While I prefer the real food first approach, let’s be real. This isn’t always a realistic option, especially if you’re an athlete who is on the go. Personally, I usually have an extra energy bar packed in my bag because hangriness is a real thing, and I never know when hunger is going to strike. There is certainly no shortage of energy bars available. Each one gives a different promise on why it is the best choice. But how do they really compare? It’s time for the energy bar showdown!
Before reading on, here are a few things you should know:
- Available carbohydrates: Available carbohydrates is the total amount of carbohydrates minus the fibre. Fibre is the indigestible part of carbohydrates, meaning it can’t be broken down into sugar for the body to use as an energy source. Rather, it is pooped out the other end. By looking at the available carbohydrates rather than the total carbohydrates, you are comparing what is actually being used by your body as an energy source.
- Sugar: The sugar listed on food labels doesn’t differentiate between naturally occurring sugars, such as the sugar found in fruit and dairy products, and added sugars in the form of table sugar, honey, syrup etc. You can determine if it’s added sugar by looking at the ingredients list. All of the energy bars compared have added sugar in some form.
- Protein: The optimal amount of protein per snacks is extremely variable depending on your overall goals and if the snack is being used as a pre-exercise or post-exercise snack. The protein content of pre-exercise snacks doesn’t matter much but post-workout, most athletes will need about 15-30 grams of protein depending on body size.
- Saturated fat: This is the type of fat that most people want to limit in their diet, since it tends to raise bad cholesterol levels. When looking at saturated fat, I recommend looking at % daily value (DV) rather than grams. Greater than 15% DV is a lot and less than 5% DV is a little
|Energy Bar Comparison:|
My recommendations on what bar is best depends on when it being consumed:
Pre- exercise nutrition: Most of the bars above don’t contain enough available carbohydrates to be considered a good pre-exercise choice for long or hard workouts. The closest one would be the Clif bar with 48 grams of available carbohydrates. However, a lot of the calories in these bars are coming from fat. From a performance perspective, you’d be better off with a higher carbohydrate, lower fat option such as a banana with a bagel or a homemade smoothie.
Post-exercise nutrition: While the Daryl’s Bar, Pure Protein Bar and Quest Bar have a good amount of protein for post-exercise recovery, they don’t have enough available carbohydrates to help replenish depleted glycogen stored. You’d likely need to add in some additional carbohydrates such as a piece of fruit for optimal recovery. Better yet, you could plan so that post-workout you will have your next meal and eliminate the need for an energy bar altogether.
Day to day nutrition: For athletes, the Daryl’s Bar, Pure Protein Bar or Quest Bar are the winners for a snack to throw in your bag due to their protein content being in the 15-30 gram range. For non-athletes, for whom protein is less important, none of them are great due to either a high sugar or saturated fat content. Of the listed, the Daryl’s Bar or Quest Bar would probably be the best choice.
While an energy bar may at some points be necessary, as you can see from the above chart, choosing real food is still the best choice in most circumstances. Use energy bars as a backup plan rather than a first choice or a regular component of your diet. This may require some planning, but it will likely lead to a more nutritious option and your wallet will thank-you!