No matter whether you’re riding, running, hiking or undertaking any other form of exercise, you need fuel, usually in the form of carbohydrates, to avoid the dreaded bonk. The best energy bars are designed with exactly this requirement in mind, and are typically packed with carbohydrates for this very reason.
Bonking, also known as hitting the wall, is technically called exercise-induced hypoglycemia and it’s what occurs when your blood sugar drops and your body’s glycogen stores are depleted. Luckily, fuelling your workouts is an easy and effective way to prevent it from happening.
Depending on the intensity and the duration of your exercise, there are different ways to go about it. Unlike the best energy gels, which are designed to fuel you like petrol would a flame, bars are often made using slower-release energy that fuels you for longer periods at lower intensities.
However, with so many different options available from sport-specific brands and our supermarket shelves alike, which are the best energy bars? And how do you differentiate one from the next? To answer this, I’ve spent months testing and tasting all the available options in a bid to find out which are great for quick energy, slow energy, recovery and more, as well as which actually taste like something you might want to eat.
The Clif Bar earns a place on this guide for various reasons but with the highest carbohydrate contents per bar on this list, it’s the bar we reach for when we have big adventures planned or long rides ahead. However, this comes primarily from a large overall size. At 68g per bar, it’s more than 50 per cent bigger than some of the others here, which means it’ll take a little longer to get down. Therefore, it’s best reserved for lower intensity days where you can take your time, rather than high-pace races where you need to eat quickly and get back to the task at hand.
There are six flavours to choose from and the exact constitution of nutrients within depends on the flavour you choose. But each gets a dose of fat and protein alongside the 45g of carbohydrate.
The texture of the bar is almost cake-like. It crumbles and dissolves quickly, meaning it’s not a difficult energy bar to eat. However, the texture and aesthetics look anything but natural. It’s not the worst in this regard, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are others here that provide a much greater sense that you’re eating actual foods. Finally, the taste is strong, but it did taste of what the packet promised.
As the name suggests, Skratch Labs Anytime energy bars are not only made to be eaten while exercising. Like most on this list, the added fats help to satiate hunger and proteins help to prevent muscle breakdown and post-exercise recovery.
At 50 grams per bar, they are slightly smaller than the Clif Bars above, but are still bigger than most here, so they are better saved for training rides or pre-ride snacks. The one downside is the lack of nut-free flavours, so if you’re allergic you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The aesthetics and texture of the Skratch bar is by far the most natural, whole-food-looking option I tested, and the taste follows the same pattern in that it tastes like you expect a combination of the ingredients should. You can actually see the oats, nuts, chocolate chips and fruit, and there are no chemical-like after tastes to deal with. I can genuinely imagine this being under one of those glass covers at the counter of a coffee shop.
The texture of the bar itself is pretty hard, almost crunchy, so it’s perhaps not the fastest to get down, if you’re trying to fuel a hard ride, but I will certainly be taking these on training rides.
While it doesn’t have as many total carbohydrates as the Clif Bar above and the Veloforte below, with less than a gram of fat and two grams of protein, the Torq Bar is by far the most carb-focussed bar in this list, packing 30 grams in a 45g serving.
As such, the Torq Bar is our pick as the best energy gel for fuelling, especially for those who want to minimise fat and protein, but don’t like energy gels or high-sugar-concentration drinks. What’s more, it works for fuelling alongside Torq’s other products, as it forms part of the brand’s so-called Fuelling System. As such, each of the gels, drinks, packets of chews and bars come with a round 30g of carbohydrates per serving, in a 2:1 glucose to fructose ratio to make it easy to hit the body’s widely-accepted limit of 90 grams of carbs per hour.
Really adding to the fast-fuelling nature of the product is that it’s easy to get out of the packaging one-handed. You can simply squeeze it, pushing the bar up and popping open the seal of the wrapper, rather than having to bite the serrated edge or use both hands.
The downside here is that aesthetic, taste and texture of the Torq Bar is among the least appetising on this list. It’s very moist and sticky, and the appearance is unlike any real food – it’s essentially a a brown stick of stodge. It also doesn’t taste amazing, with a slightly unusual after taste. However, in my experience, when hammering along in a road race or a pace line in need of fast-acting fuel, these are things that fade into non-issues.
Another good bar for workout fuel, but equally useful for everyday use, is the 40g SIS Go Energy bars, which come in five flavours. These are also easy to get out of the packaging one-handed, and comprise a chewy, moist texture that’s just as quick to consume – it didn’t dry out my mouth even when trying to get one down mid-way through a hard indoor interval session.
The protein is slightly higher than Torq, which is probably why it’s a little more satiating despite the smaller overall size.
However, also like Torq, the SIS Go Energy bars also come with an unnatural aesthetic, texture and taste. The Blueberry flavour I’ve been using doesn’t taste bad, but it doesn’t particularly taste like blueberries either. Again, when riding hard, I struggle to notice these things and prioritise ease of consumption.
Rawvelo prides itself on its eco-friendly business practice, and that pattern is apparent at every turn with the Rawvelo Organic Energy Bars. Not only is the packaging recyclable, but the ingredients are all-natural and organic – and perhaps most importantly, you’ll have actually heard of them all.
The ingredients are cold-pressed, rather than baked, which is claimed to be better for retaining nutrients for longer. In addition, Rawvelo makes a pledge to donate one per cent of its revenue to environmental causes. Furthermore, the plastic wrapper is recyclable, and it’s easy to pop open with a squeeze, rather than needing to bite off a corner, which would then inevitably become litter.
As for the taste test, the texture is a little dry, so it does take a little more effort to chew and swallow, but it’s far from a chore. The flavour is exactly what’s described on the packaging though, and it’s not too strong, so my distaste for peanut butter wasn’t an issue when eating the peanut butter and jelly flavour.
Of course, but not all energy bars are designed to be consumed during the rigours of high-intensity exercise. In fact, most aren’t, and Tribe’s Infinity Energy Flapjack is proof of that. While the promise of infinite energy is clearly hyperbole, it’s a fitting name for a product that offers 17g of slow-release carbohydrates that, in my testing at least, did a good job of keeping me going throughout a long easy ride, while the 9.5g of fat and 6.7g og protein kept me feeling full for long periods without the usual hunger pangs that hit. The taste is natural and pleasant, while the recipe is dairy- and gluten-free, while also being suitable for vegans.
One of the stand-out features of the Tribe Infinity Energy is the nine-year use-by date. While such a duration could arise concern about the ingredients, having browsed the back of the packet, it all appears to be totally natural, and more likely stands testament to the sugar content and the quality of the packaging, which is the only one on test that couldn’t just be forced open with a squeeze.
Onto the taste test, and the bar itself is another with a fairly natural aesthetic, although not to the level of the Skratch above. The texture is dry, crumbly and easy to consume, and the taste is mild enough not to be unpleasant, but certainly not too mild that it fails to meet the promise made by the packaging.
When you cut through all the marketing claims, none of the best energy bars listed here or anywhere else include any magic ingredients or silver bullets. Ultimately they are all a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats made from ingredients like rice, oats, fruits, nuts and so on. Head to the correct part of your local supermarket and you’ll find countless products with similar ingredients that will ultimately serve a similar purpose at a tenth of the price.
Sure, you may need to spend some time reading the ingredients, but that investment in time could save you a lot of cash over the course of a season’s worth of riding. Of course, this will be a case of trial and error to find a suitable taste, texture and composition, but with such a vast abundance of options available, and the relative cost saving available, it should still prove worth it if you want to go down this route.
How to choose the best energy bars for you
Why energy bars at all?
Why would I choose bars over gels, chews or drinks?
Comprising solid ingredients such as oats, rice and nuts, energy bars are typically best for slow-release carbohydrates, meaning they are suitable for anyone wanting to fuel longer, lower intensity efforts such as endurance training rides or off-the-bike adventures. They also contain a small-to-medium amount of fat and protein, which not only helps you to feel full for longer, but also helps with post-workout recovery too.
What composition of carbs, fat and protein is best in an energy bar?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this, and the best energy bar for you will ultimately depend on what you want from it. If you’re after something to fuel you quickly, then a bar with more carbs and less fat and protein will be best. However, if you want to fuel a big day of easy riding, then higher fat contents will be fine. A little protein will help to keep you feeling full for longer, and will prevent your body from breaking down your own muscles in extreme circumstances.
When should you eat energy bars?
During exercise, your body can process 60 grams of carbohydrate from glucose, and a further 30-48 grams from fructose, assuming you’ve trained your gut. If you’re looking to fuel workouts at this rate, energy bars might only be used during the early part of a race or training session. If you’re fuelling solely using energy bars, then you’ll need to check the quantity of carbohydrates in your chosen bar and limit intake accordingly.
However, a positive about some energy bars is that they are reasonably well-rounded foods that can be eaten off the bike, too. In this scenario, eat to hunger like you would any other snack, but remember they are still high in carbohydrate, so take it easy.
How we tested energy bars to find the best
Finding the best energy bars and weed out any that weren’t up to muster required a lot of hands-on testing with a whole range of different brands and options.
The primary consideration is that of the nutritional composition, ie how much carbohydrate, protein and fat is included in each; and the ingredients list, to see whether it’s packed with words we can’t pronounce, or made solely from natural and wholefood ingredients.
This info is then balanced against the aesthetics, texture and taste, including how easy it is to chew, break down and swallow. I also considered ease of use of the packaging, ie how easily it can be opened whilst riding along, and the eco-friendliness of the packaging.
Are energy bars good for you?
Depending on the ingredients chosen, energy bars can provide a healthy on- or off-bike snack. While some are packed with syrups and chocolate for flavourings, and are probably not considered overly healthy, others can contain oats, nuts and dried fruits, which when eaten in the correct quantities are far from unhealthy.