Energy Bars: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

3SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/21/2008 5:55 PM   :  85 comments

Looking for some fast fuel before or after your exercise, or a quick and easy treat that’s more nutritious than a candy bar or a 100-calorie pack of cookies? If so, energy bars may be a practical option for you. They’re convenient, easy to carry around, about the right size for a snack or even a meal replacement, and can be a good source of many nutrients.

But these days there are so many options to choose from, with such a wide range of nutritional quality, that it can be pretty confusing to pick one that’s right for you. And the marketing claims made by many of these items don’t make it any easier to tell the good ones from the candy bars with a few added vitamins. All calories provide “energy,” so literally anything can be called an “energy bar.”

What kind of bar you should choose depends a lot on what you want it to do for you. Here’s a handy way of putting energy bars into functional categories according to your specific needs, along with some nutrition info you can use to compare different brands…



First of all, let’s take just a moment to remind ourselves about the big picture here, which is that there’s really no such thing as an energy bar or meal replacement that’s as good for you as a real meal made with good, old-fashioned whole foods. The best time to consider an energy bar is when, for one reason or another, a real meal isn’t likely to happen, and you don’t want to go without eating something.

There are way too many different energy bars and brands on the market to look at them individually. But I think that, for most people, there are three functional categories all these bars can be sorted into, and each category has some “ideal” characteristics you can look for when selecting your own energy bar.

1. Bars for fueling up before exercise, or refueling afterwards.

Ideal Calorie Range:150-300
Fat Content: Low (less than 3 grams)
Fiber Content: Low (less than 2 grams)
Protein Content: Medium for cardio exercise (20-30% of total calories)
High for strength exercise (25-50% of total calories)
Carb Content: High for cardio exercise (40-65% of total calories)
Medium for strength training (35-60% of total calories)
Sugar Content: Your preference (sugar consumed before or after exercise will be used as fuel or to replace glycogen; low risk of fat storage)

Rationale: This snack/meal should be low in fat and fiber to speed digestion, and high in carbs and protein to provide fuel and the raw materials for muscle repair.

2. Meal Replacement Bars.

Ideal Calorie Range: 250-450 Calories
Fat Content: Up to 15 grams (5 grams saturated)
Fiber Content: High (over 5-7 grams)
Protein Content:15-35% of total calories
Carb Content: 40-65% of total calories
Sugar Content: Low (less than 6-12 grams)

Rationale: Since this is one of your regular meals, it should be as consistent as possible with your overall nutrition goals. You can juggle carb/fat/protein content to make your overall daily ratios come out right. Look for bars made with whole grains, natural sugars, and healthy fats.

3. Healthy Snack Bars.

Ideal Calorie Range: 100-250 calories
Fat Content: Moderate (up to 10 grams, 0 trans fat)
Fiber Content: High ( the more the better)
Protein Content: 8-20 grams
Carb Content: 10-35 grams
Sugar Content: No or very low refined sugar; natural sugars OK

Rationale: Fiber, fat and protein are more filling; refined sugar increases appetite. Also look for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you're not getting enough of from regular meals.


Here's a comparison chart with general nutrition info on many popular energy bars, and another one with info on some of the healthier but lesser known bars you're most likely to find in health food stores.

My personal favorites in each category:

Exercise fuel: PowerBar Performance (Chocolate Peanut Butter, of course).
Meal Replacement: Solid Protein by Nature's Best & Bear Valley bars
Healthy Snack: Larabar (almost any flavor)

What are your favorites?







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Comments

  • TRACILIN7
    85
    Questbars - 4/2/2012   9:23:51 AM
  • 84
    I love the Fiber One Peanut Butter or Chocolate bars. I have one for Breakfast every morning with my cup of tea. - 1/30/2010   10:25:32 AM
  • 83
    I LOVE Larabars (banana bread is awesome) and I eat Luna bars as well - 1/28/2010   6:31:22 PM
  • LOVEBEAM
    82
    i was just thinking about buying some for my on the road trip - 12/16/2008   10:14:42 AM
  • 81
    I keep these handy. I had a stress test the other day and instead of eating the crackers and peanut butter they offered, I ate the Fiber One Oatmeal Chocolate Bar. About 150 calories and high protein. - 12/8/2008   12:11:29 AM
  • 80
    I have tried many of these bars. Some are awful, some are too good, but I have found Fiber One has good flavor and nutrients. - 10/26/2008   2:52:42 PM
  • 79
    I'm hypoglycemic, so I need higher protein and lower carbs. Some of my favorites are the PowerBar Nut Naturals bars, in mixed nuts or trail mix flavors. They're 210 calories each and generally cost about $1.10 each. Kashi Go-Lean bars are pretty good. My latest love is the Kellogs Special K bars in double chocolate or peanut butter chocolate. I can get a package of 16 total for $12 at Sam's (like Costco). Snickers Marathon bars in honey oat or chocolate crunch are also good. - 10/26/2008   11:09:48 AM
  • 78
    I am not a big fan of energy bars...the majority of them have trans fat or high fructose corn syrup or both. If I really want one, I have to go to a health food store and buy organic ones...if not, I just avoid them. - 10/25/2008   12:14:18 PM
  • 77
    thanks for the info! these are much like all the Snackwell products, you really have to pay attention to the food labels, or you may as well have a Snickers Bar! - 10/24/2008   7:35:07 PM
  • 76
    As far as bars go, I tend to stick to the granola types.

    Energy-Kashi Go Lean Crunchy Chocolate Caramel. It's a bigger bar with a few more calories than some of the others I eat and takes effort to chew so this works out well for me. Only one of the Go Lean Crunchy bars that is 2 WW points so well worth it.

    Snacks-I too am a big fan of the Fibre One bar, I stick with the Oats and Chocolate and the Strawberry ones most. Also 2 points and really satisfies the sweet tooth. I also like the Kashi TLC Chewy granola bars. The Trail Mix flavor and the Dark Chocolate Cherry are awesome!

    The Costco near my house has a big box that makes the Fibre One and TLC bars cheap to keep on hand. There's always at least one in my drawer at work.

    Meal-Clif bars. Most have about 4 points, and will fill me up when paired with a banana and lots of water.

    In a pinch...there is not one convenience store I've ever been to which does not stock the Nature Valley Oats n Honey crunchy granola bars. I even see these vending machines often so, when all else fails, as sometimes it does, this works fine too. - 10/24/2008   3:55:00 PM
  • 75
    I just tried Nature Valleys Sweet and Salty snack bar, my family and I loved them. Its too late to read the nutritional info. What do you think of them? - 10/24/2008   7:00:35 AM
  • 74
    When I was in high school, my mom would send me to school with two PowerBars (Chocolate and Peanut Butter to pretend it was a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup) on days that I had Volleyball games. When I stopped playing Volleyball and decided to just run on my own, she bought me Luna bars in all kinds of flavors. I love them all! I've actually continued to get them over the last 6 years since I've been out of high school. - 10/24/2008   12:59:03 AM
  • 73
    I have stopped eating them, because they make me go over my daily calories - 10/23/2008   6:17:09 PM
  • NGSMART1
    72
    I had to comment on the Alton Brown homemade energy bars. I did make these once and I liked them O.K. but they are very dense and heavy. A bit too much for me and my husband wouldn't touch them (after he tried it once). I had to eat them all myself. However, they are super healthy. I simply don't have the time to make them usually and they require special ingredients. - 10/23/2008   1:47:29 PM
  • 71
    I occassionally eat Luna Bars since they do not have HFCS and are all natural. They taste yummy! - 10/23/2008   12:20:36 PM
  • 70
    When I have that sweet tooth attact... I grab a fiber one bar! It helps my sweet tooth and give me the fiber I need too! No more candy bars for me!!! - 10/23/2008   10:41:08 AM
  • 69
    I love Fiber One Bars. Peanut butter is my favorite. But, be careful not to eat more than 1 a day... as we all know what a lot of fiber can do ; ) - 10/23/2008   10:28:24 AM
  • 68
    Personally, I love P90X Protein Bars. Berry is my favorite and they also have Mocha which is okay. The Berry is very tasty and extremely efficient nutritionally. They work great as a Snack or mini meal replacement when you are on the go.

    I see several of you have tried them too. I love them!
    I am also a regular user of the Beach Body web site for Support.

    I reach out on the Spark and Beach Body Daily.

    Thanks - 10/23/2008   9:36:33 AM
  • 67
    I like the Shaws Crunchy Granola Bars. They come 2 bars to a package. Each bar is 100 calories (or you can eat both). Usually I will eat one before my gym routine (or after). They travel well and are flavorful and crunchy. I like to eat one bar with a piece of fruit. I really like their honey and oats as well as peanut butter. They are also not very expensive. - 10/23/2008   8:22:40 AM
  • 66
    I love Fiber One bars and they have 9 grams of fiber! - 10/23/2008   7:25:36 AM
  • 65
    I LOVE Clif bars or their feminine version, Luna Bars. Clif bars are vegan, too! They're mostly organic and are generally cheaper than the other ones (about a dollar a bar!). They even have a few kinds at the WalMart here! They are absolutely delicious. Try one! - 10/23/2008   1:01:13 AM
  • 64
    I tried acouple different energy bars and I haven't found one that I like...yuckie!! - 10/22/2008   11:04:20 PM
  • SLEEPYREE
    63
    i have a toasted nut's n cranberry luna bar for breakfast everyday and then use them as a mid morning snack as well. for my afternoon snack i have caramel nut brownie luna bar. they really taste great and are a great source of protein and other vitamins and minerals. larabars rock too, the pistachio (did i spell that right?) is killer. - 10/22/2008   10:02:18 PM
  • 62
    I love Fiber One and Nature Valley bars. They are great for breakfast on the run or for an afternoon snack. - 10/22/2008   8:30:00 PM
  • 61
    I love bars!! Luna Bars, Raw Revolution Bars, ProBar, Greens Bars, Full Bar, Gnu Bars, Kind Bars.... all are awesome!!!!

    Check them out if you haven't heard of any of them. GNU are great for fiber. Kind Bars are a medley of nuts and fruits. Raw Rev. are made from live fruits, seeds and raw agave. Greens Bar has a great balance of fats, carbs and protein (and provides you with your daily greens!)
    - 10/22/2008   7:18:33 PM
  • 60
    I like the Snickers bars because they have great nutritional content and about 24g of protein @ least. Have yet to try Larabars though, although I see them everywhere. - 10/22/2008   7:08:31 PM
  • 59
    I really like the South Beach Diet bars. They are lower in carbs and high in Protein. I try to avoid anything with corn syrup, which some of these bars have (fiber one). - 10/22/2008   7:06:54 PM
  • KADAKI
    58
    The bars I've been eating lately are the Curves Bars. Carbs 19g, Dietary Fiber is 5g. I eat one in the morning or afternoon as my snack and it keeps me going for a while longer until it's time to eat. I've tried alot of different ones, but some are either too sweet or they just taste to bland. I also like the Luna Bars as well. - 10/22/2008   6:05:03 PM
  • MKIRKLE
    57
    My absolute favs are the LaraBars. They are so good!! - 10/22/2008   4:56:20 PM
  • 56
    I can't remember Spark policy on including links right now, so I'll just say that Alton Brown of the show Good Eats on Food Network has recipes for homemade energy and protein bars. That way you control the ingredients completely. Check out the Food Network website if you're interested. - 10/22/2008   4:45:43 PM
  • ROKNBOP
    55
    I didn't read EVERY post, but did nobody mention Herbalife protein bars? I brought one of these home and sliced it up for my husband and kids to try and they swore it was a new brand of candy bar. It was the vanilla almond I believe and it tastes just like a snickers bar. A little spendy but I know I am getting something healthy, so it's worth it! - 10/22/2008   4:27:39 PM
  • WHATAPRIZE
    54
    I completely agree with giantsteps that the Lara bars are so good. They are vegan, perfect for me, possibly the only one out there and fill me up for a long time. Love the cashew. - 10/22/2008   3:59:20 PM
  • 53
    I *really* enjoy Dr. Andrew Weil's Organic Fruit and Nut Bars. (My fav is a toss-up between Banana Manna and Chocolada Walnut) - 10/22/2008   1:52:59 PM
  • MIESLDRU
    52
    I love the Honey Stinger protein bars - I use them when backpacking as a meal replacement / energy bar. - 10/22/2008   12:07:54 PM
  • 51
    I agree that some "energy bars" are nothing but junk food candy. They may be high in energy (i.e. calories) but nothing else except fat, sugar, and salt. I prefer to call the ones I chose "nutrition bars" because I check the labels for the ratio of nutrients to calories.

    I only use them as meal replacements if I get caught out somewhere or just in a situation when I just can afford to stop what I'm doing to fix a meal. I always carry one or two with me just in case I need them. I have experimented with several, but my favorites are the South Beach. They are about 140 calories, high in protein, and I particularly like the cranberry and maple flavors. South Beach also has a newer line of 100 calorie snack bars. Not quite as nutrious as the regular bars, but way better than a 100 calorie pack of cookies or whatever. - 10/22/2008   11:51:38 AM
  • 50
    I'm a Luna Bar fan. I keep them on hand for several kinds of "food emergencies". Berry Almond is my go to flavor for a quick breakfast or pre/post exercise snack. Chocolate Raspberry and Peppermint Stick have replaced candy bars in my pantry. And when I travel, especially with other people, I always pack a fair number in my bag (along with dried fruit), just because that way I KNOW I have relatively healthy options, no matter what insanity happens or where and when my traveling partners want to eat. - 10/22/2008   11:34:04 AM
  • 49
    My favorite is Kashi. I keep one in my bag in case I'm out doing errands and find myself getting hungry. Major points for me: 3g fat, 6g fiber, 8g protein, and 14g sugars. - 10/22/2008   11:33:26 AM
  • GIANT-STEPS
    48
    When I raced bicycles the category of energy bars didn't exist. Most racers I knew swore by Apple Newtons but I prefered soft chewey granola bars. Boiled new potatoes were popular among the hard core distance riders.

    My first experiences with energy bars were not good. Some were to hard to chew, none of them tasted good to me, and I didn't like the laundry list of ingredients. I did find Clif bars and really liked them. I started taking them on all my long rides and I kept a stash of them at home, in the car, and at the office for when I got so hungry I was tempted to eat junk food.

    Clif bars were my staple for a long time until I found Larabars. Larabars are really good! The cherry pie flavor is my favorite. These are organic, only have a few ingredients and taste great! They are a little on the tart side compared to other bars that I find too sweet.

    I'm still trying new bars, there is a whole category of raw organic bars now and so far they are good but I'm still partial to Larabars. - 10/22/2008   11:20:30 AM
  • MYCUTEGIZMO
    47
    Have anyone tried Alpen light bars 70calories or less..they taste pretty much good and really low in calories! - 10/22/2008   11:19:47 AM
  • 46
    My doctor would have an absolute fit over the sugar content in most of the bars in the article. I like the ISS Oh Yeah! Natural Honey and Oat Bars and ProtiDiet Caramel Cereal bars. The cereal bars have only 5 grams of sugar, plus 15 grams of protein and plenty of fiber for only 150 calories. I also found a new brand of bars called Control Bars - I've only tried one flavor so far, but it was yummy. I'm waiting for more samples to arrive. - 10/22/2008   11:17:14 AM
  • NGSMART1
    45
    I have the bad habit of eating energy bars on a daily basis although I do keep it down to one a day. I usually have one for breakfast. Currently, I am eating Cliff bars but they are too sweet for me. I usually stick with Luna bars. I would buy some of those healthier lesser known bars but the cost is too prohibitive. I generally won't pay more than 99 cents per bar.

    I do like Larabars though because they are so natural. I will buy those in bulk at Costco. Otherwise, they are too expensive. - 10/22/2008   11:17:09 AM
  • 44
    I usually keep Clif or Luna bars on hand for emergencies. They seem to work best for me. I've tried some of the Balance bars - I think I will keep them for when I want a treat! - 10/22/2008   11:05:05 AM
  • 43
    I used to each them all the time and just starting to abuse them so I really try to stay a way from granola bars. But I do have fiber one bars on hand just incase I get a sweet tooth. I love the way they taste and they are better than reaching for a candy bar. - 10/22/2008   11:00:30 AM
  • 42
    I'm another for the Gnu foods bars. Tons of fiber (12 g), they taste like real food (not candy) and they're fairly low calorie. Plus they'll ship them right to you. - 10/22/2008   10:58:26 AM
  • 41
    I'm another for the Gnu foods bars. Tons of fiber (12 g), they taste like real food (not candy) and they're fairly low calorie. Plus they'll ship them right to you. - 10/22/2008   10:58:26 AM
  • 40
    I have not tried any of the protien bars, but do snack occasionally on the Special K cereal bars, they are only 90 calories, plus I find them tasty. - 10/22/2008   10:47:29 AM
  • 39
    I like Pure Protein bars - 190 cals, low carb, low fat, low sugar and about 27g protein! - 10/22/2008   10:12:53 AM
  • 38
    For my all around chocolaty treat with 200 calories, a few grams of fat and a decent amount of protein I turn to the Cookie Dough flavor of Balance Bar... its amazing, i might need to have one right now. - 10/22/2008   10:10:27 AM
  • DUCHESSDORIGHT
    37
    Luna bars are my favourite, then Clif. I also enjoy Genisoy bars but I'm not sure how "healthy" they are in terms of fat, fibre and sugar. I know they are high in protein. - 10/22/2008   9:57:57 AM
  • 36
    I have tried a lot of protein bars and they were all bad! However, I received a sample of Special K protein bar. They are great. My husband will even eat them! He likes the peanut butter ones and I like the chocolate chip. Sometimes when I have to work all day and don't get a break, (I clean houses) I eat one of these as I'm travelling from home to home. They taste good, only 110 calories, fill me up and are good for me. They are a little pricey, but I wait until Target or Schnucks as them on sale and stock up. - 10/22/2008   9:48:58 AM

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