If you’ve read the promotional books you’ve heard “the Specialists” talk about incorporating all 3 macronutrients at meal and snack time in order to stabilize glucose levels. We can compare this to the current coronavirus pandemic, you hear people talk about “flattening the curve.” In a way, we want to do this with our blood glucose as well. We at Health & Safety want to recommend some of the Supplement Energy/Snack bars that would be great for Fire Rehab-Operations and any other time.
When we incorporate all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) at meal or snack time, they work together to keep blood glucose levels from spiking and dropping quickly, compared to only eating carbohydrates. People often feel hungry and sluggish shortly after eating something high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates increase blood glucose levels quickly and quickly fall. If these simple carbs are replaced with something more complex, they will take longer to digest. When a lean protein is added to that meal or snack, the blood glucose curve flattens a bit more, keeping us more satiated. When a healthy fat is added to the mix, we can stay full for up to or even longer than three hours. Lastly, when we add some fiber rich vegetables to our meal, our food breaks down more slowly and can keep us fuller, longer. I always tell people to incorporate lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vegetables in every meal. This is a recipe for success in feeling a healthy full. Additionally, these are nutrient dense foods that provide our bodies with quality fuel. Feeling satiated, can enable a reduction in the amount of less nutritious foods we may otherwise snack on throughout the day.
Another reason to choose all three macronutrients, is to adequately fuel the brain. For various reasons, people often feel they need to eliminate carbohydrates from the diet, but this should not be the case! Carbs are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Both muscles and the brain rely on glucose for energy. Furthermore, while the human brain comprises of only 2% of our total body mass, it utilizes 20% of the total energy we obtain from glucose. That makes the brain, the body’s main glucose consumer. To be more scientific, glucose provides the fuel “for physiological brain function through the generation of ATP, the foundation for neuronal and non-neuronal cellular maintenance, as well as the generation of neurotransmitters.” We need proper regulation of glucose metabolism for brain physiology! If you have ever skipped a meal or cut carbohydrates, you may have felt the side effects of low blood glucose: lethargy, “brain fog,” a headache, etc. I think this would be more conducive since the reality is, most of us firefighter’s will not give up carbs. I hope I haven’t lost you yet, I’m getting to the point here, the snacks.
There is an endless variety of Supplement Energy-Snack Bars on the market. Some of these bars are high in calories and have protein, carbs, and fat, which, as you have read, work synergistically to fuel you for a few hours. While bars and other snacks don’t fill and activate the stretch receptors in the stomach in the way a complete meal would, these fuel options are portable and appropriate in-between your nutrient dense meals.
Note: This list is not written in any particular order of best to worst.
1. Perfect Bar: Calories: 330; Carbs: 26 g; Protein: 17 g; Fat 18 g
-This bar is high in calories and could serve as a meal replacement if need be. It does have added sugars because it is made with honey, but the fat from the peanut butter can help flatten the glucose curve. Additionally, these bars are made with added dried vegetable powders*, so they have an additional boost of nutrients. I said this list wasn’t in any particular order, but I like this bar and the taste also.
2. Wella Bar: Calories: 280; Carbs: 21 g; Protein: 13 g; Fat 19 g
-Similar to the Perfect Bar, Wella Bars are high in calories, but also have a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. They are also tasty and have a variety of flavor combos.
3. RX Bar: Calories: 200; Carbs: 25 g; Protein: 12 g; Fat 7 g
-Many people prefer RX bars because of the minimal amount of ingredients used in each bar. They keep it simple and place all ingredients on the front of the package. The sweetness of the bars comes from dates, which pack a carbohydrate load for when you need some glucose on the go!
4. 88 Acres Protein Bar: Calories: 280; Carbs: 15 g; Protein: 12 g; Fat 21 g
-The main source of protein in these bars comes from seeds. They are a dense bar and very flavorful. After you eat one, you will feel fed! These bars come in chocolate brownie and banana bread flavor mmmmm.
5. Kind Bar: Calories: 200; Carbs: 16 g; Protein: 6 g; Fat 15 g; Fiber; 7 g
-These bars are a good snack option in between meals. The different nuts serve as a source of fat and fiber and the different bits of fruit and honey will provide energy in the form of carbohydrates.
6. Made Good Bar: Calories: 90; Carbs: 16 g; Protein: 1 g; Fat 2.5 g
-These bars offer a small, quick snack of mostly carbohydrates via oats, so a complex carb. If you need a quick burst of energy to get you through a small task or a quick workout, they can do the trick. They are also made with added vegetable powders, so you get a little bit of extra nutrition compared to some other products on the market.
Pro tip: Added vegetable powders are not intended to be used in-place of a healthy meal, but on the go or in pinch, products with these additives can provide an added source of nutrients. Continue to eat your fruits and vegetables as recommended!
Once again, there are many supplement energy-snack bars on the market. Check your local Sprouts and Whole Foods to find them. I would do this online (easier) as many companies are offering internet specials during this time of social distancing.
Let’s take a look at a few other foods and snacks that fuel our brain and body. I recently looked into Sprouts and Whole foods, in search of some healthy and unique foods.
Go Raw: Go Raw is a company that makes quality grain, seed, and nut based snacks with minimal ingredients and processing. They have granola, bars, and snack “chips.” These products pair well with fruit, nut/seed butters, and/or yogurt.
Sonoma Creamery: This company makes a savory cheese crisp bar that comes in a variety of flavors. The main ingredient is cheese, so they make for a crunchy snack with this as the source of protein. Pro tip: eat with hummus or it will taste like cardboard.
Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips: Looking for a crunchy, savory alternative to your typical bag of potato chips? Kale chips can do the trick and provide some nutrients in the process. While some people may shy away from this green snack, they are quite tasty. Throw them in the fire truck for a healthy alternative, or a nutrition upgrade to the standard fried potato.
Lebby Chickpea Snacks: These roasted chickpeas are a great snack idea. They have a good crunch and provide complex carbohydrates and fiber, a quality shared by all beans.
Biena Chickpea Puffs: Once again, a nutritional upgrade, and a twist on a classic, cheese puffs, but this time, from chickpeas. These puffs provide the crunch you crave, along with a few grams of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber.
Try some of these snack ideas to “flatten the curve.” Not only will you be adequately fueled in-between meal times, but you will get added nutrients with some of these nutrition upgrades. Stay fueled, stay focused, and try some better alternatives during rehab.
Lieutenant Aldo Padilla
El Paso Fire Department
Health and Safety Division