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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.

That doesn't mean because you did 25 minutes on the treadmill before work, you need to replenish your body's fuel with an energy bar. Some of these convenience foods are also packed with calories.

"You need to look at the calorie and the fat content," warns Cooper. "Some of these bars can have as much as a candy bar. Find one with nutritional value, low in saturated fat."

Read labels, you may be better off going without.

"The average exerciser doesn't need drink a Gatorade after they've worked out because that defeats the purpose of their exercise. The last thing they need is more sugar. They should drink some water."

Published April 7, 2003.

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