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Whole Foods Best for Workouts

Only elite athletes need supplements and energy bars. The rest of us can fuel our workouts with regular whole foods.

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"Proteins do not give you energy," says Goglia, "proteins repair muscle tissue. Carbs move the muscles."

Before a run, then, says Goglia, "have a piece of fruit and peanut butter or oatmeal. Eat whole foods and let your body digest them. That's what it wants to do.

"Then, while running, if you feel as though you've depleted your carbohydrates, then use a supplement."

If you're a body builder, or a training athlete, says Goglia, and you're using a supplement as an aid to your balanced diet for convenience, that's OK, he says.

"But absolutely don't depend on those things within any given regular civilian day."

Besides replacing depleted carbohydrates or balancing the diet with a vitamin and mineral fortified bar, a sports drink or gel might be a good choice when an athlete cannot digest whole foods, says Cooper, right before or during performance.

Stout works with athletes, strategizing what they eat before and after exercise in order to maximize training. One hour before exercise, says Stout, "a bagel is just as effective as anything on the market. It's a complex carb, so it breaks down, but not as fast."

Not all carbohydrates are created equal, however. Some enter the bloodstream more quickly than others and they are considered to have a high glycemic index. Baked potatoes and raisins are examples. These are best eaten right before, during or right after exercise, whereas moderate (orange juice or a sweet potato) and low (apple or pear) glycemic index carbohydrates enter the bloodstream more slowly and are best consumed in the hours before a workout.

Stout advises athletes in training to start eating whole foods four hours before an event, building their carbohydrate stores for performance. He suggests building into the high glycemic index carbs with different choices of whole foods depending on how much time you have before a race.

Immediately post race, he says, a sports supplement drink is a good way to replenish what was depleted because the body absorbs it quickly.

For elite athletes, who depend on the timing of food intake for performance, energy bars and sports drinks are convenient. They provide a handy source of fuel for someone burning more than they can keep up with.

So if you are in the market for an energy bar, how do you choose?

Sports snacks and meal replacements have become a multimillion dollar industry and even the savvy consumer may have trouble distinguishing one type from another, so here are a few tips.

High-carbohydrate bars, with 70% of the calories from carbs, are the best energy boosters and can be eaten before, during, and after a workout. High-protein bars and 40-30-30 bars (which tout a 40-30-30 ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat for weight loss and optimal athletic performance) are less desirable for use during exercise unless they're combined with other carbohydrates.

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