There are specialty sports bars that offer ingredients beyond carbs, protein and fat - the standard macro nutrients. The major classes of specially bars include fat burners, thermogenics
and those that contain creatine, ginkgo biloba, antioxidants or certain other supplements.
Bars may be the ultimate convenience food - they can provide balanced nutrition, you can keep them in a gym bag and they don't spoil quickly. Manufacturers have understandably started to put every-thing but the kitchen sink into them; thus, a bar can be found for virtually every professional or recreational athlete's needs. To determine the worth of a certain bar, first determine the efficacy of the ingredients, then the amount included in the bar, then compare the cost and convenience of the bar to taking those ingredients separately.
Specialty bars are built around a certain amount of protein, carbs and fat. In addition to the specialty ingredient, then, you also need to make sure that the grams of those macro nutrients fit in with your dietary plan. For example, if you're trying to pile on the protein, it might be better for you to eat a "regular" high-protein bar rather than a 40/ 30/30 bar (40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat) that has added antioxidants. Also keep calories in mind - most bars contain 200 to 300. If you're trying to gain weight, the more the better; if you're trying to lose fat, those calories can add up quickly.
Some companies currently sell bars with added creatine; if you like the taste and don't mind the cost, a creatine bar is a convenient option. You might want to examine the other supplements you're taking before consuming this type, because some drink mixes also contain creatine. Know your total creatine intake. There is some debate over whether a loading dose of creatine (usually around 20 grams [g]) is necessary, and whether it's better to cycle on and off a maintenance dose (usually around five grams daily). Whatever the case, as with traditional creatine supplements, make sure you stay well-hydrated, especially if you're taking large amounts.
Thermogenic bars contain ingredients such as ephedrine, caffeine and white willow bark that can increase your energy level and, used in certain ways, act as fat burners (see the article on thermogenics in this issue for more information). If you're taking other drugs, herbs or supplements (including over-the-counter medications, St. John's Wort or yohimbine), be aware that some of them may interact with thermogenics. Check with a doctor or pharmacologist for advice on avoiding dangerous interactions. If you're not used to thermogenics or are sensitive to caffeine, start with part of a bar; you may also want to limit additional caffeine intake until you're familiar with the bar's effects on you. "Fat-burning" bars are another category; these typically contain chromium, carnitine, hydroxycitric acid or pyruvate, among other ingredients. These substances differ from thermogenics in that they don't act as stimulants. The efficacy of most fat burners is controversial; base your decision to use them on available research and your own results, as well as cost and taste.
Some bars contain "vitality" ingredients or extra antioxidants. Examples of vitality ingredients are ginkgo biloba and ginseng. These bars generally claim to increase energy levels and promote mental clarity and endurance.
Antioxidants are important for active people. Health wise, they're linked to the prevention or decreased risk of many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. Exercise produces free radicals, which can be combated by antioxidants, the most common of which are vitamins C and E. You don't need to go overboard with them, though. The general dose recommended for extra C is one to five grams, E is 400 to 800 international units.
When you eat specialty bars, it's important to be aware of what's already in your other supplements - including those you get at the gym. It's also a good idea to drink water when eating them. If their taste, cost and ingredients appeal to you and work for you, then specialty bars certainly would be a convenient way to add supplements to your program.