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Energy for Sale

Energy products abound -- in drinks, herbs, bars, and some stranger forms -- goo, anyone? -- but some are better at giving you a lift, and some are bunk. Part 2 of a three-part series.
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WebMD Feature

If the names of today's energy products have any truth to them, vitality and endurance are readily available in bars, drinks, gels, ices, herbs, and supplements.

PowerBar. Red Bull. Amp. Gatorade. Accelerade. Super Energizer. Energice.

The brand names do sound stimulating, but do they actually deliver? It depends on the product and its consumer, say experts, who note that the variety of merchandise and people make blanket statements difficult.

In the interest of getting the full story, WebMD explored different kinds of energy edibles, their ingredients, and general effects on the body. Some of the goods may not have as much information as others, but this is telling of the nature of the fountain of energy. Perhaps in a few years, after science has had a chance to study the virtue of different products, we will have more answers. Until then, it seems we're on a parallel mission with Juan Ponce de Leon.

Energy Bars and Gels

All energy bars, goos, and ices are not created equal. Some pack in the carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. Others bring in vitamins and minerals. The flavors are plentiful, too, with cookies and cream, cappuccino, lemon poppy seed, and chocolate raspberry fudge appealing to the taste buds.

John Allred, PhD, food science communicator for the Institute of Food Technologists, simply shakes his head at the mention of energy products. "They are outrageously expensive for what you are getting," he says. "There's nothing magical about the ingredients."

The same nutrients could be found in a banana, yogurt, or a chocolate bar, which are cheaper options, Allred explains.

To be fair, the carbohydrate or protein composition of some energy bars and gels may provide a more sustained charge than products that primarily use sugar or caffeine. The power surge of sugar usually lasts about 30 minutes to one hour, and caffeine lasts no more than two hours. The rush from sugar and coffee is usually followed by an energy low.

Energy bars and gels with carbohydrates will definitely provide a boost, as carbs are the body's preferred fuel source. It's ideal if much of the carbohydrate source is fiber, as the roughage takes longer to digest, providing more sustained energy. This can be especially helpful for people involved in endurance events. Protein-rich products can also provide staying power and strength. The nutrient helps build muscle and regulates energy production in the body.

Yet the bars, goos, and ices are no substitute for real food. "Energy bars are manufactured products," says Cindy Moore, MSRD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic. "What you're missing from any kind of manufactured product are the benefits from nature -- the chemicals that aren't vitamins or minerals, but are phytochemicals -- which are still beneficial to our health."

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