How we pick our products
Energy bars are a quick and efficient way to get energy and a carbohydrate boost anywhere, anytime. Although they always contain a source of carbs (the energy nutrients par excellence), these food products can also provide protein, fat, and dietary fiber.
Many people still believe that energy bars are only beneficial for marathon runners and cyclists. However, carbohydrates are the primary fuel for neurons and also play a crucial role in stopping muscle protein degradation after strength training.
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 The best Energy Bar: Our Picks
- 3 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Energy Bars
- 3.1 What are energy bars exactly?
- 3.2 What is their nutritional composition?
- 3.3 What are the main ingredients of energy bars?
- 3.4 What benefits do energy bars offer?
- 3.5 What types of energy bars are there?
- 3.6 When is the best time to eat energy bars?
- 3.7 What are the advantages of energy bars for athletes?
- 3.8 Do all energy bars have the same satiating power?
- 3.9 Are there contraindications to the consumption of energy bars?
- 3.10 Can energy bars produce side effects?
- 4 Buyer’s Guide
- 5 Summary
- Energy bars are made with cereals, fruit pulp, and dried fruits, all foods that are good sources of complex carbohydrates and simple sugars. They may also contain oils, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
- What makes energy bars so attractive is that all the ingredients are mixed and compacted to obtain a durable product in the shape of a bar.
- There are various key criteria that you need to take into account to purchase the energy bars that best suit you. These include their nutritional composition, how quickly your body can assimilate the carbohydrates, the composition of the product, as well as potential allergens.
The best Energy Bar: Our Picks
Over the last couple of decades, the popularity of energy bars has grown significantly because they allow you to obtain nutrients and calories quickly and easily. This is why you can find such a wide variety of manufacturers and types on the market. To help you make the right decision, we have selected some of the most popular energy bars out there:
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Energy Bars
What are energy bars exactly?
What is their nutritional composition?
Energy bars are often enriched with B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, glutamine, BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), caffeine and carnitine, to improve the performance and recovery of athletes (2, 3). Here is a list with their value range of calories and macronutrients:
- Bar weight/ratio: 30 to 60 grams
- Calories per bar: 108 to 225 calories
- Carbohydrates per bar: 24 to 30 grams
- Proteins per bar: 1 to 13 grams
- Fiber per bar: 0.1 to 8.2 grams
- Fat content per bar: 0.1 to 7 grams
What are the main ingredients of energy bars?
- Healthy ingredients in energy bars: rolled oats, puffed rice, seeds, dried fruits, nuts, fruit pulp and purée, pure honey, coconut oil, olive oil, cocoa, cinnamon, dates, egg white, or skimmed yogurt (1).
- Harmful ingredients in energy bars: table sugar (sucrose), butter, hydrogenated oils, chocolate, artificial colors and flavorings, concentrated juices.
What benefits do energy bars offer?
- When consumed before training or competition, the carbohydrates help you start the physical activity with optimal levels of blood glucose and muscle and liver glycogen. Glycogen is a polysaccharide that consists of glucose units stored in your liver and muscle (2).
- If taken during training or competition, energy bars prevent the depletion of glycogen stores and hypoglycemia (lower-than-normal blood glucose levels). When you consume all your muscle glycogen, the cells do not have enough glucose for rapid energy, and you start feeling fatigued (4).
- When consumed after training or competition, they stop the degradation of muscle proteins and help restore glycogen stores in your muscle and liver. In addition, energy bars promote recovery after physical efforts, in which case they must contain both carbs and proteins (5).
- During an intense study or work period, the glucose present in energy bars serves as fuel for the neurons (6).
- If the energy bars are complete with protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats in addition to carbohydrates, they are a practical and nutritious snack. They can also make you feel satiated, thus reducing your appetite (7).
- Energy bars are an excellent way to consume other ingredients and nutrients beneficial to your health. Goji berries, for instance, can be added for their antioxidant content, or quinoa to improve insulin sensitivity (8).
What types of energy bars are there?
- Energy bars composed almost exclusively of carbohydrates: These products generally contain fruit pulp, honey, or refined cereals with a source of simple sugars and complex carbohydrates. They provide negligible amounts of protein, fiber, and fat. They require little digestion, with the sugars quickly passing into the blood to be used as an energy source.
- Complete energy bars: In addition to providing simple and complex carbohydrates, they also offer protein, dietary fiber, and fat. These bars are most useful when you don’t need a quick energy boost as your body needs more time to assimilate them. They may contain rolled oats, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, yogurt, and egg white (1).
|Characteristics||Carbohydrate-based energy bars||Complete energy bars|
|Nutritional profile||Almost pure simple and complex carbohydrates, easily digestible. They can be enriched with B-complex vitamins, magnesium, caffeine, and carnitine.||Simple and complex carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fiber, and fats. They may also provide B-complex vitamins, potassium, magnesium, BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), caffeine, and carnitine.|
|Average weight||25-30 grams||50-60 grams|
|Common ingredients||Honey, fruit pulp, puffed rice, puffed quinoa, cornflakes, concentrated fruit juice, pectin||Rolled oats, honey, dates, nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts), grated coconut, coconut oil, olive oil, dried fruits, seeds, egg white, yogurt|
|Texture||Soft, gelatinous, easy to chew||Hard, crunchy, good chewing required|
|Assimilation of the nutrients||Quick||Intermediate to slow|
When is the best time to eat energy bars?
If you are looking for energy bars immediately before or after exercising, you should favor those that only contain fast-absorbing carbs (4). Since they have no fiber or protein, their satiating power is very low. This means that they are not recommended in situations with less than 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity.
What are the advantages of energy bars for athletes?
Do all energy bars have the same satiating power?
Energy bars that consist of pure carbohydrates do not provide a feeling of satiety as they spend little time in the stomach before your body absorbs them. High-performance athletes, for whom these products are formulated, need glucose immediately and may experience stomach upset if the bar stays in the stomach too long.
Are there contraindications to the consumption of energy bars?
Can energy bars produce side effects?
Another issue is the fact that many people believe all bars to be healthy. This isn’t the case, as many products are a source of low-quality sugars and fats. If you consume too many of these, you expose yourself to weight gain, increased blood triglycerides, and even diabetes in the long run.
The nutritional composition of the energy bar, as well as the moment you eat it, play a major role in determining its metabolic and nutritional impact on your organism. In addition, other factors should influence your purchase so you can make the most of these supplements. We have detailed them in the following section:
Certain energy bars based on fruit pulp or refined cereals only provide simple sugar; they are recommended for athletes who need a quick energy boost for proper muscular workouts. If they sometimes contain minerals, vitamins, and other functional ingredients key to their user, carbohydrates remain their primary nutrient.
Complete energy bars with simple and complex carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, and healthy fats, are best suited as a snack between meals and to calm the appetite. They should provide at least 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber each, while the fats should be mostly unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).
Carbohydrate Assimilation Rate
The quick-absorbing carbohydrates in energy bars are called glucose and fructose. Since your body can assimilate them in little time, the sugars quickly reach your muscles to serve as an energy substrate during physical activity, or in the glycogen resynthesis after training or competition is over.
If you eat a bar that provides not only carbohydrates, but also fiber, proteins, and fats, your organism will need more time to digest and assimilate its nutrients. The glucose is slowly released into the blood, allowing blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to remain stable for several hours.
Energy bars sometimes include added nutrients and active ingredients to improve sports performance and overall health. These additional components are an extra benefit for consumers (2, 3):
- Vitamins of the B complex, mainly B1, B2, B3, and B6
- Vitamin C
- Omega 3
- BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine)
The variety of energy bars on the market means that you can find the perfect product for your needs. Some only provide fast-absorbing carbohydrates to supply your muscles during more prolonged physical activity, while others are more complete and include fiber, protein, and fat in their composition.
When it comes to taste, texture, and the degree of processing of the ingredients inside, your options are virtually endless. In any case, there is one thing that all high-quality energy bars will do: provide you with the nutrients and energy boost you need, anywhere, anytime.
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(Source of featured image: Marrakeshh: 79287468/ 123rf.com)