Last updated: 17/10/2022

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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.




Key Facts

  • 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

For an energy bar to have a positive impact on your diet, you need to be able to choose the right product and know when to eat it. This can be quite a challenge if you’re new to the fitness and healthy-eating world. In the following section, we will delve into the composition, nutritional profile, and types of energy bars available on the market. That way, you’ll be ready to make an informed decision and make the most of these delicious products.

Healthy energy bars are a practical and nutritious snack that you can carry with you everywhere you go.
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What are energy bars exactly?

They consist of a mixture of wet and dry ingredients that are combined, compacted, and cut to create the typical bar shape. These non-perishable food products are incredibly easy to transport, weigh very little, and provide nutrients and energy (1). They are one of the healthiest on-the-go snacks you can find.

What is their nutritional composition?

The nutritional profile of energy bars will vary, depending on the raw materials they contain. Their main nutrients are carbohydrates (fast and slow absorption), but certain types of bars now provide significant amounts of protein, dietary fiber, fat, and minerals (2).

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?

These food supplements can be made from a wide range of raw materials – from the healthiest to the most harmful. It is essential that you pick products consisting of top-quality ingredients and that aren’t simply candy in disguise.

  • 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?

While most of them are formulated to supplement the diet of high-performance athletes, many are also a healthy and convenient snack during intense study or work periods. You can learn more about their main benefits below:

  • 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).

Energy bars are a healthy and nutritional snack that you can slip in your pocket at any time.
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What types of energy bars are there?

Carbohydrates are the energy source par excellence for the human body. That being said, this energy can be released at a different pace, depending on the type of carbohydrate (simple or complex) and the presence of other nutrients (protein, fat, and fiber). Therefore, we can classify energy bars in two different groups:

  • 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
Satiating power Low High

When is the best time to eat energy bars?

This all depends on the activity you are doing and the type of energy bar. Complete bars can be consumed 2 to 3 hours before a workout, or as a snack between main meals. Products that are high in fast-absorbing carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fiber and fat are best taken after a workout (5).

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.

These durable food products are incredibly easy to transport, weigh very little, and provide nutrients and energy.
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What are the advantages of energy bars for athletes?

When specifically designed for athletes, these products are an excellent way to improve body composition, increase physical performance, and promote recovery after exercise (9). You can compare their pros and cons in the table below:

Advantages
  • They provide you with nutrients and energy anywhere and at any time.
  • The combinations of glucose and fructose in easy-to-assimilate bars are perfect for a quick glucose boost during training, thus prevent the depletion of glycogen reserves.
  • They prevent muscle fatigue and the abrupt drop in performance that would occur if muscle glycogen was depleted.
  •  After a workout, they stimulate glycogen resynthesis, promote recovery, and stop the degradation of muscle proteins.
  • The digestive system is generally very tolerant to energy bars. They do not cause bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, or stomach pain.
  • They are easy to consume and transport as they don”t need to be kept in the fridge.
  • In diabetic athletes, high-carbohydrate bars are highly recommended to prevent hypoglycemia.
Disadvantages
  • Consuming energy bars daily can be quite costly.
  • Certain athletes believe that energy bars are sufficient for their diet and neglect the quality of their main meals. These products should not be a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet.

Do all energy bars have the same satiating power?

No, this can vary significantly based on the ingredients that make up the bar. When used as a healthy snack to obtain quality nutrients and calm appetite between meals, these products should be rich in fiber and protein. These nutrients are slow to digest and remain in the stomach longer (7).

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.

Ann WigmoreHolistic Health Practitioner & Naturopath
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”

Are there contraindications to the consumption of energy bars?

These products have no specific contraindications in themselves. That being said, allergy-prone individuals should check the label carefully to make sure they are not at risk with the wide variety of ingredients they often include. If you have diabetes, on the other hand, you should consult your physician or nutritionist before consuming any energy bar.

The ingredients of energy bars are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates and simple sugars.
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Can energy bars produce side effects?

They rarely produce adverse effects and are generally much better tolerated by athletes than energy gels, as the latter can cause vomiting or diarrhea. In diabetic individuals, high-sugar bars may raise glucose levels to above-normal values, which is why a doctor should monitor their consumption.

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.

Buyer’s Guide

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:

Nutritional Composition

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).

Energy bars based on fruit pulp or refined cereals are recommended for athletes who need a quick energy boost for proper muscular workouts.
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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.

Additional Ingredients

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):

  • Caffeine
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Glutamine
  • Carnitine
  • Vitamins of the B complex, mainly B1, B2, B3, and B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Omega 3
  • BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine)
Did you know that most athletes have a better digestive tolerance for energy bars than energy gels?

Summary

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.

We hope that you found our shopping guide helpful and interesting. Don’t forget to share it on your social media! You can also leave us a comment below.

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