffee, or if you don't want as much of a buzz, you can go with some yerba mate tea and a small fruit smoothie. It's a quick pick-me-up at the fraction of the cost.

For even more ideas for energy alternatives, visit www.prevention.com/health, or the December issue of Prevention magazine.