I start my day early walking with Spencer, our Dalmation, by 6 AM. By the time 10:30 -11:00 AM rolls around, I am usually hungry and lunch around here isn't until 1:30 PM. So, I would often eat a "protein bar" or some equivalent, convincing myself that although the bar is 200+ calories, at least it's a healthy snack. Right? But which is really better for you? A Snickers Bar or a PowerBar? Most people would choose the PowerBar and they would be correct - but not by much.
There are several issues buried in this onset of late morning hunger but the most pressing is whether it matters if I choose a Snickers Bar or a PowerBar. They have about the same amount of energy packed into them at roughly 250 calories. And after all, it's the energy I'm worried about more than anything else. So if they have roughly the same amount of energy in them, who cares if I choose one over the other?
In an ideal world, we would spend slightly more calories than we consume. Your daily routine would churn through the calories like superstar swimmer Michael Phelps churns through laps in an olympic pool. You could eat a Snickers Bar or a burger or a small pizza and your body could care less. You could get away with this because of a highly inefficient body. Yes, I have that correct. Inefficient. You don't want your body to be like a Yugo: a low powered, fuel conserving machine. You want to be a Ferrari that guzzles energy just idling (and by the way, Michael Phelps reportedly sails through nearly 10,000 calories a day when he is in training).
But, we live in a largely sedentary world and spend less energy than we consume leading to an average weight gain of 1-2 lbs. per year after the age of thirty. We gradually turn into human Yugos (unlike a Yugo, you can change your fuel efficiency. For more information on how, click here).
A "protein bar" is marginally healthier than a "candy bar". Yes, candy bars have more fat but the energy content is about the same. And, unless you're exercising several days per week for at least one hour per day, a candy bar and a protein bar have the same effect: more calories. And, more calories mean more exercise or activity to burn it off. If you don't use the calories, the energy has to go somewhere and for many of us, where it goes is not what we prefer - like our abdomen or thighs (For every "protein bar" you eat, you must, for example, walk for 45 minutes at 3 mph, a leisurely pace, to burn off the extra calories).
So, if you're munching on protein bars thinking, "Well, at least it's not a candy bar," you might want to think again.
Chief Physical Therapist
PS - If you're wondering, "Well, ok, so what DO I eat if I need a snack?" Take some advice from Oprah Winfrey. Her snack idea works, it tastes good and is good for you.