It’s amazing how ubiquitous energy bars have become. You often find an impressive selection in even modest convenience stores…and the category “bars” is even elevated onto supermarket aisle signs.
I’ve tried a ton of ‘em, and dutifully read any best-of list I see on the Web. There’s such a wide range of products out there. And of best-of lists. Surprisingly, many anoint products with poor nutritional characteristics and/or whose taste, in my opinion, sucks.
Here’s how I suggest you think about criteria for the “best” energy bars. And, a synthesis of high-quality best-of lists. Combining these two views highlights five great bars you should try.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT ENERGY BAR?
Look for energy bars that have:
1. Good or good-enough taste. This is a personal thing, of course, but sometimes you eat something and wonder “does anyone actually like this?”
2. Enough size to be filling. At least 1.5 oz.; the common 1.8 oz. weight is better.
3. Calories in the low 200’s. Or better yet <=200 (if you’re doing “meal replacement,” can be higher…but I’m not a big fan of meal replacement).
4. Low sugar. 5 g or less is ideal. Note, there are healthy fruit-based bars out there with high natural sugar, like 15-20 g. These aren’t necessarily bad (especially pre-workout). But eat them knowing you’re taking in pretty much sugar, and account for that in other things you eat that day.
5. No soy protein. It’s linked to estrogen production and other impacts – not good for men. This criterion knocks lots of bars out of contention. Note, it’s soy protein you want to avoid. Many bars have “soy lecithin,” a minor ingredient used to help consistency – this is OK.
6. Few or no artificial ingredients. Ideally, be able to pronounce everything on the ingredients list, and know what it is.
7. Medium level of complete protein. There are wide-ranging views on how much protein you need. I prefer a bar to have 10-15 g of protein (from within a range you’ll see of 2-3 g up to 30+ g). Higher protein makes sense if you use a bar as post-workout recovery, though (I tend to use recovery drinks, not bars).
8. Medium level of (healthy) carbs. There’s also a wide range of views on this one (I’m a “smart, moderate carbs” guy myself). There are bars with virtually no carbs, ones with a lot of them, and ones that boast low “net carbs” once accounting for fiber and sugar alcohols your body doesn’t digest. I prefer a material amount of carbs, but not from simple sugars. 20-something grams of carbs, netted down into the teens once accounting for some fiber or, one of the more-benign sugar alcohols, is good.
9. Fiber. Look for 5+ grams of it.
10. Sub-$2 cost. I think paying for healthy food is worth it. But still, some bars are expensive. Finding one that does all/most of the above for ~$2 (at least in a multi-bar pack) is a good deal.
BEST-OF-THE-BEST energy bars
You can find many “best bars” lists, as with anything. I’ve checked out a lot of them, and evaluated how credible they are (many, not so much).
Also, many name a “best” for a lot of different eating occasions (maybe to keep you clicking through more pages to see ads?). I know we may have different wants at different times of day, or driven by how the bar is used for exercise fueling or recovery. But still, these highly-categorized lists bug me, because I want maybe two kinds of bars I buy, travel around with, etc. (max three). Not a 10-bar repertoire (these are energy bars, not golf clubs, dude).
So, the links below are to lists I think apply the above-listed criteria well, and help you zero in on just a few bars that might work best for you.
Which bars top the lists? These five appear in a lot of places. I’ve tried them all and recommend them, but nowadays the two I normally eat are Oatmega and Kind Bars. Nutrition facts are for a representative flavor of each – they may vary a little for some flavors.
Oatmega. (190 cal / 21 g carbs / 5 g sugar / 14 g protein / 7 g fiber / also 300 mg of Omega 3’s).
I’ve seen these referred to as “the Cadillac of bars” – because of their awesome features, not cost (they’re <=$2 each). To me, they are really tasty. A little hard to find, though. Find retail stores here, or here they are on Amazon.
Kind. (200 cal / 16 g carbs / 5 g sugar / 6 g protein / 7 g fiber). These are a bit lower in protein, but really good in all other respects. They have a lot of flavors (dark chocolate, nuts & sea salt is awesome to me), and are available all over the place.
Quest. (170 cal / 25 g carbs / 1 g sugar / 20 g protein / 17 g fiber). These have great “specs” – low-cal, very low sugar, tons of fiber resulting in just one “net carb.” So much fiber that some people might have discomfort eating them, though, until they get accustomed. Drink a lot of water with them for this reason. To me, these taste “good enough,” but not even close to Oatmega or Kind Bars. But, they’re really widely available.
Health Warrior. (200 cal / 25 g carbs / 11 g sugar / 10 g protein / 5 g fiber). Higher in sugar than the first three listed here, and on the lower end of the protein range. But, it’s all plant-based protein and gluten free. Then again, Kind Bars have those same characteristics.
Kit’s Organic. (200 cal / 25 g carb / 20 g sugar / 4 g protein / 4 g fiber). These are fruit-based (dates), so they similar natural sugar levels as an apple. Dates are a big part Mediterranean peoples’ diets, and they’ve had good health outcomes vs. other populations, so this sugar isn’t necessarily a big deal. But still, be aware you’re eating more sugar than with these other bars. Also gluten-free with plant-based protein (from almonds). Note: Larabar is similar, and much more widely-available.
To see deeper assessments of these, and comparison to other bars I’ve not mentioned, check out these sources:
Prevention Magazine (their #1 = Oatmega)
Well + Good (Health Warrior, Quest, Oatmega among their top five. This list also has “five worst,” some of these appear on others’ “best” list – go figure)
Eat This, Not That: (Kind is their #1; Quest and Oatmega also make the list)
“Invisible airwaves crackle with life. Bright antennae bristle with the energy.” (Rush, The Spirit of Radio—click to listen)
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