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Quick Nutrition - part 1

If you work as a first responder in some degree (and if you’re visiting this site, it’s likely that you are, or at least know someone that is), you know how difficult it can be to get in proper nutrition when you’re eating on the run.

Ten minutes or less in the ambulance on the way to yet another call; five minutes running between campus buildings; a fifteen minute break to “water up” out on the line.

You consistently put your own needs aside for others, for the good of the community, for completion of the tactical objective or mission. It’s part of being a first responder. It doesn’t mean, however, that you should be struggling to get through the day on energy drinks (see previous post!) and sugary, nutrition-less candy! Your job is critically important, and therefore it's critical that you are fueled appropriately.

In this two-part series, I’m going to share some of the best ways to get nutrition “on the run”, for those quick breaks and extended shifts. Part 1 will be on prepared/packaged food items you would be able to buy in stores or order online, while part 2 will focus on quick meals and snacks you can easily prepare at home and take on the go! Let’s dive in…

Meal/nutrition bars:

The various nutrition/protein or otherwise meal-replacement bars are probably some of the most popular options for eating on the run. I know I oftentimes use them myself! When shopping for nutrition bars, I do have moderate criteria that a product should meet for me to comfortably recommend it to clients and consumers. A packaged bar should include balanced macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), less than 25g of sugar (even less if it’s added sugars), and mostly whole foods based (no crazy chemicals!)

My recommendations:

Perfect bars: My top choice! These bars have vegan and non-vegan options, the protein content ranges from 10-17g of protein per bar, they’re packed with micronutrients, they’re filling, and taste like dessert! The bars are typically peanut or almond based, blended with wholesome ingredients such as dates, peanut butter, egg protein, hemp protein, and cocoa powder. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, and they are generally around 300 calories apiece- a perfect “mini meal”!

Pro bar® Meal®: Another great option for energy on the go! These bars are a bit lower in protein, ranging from 8-12g per bar, and a little higher in carbs, however they also have 6g of fiber! All that fiber will slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, preventing a blood sugar spike. At 370-400 calories of whole food ingredients per bar, these are another great, satiating choice!

GoMacro bars: No whey! All of GoMacro bars are plant-based, as well as soy-free, gluten-free, and kosher, so they easily fit into nearly any diet! This family-owned bar company focuses on whole-food ingredients, contain 10-12g of protein (from their protein bar line), and have some of the lowest amounts of sugar, at 13g or less per bar! GoMarco bars are slightly lower in calories, with most clocking in at just under 300 calories, but they make a great high-energy snack!

Rx bars: These bars may have a near-cult following. If you are looking for a protein bar with very minimal, whole food ingredients, you’ve found it in the Rx Bar! The ingredients of each bar are listed right on the front of the package, so it’s easy to see what you are consuming. It’s important to note that these bars are not suitable for vegans, as the main protein source comes from eggs, but vegetarians, and the paleo community are good to go! Full disclosure- because I’m all about being transparent with you guys- these are the one bar in this list that I am recommending, however, I personally do not enjoy. I do find Rx bars a bit too chewy for my liking, but they are still a healthy option! All Rx bars have 12g of protein, and they range from 200-220 calories apiece, so again, not a full meal replacement, but a great way to stop that stomach from grumbling!

Rise bars: Rise and shine…with Rise Bar! These whole food bars offer 5 whey protein flavors, and 3 vegan protein flavors, all of which look delicious! The whey protein bars contain 15-20g of protein apiece, and the vegan bars all have 15g per bar. They all have a good macronutrient balance, range from 260-310 calories, and all have 5 ingredients or less! Although a few bars are a good source of calcium, be sure to enjoy some fruits and veggies later on, to ensure you’re getting in your micronutrients!

Zing Vitality Bars: Last, but certainly not least, I present to you- Zing Vitality Bars! These bars are the only ones created by a team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, who are dedicated to making nutritionally dense bars that taste great! They offer vegan and whey protein options, with a minimum of 10g of protein per bar. Zing bars are also high in gut-friendly fiber (if you know, you know) and come in around 200-210 calories each. They aren’t a full meal replacement, but will keep you full and happy on the go!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of nutrition bars, but they are some of the best I have found, tried, and researched. They are also relatively easy to purchase at grocers, big box stores, and even convenience stores! And remember- if you have any food intolerances or allergies, BE SURE to check labels very carefully!!

Bottled smoothie/meal drinks:

I placed “liquid nutrition” products after meal/nutrition bars for a reason. I typically don’t recommend drinkable energy, as it does not give your body the same sense of satisfaction as chewing actual food, it’s easy to over-consume, and many pre-bottled smoothies or meal replacers contain a lot of sugar, additives, and little to no fiber or protein! However, I understand that sometimes, it’s much easier and time-efficient to bring liquid nutrition along with you. I’ll take you through some of the more popular pre-made options, and provide suggestions for how to choose products that are best for you.

Pre-bottled smoothie drinks: Beverages such as Naked Juice or Odwalla® smoothies typically have a lot of sugar (some >30g per bottle)! “But they’re made up of mostly fruits and veggies! Isn’t that good for you?” Well, yes and no. Sugars from fruits and vegetables isn’t inherently bad- sugar is a carbohydrate, and of course we need carbs to survive! However, sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning that absorption will happen relatively rapidly in the body, giving you that blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash, much like a bottle of soda). The problem with many bottle smoothie and juice drinks, is that they contain a lot of simple carbohydrate, and little to no fiber or protein to balance it out. Fiber and protein slow the uptake of sugar, which is why we recommend eating whole fruits and veggies (fiber!) and/or eating them as part of a meal (even just add almonds or peanuts- protein!) as opposed to just drinking their juices. (We’ll discuss making your own smoothies in the next post…stay tuned)

Don’t fret- it’s not all bad news juice lovers! The vitamin and mineral contents of many of these drinks is formidable- oftentimes high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, and occasionally calcium and iron. Many people find it easier to add liquid nutrition instead of trying to fit in 5+ servings of produce! Manufacturers may also add protein to some of their smoothie lines, which definitely makes them a better option than sugary sodas and energy drinks! I simply would not recommend or encourage relying on these beverages solely or consistently.

Bonus bites!

Snacks to keep you going (NOT full meal replacements):

Jerky: Brands like Krave, Perky Jerky, and Epic all make minimally processed, high protein, and delicious jerky! Perky Jerky even has a line of vegan jerky that are gluten free (but made with soy).

Trail mixes: A longtime backpacking and camping favorite, be careful to avoid brands with a bunch of candy pieces, added sugar, and preservatives! I like Planter’s Nut-rition and Bear Naked trail mix and granola bites. Minimal junk ingredients, macronutrient balanced, and tasty on the go!

And lastly, what kind of diet tech would I be if I didn’t recommend whole fruits and veggies? No, these aren’t technically “packaged” foods (unless you want to buy precut celery, apples, carrots, etc), but they are super easy to eat on the run! If you have a spare minute and a spare hand for dipping sliced produce- pack along mini cups of hummus, guacamole, or peanut butter, to maximize flavor, enjoyment, and really balance out that nutrient profile!

Hopefully this guide will help you determine what kinds of products are going to fit your busy lifestyle the best. Get stoked for part 2, where we’re going to dive into “quick nutrition- the homemade foods edition", exploring the benefits of your own food prep, along with free and easy recipes!

Have another idea? A question? A suggestion? Drop a comment below to help out the community! And as always, feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns you may have- I’m here for all of YOU!!

Take care everyone😊

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