Best and worst ways to eat (and drink) for energy

Busy much? Coffee isn't the only way to get through the day. New drinks and bars are popping up everywhere, providing a jolt of energy (from caffeine) in grab-and-go packages. Unfortunately, many of these products also contain added sugars or other health-harming additives that set you up for a crash.

The good news is that lots of foods without energy on their labels boost pep as well. "There's nothing magic about energy foods," says Nancy Clark, RD, author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Here what to pick and skip:

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Worst: Energy Drinks

These beverages, like Red Bull, are caffeine-and-sugar cocktails that come in 8-ounce cans. Caffeine boosts cognitive performance, and glucose (the brain's main source of fuel) gives an added jolt. Many of these drinks also include a rain forest fruit called guarana, which contains still more caffeine.

Down a can and it's hard not to feel rocket fueled-but some people also experience anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and increased heart rate and blood pressure from all the caffeine. And the sugar can total 31 g, as much as a can of soda packs. By comparison, a standard cup of coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar has about 8 g and will fortify your body with disease-fighting antioxidants in addition to caffeine.

Worst: Energy Shots

Your friends the food marketers thought it would be fun to compress a full-size energy drink into a 2-ounce can. Women often gravitate to energy shots because they have fewer calories and easily slip into a purse. Manufacturers claim the energy boost acts faster and lasts longer, but there's no proof, says Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis.

In fact, because the cans are petite (and contain artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, which companies say prevents a crash), you might be tempted to drink more of them, making it easier to OD on caffeine. And the taste...well, the label may say lime, but your mouth will know better-metallic and bitter is more like it.

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Best: Healthy Energy Bars

Energy bars are easy to buy and stash in your purse for a pick-me-up on the go. They purport to provide lasting energy, give you the nutrients you need, and power you through a tough workout. Some of them actually are good for you-especially those such as Lärabar and Bear Naked Grain-ola that contain whole grains, nuts, and fruit.

The problem is, many are little better than candy bars, with nearly half their calories coming from various forms of sugar. While these may give you a 15-minute mood boost, you'll get a sugar crash soon after and will have consumed 200 or more calories. So choose carefully or make one yourself.

Get recipes to make your own healthy energy bars

Best: Smoothies

The fruit's carbohydrates and yogurt's protein keep blood sugar steady for a lasting lift. Make a power snack by blending 1/2 c fat-free milk, 3 Tbsp low-fat vanilla yogurt, and 1/2 c frozen raspberries.

210 calories, 7 g protein, 45 g carb, 5 g fiber, 1 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 85 mg sodium

Best: Dark Chocolate

Though plain chocolate may set you up for a crash, eating Dove Rich Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds will provide the same filling combo of carbs and protein, plus a heap of healthy fats from the nuts.

Per 13 pieces: 210 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carb, 3 g fiber, 15 g fat, 6 g sat fat, 10 mg sodium

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