How to Choose the Best Energy Bar for Your Needs

You walk into your local grocery or convenience store and inevitably stumble upon a sea of energy bars. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the plethora of health claims, you quickly buy an eye-catching bar with an appealing flavor. But did you really get the best bar to suit your needs?

Before making a purchase, think about why you are eating that bar—for additional protein, as a nourishing snack or as a convenient meal replacement? Do you feel that because you are dieting, exercising or focusing on your health, that energy bars are simply a must? Whatever your reasoning, know that energy bars are not a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet. Before you buy, remember these pros and cons:
 

Pros


There are many reasons why energy bars are so popular. In general, energy bars:
  • Can help meet your energy (calorie) needs.
  • May help meet your nutritional needs for protein, carbohydrates and fat.
  • May help to meet other nutritional needs, depending on the added vitamins and minerals (i.e. calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, folic acid, protein and fiber).
  • Are portable, convenient and pre-packaged.
  • May keep you away from unhealthier temptations, such as the vending machine or fast food drive-thru.
  • Can help ward off binge eating if you become excessively hungry.
  • Have a long shelf life and don't require refrigeration.

Cons


Consider these downsides:
  • Excessive nutrients. Energy bars can contribute to an excessive intake of nutrients, especially if you are eating more than one bar daily, are already taking a multivitamin supplement or are eating other fortified (enriched) foods and beverages. The dangers of over-supplementation vary from minor intestinal discomfort (diarrhea and constipation) to liver disease, nerve damage or even death.
  • Excessive calories. If eaten too often, energy bars may contribute to a high calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Added sugar. Energy bars have a sweet flavor. This can come from several sources, including fruits, fruit juices, calorie-containing sweeteners (sugar, honey, syrups), or artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. You’ll have to read the ingredient listing to meet your personal preferences and amounts.
  • Cost. At $1 to $2 per bar, this convenience food can quickly become a major grocery expense.
  • Abdominal discomfort. Some energy bars (especially low-sugar, low-carb and high-fiber varieties) contain sugar alcohols and alternative fiber sources (inulin, chicory root), which can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea in some individuals. While these ingredients are safe to consume, it's best to monitor your individual tolerance.
  • Lack of data. There is very little research to support the actual need for energy bars. While many provide claims regarding weight loss, antioxidants and muscle building, they are not a magical food and should not be used as a constant replacement for whole foods in your diet.
  • Processing. Energy bars are a highly processed food, whereas whole, unprocessed foods should be the staples of a healthy diet.
  • Additives. Some energy bars contain additional herbal ingredients, weight-loss aids or athletic performance-enhancing aids. There is no data to show that any of these are effective or beneficial to health. There are no standards regarding potency or safety or effectiveness in these supplemental ingredients—and many can result in medication interaction and possibly dangerous side effects.
While no energy bar is perfect, do your homework to ensure the next one you eat isn't just a glorified candy bar. The following criteria were designed for adults who are following a weight-loss eating plan. Use the guidelines based on your needs, whether that's for a meal replacement, afternoon snack or workout fuel. And above all, when you do choose one, enjoy your energy bar! Find a flavor and consistency that you like. Make sure that your body tolerates the energy bar with no intestinal discomfort, especially if you plan to use the bar prior to an athletic event.
 

Meal Replacement Bars


When lunch is out of reach or you want to add more structure to your eating plan, a meal replacement bar can be used on occasion. Adding a piece of fruit, some raw veggies and a serving of yogurt or milk can help round out this quick, on-the-go meal. If replacing a meal, read the nutrition label to find a bar that contains the following nutritional metrics:
  • About 200-320 calories
  • 10-25 grams of protein
  • 4 grams of fiber or more
  • About 20-40 grams of carbohydrate
  • Fewer than 20 grams of sugar
  • 12 or fewer grams of fat
  • No more than 30 percent of your RDA for vitamins and minerals
BEST BITES
Meal Replacement Bar Weight
(grams)
Calories Protein
(grams)
Carbs
(grams)
Sugar
(grams)
Fat
(grams)
Fiber
(grams)
Atkins, Protein-Rich Meal Bar
Peanut Fudge Granola
48 210 16 16 1 11 8
Atkins, Protein-Rich Meal Bar
Cookies N Creme
50 200 14 22 1 11 9
Clif Energy Bar
Crunchy Peanut Butter
68 260 11 40 19 7 4
Oatmega Bar
Blueberry
50 200 14 22 5 7 7
Oatmega Bar
Lemon Chia
50 200 14 22 5 7 7
Power Bar, Protein Plus/Reduced Sugar
Lemon Poppy Seed
60 200 20 25 3 7 5
Power Bar, Protein Plus/Reduced Sugar
Choc. Peanut Butter
60 200 20 24 2 7 5
Power Bar, Protein Plus
Cookies N Cream
60 210 20 27 13 5 4
Power Bar, Protein Plus
Chocolate Peanut Butter
60 210 20 25 12 6 4
ProBar, Base
Cookie Dough
70 290 20 33 16 9 4
ProBar, Base
Mint Chocolate
70 280 20 33 17 9 4
Quest Bar, Hero
Chocolate Caramel Pecan
60 200 15 27 12 11 11
Quest Bar, Protein
Cookies and Cream
60 200 21 21 1 8 15
Rx Bar
Chocolate Chip
52 220 12 22 12 10 5
Rx Bar
Mint Chocolate
52 210 12 23 13 9 5
Special K Protein Meal Bar
Pretzel Cashew
51 230 12 24 13 10 5
Vega 20 g Protein Bar
Chocolate Peanut Butter
70 290 20 27 18 10 4
GOOD BITES
Meal Replacement Bar Weight
(grams)
Calories Protein
(grams)
Carbs
(grams)
Sugar
(grams)
Fat
(grams)
Fiber
(grams)
Clif Energy Bar
Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch
68 260 10 41 20 7 4
Clif Energy Bar
Oatmeal Raisin Walnut
68 250 10 43 21 6 4
Clif Mojo Bar
Dark Chocolate Almond Coconut
45 210 8 20 10 12 3
Clif Whey Protein Bar
Salted Caramel Cashew
56 250 14 26 5 11 3
Go Marco Bar
Blueberry and Cashew Butter
65 270 10 36 11 10 2
Kind Protein Bar
Toasted Carmel Nut
50 250 12 18 8 17 5
Perfect Bar
Maple Almond
65 310 13 27 18 18 4
Power Bar, Plant Protein
Dark Chocolate Almond and Sea Salt
55 230 10 22 10 13 8
Vega Bar, Sport Protein
Crunchy Peanut Butter
70 300 20 26 14 11 3
 

Afternoon Snack Bars


For your afternoon snack, be aware that many bars have calorie and sugar levels similar to candy bars. Use the criteria below to find a bar with a boost of protein and fiber, and be sure to use your snack bar wisely. The goal of this snack is to not only keep you energized until your next meal, but to keep you away from other tempting, high-calorie, less nutritious snacks. Read the nutrition label to find a bar that contains:
  • About 100-200 calories
  • 5-15 grams of protein
  • 2 grams of fiber or more
  • About 10-25 grams of carbohydrate
  • 15 grams of sugar or less
  • 7 grams of fat or less
  • No more than 20 percent of your RDA for vitamins and minerals
BEST BITES
Snack Replacement Bar Weight
(grams)
Calories Protein
(grams)
Carbs
(grams)
Sugar
(grams)
Fat
(grams)
Fiber
(grams)
Atkins, Protein-Rich Meal Bar
Raspberry Chia
48 180 16 19 2 7 13
Atkins, Snack Bar
Lemon
40 160 13 15 1 7 9
Atkins, Snack Bar
Cranberry Almond
35 150 10 16 1 6 5
Balance Bar, Duo-licious
Dulce de Leche and Carmel
40 150 5 24 12 5 6
Glucerna Snack Bar
Chocolate Chip
40 150 10 20 4 5 3
Glucerna Snack Bar
Peanut Chocolate Chip
40 160 10 20 4 6 3
Special K Protein Meal Bar
Strawberry
45 170 12 22 14 5 5
Special K Protein Meal Bar
Chocolate Peanut Butter
45 180 12 22 13 6 5
Luna Protein Bar
Chocolate Walnut Fudge
45 180 12 20 13 6 2
Power Bar, Clean Whey Protein,
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
60 190 20 25 2 5 13
Power Bar, Clean Whey Protein,
White Fudge Raspberry
60 190 20 25 2 4.5 12
Power Bar, Protein Snack
Carmel Nut Brownie
55 180 12 24 13 7 3
Quest Bar, Protein
Blueberry Muffin
60 190 21 22 2 6 15
Quest Bar, Protein
S’mores
60 190 21 22 1 7 14
Slim-Fast Bake Shop Bar
Chocolatey Crispy Cookie Dough
45 180 15 17 1 7 5
Slim-Fast Bake Shop Bar
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
45 180 15 18 1 6 5
SoyJoy, Crispy
Plain
25 123 6.4 9.1 7.1 7.3 2
SoyJoy, Crispy
Banana
25 115 5.9 9.7 7.1 6.6 2.6
Vega Bar, Protein Snack Bar
Blueberry Oat
45 190 10 22 11 7 5
GOOD BITES
Snack Replacement Bar Weight
(grams)
Calories Protein
(grams)
Carbs
(grams)
Sugar
(grams)
Fat
(grams)
Fiber
(grams)
Atkins, Harvest Trail Bar
Blueberry Vanilla and Almond
38 150 8 17 4 9 10
Balance Bar, 40-30-30
Chocolate Mint Cookie Crunch
50 200 14 23 16 7 2
Balance Bar, Duo-licious
Dark Chocolate Pecan Turtle
44 190 7 24 13 8 6
Clif Mojo Bar
Peanut Butter Pretzel
45 200 9 22 9 9 2
Clif Mojo Bar
Mountain Mix
45 200 8 23 11 9 2
Go Macro Bar, Thrive
Almond Apricot
40 180 5 19 8 10 3
Kashi, Go Lean, Nutty Layered
Crunchy Peanut Butter
45 200 8 20 8 11 4
Kashi, Go Lean, Plant Powered
Dark Chocolate Cashew Chia
45 200 8 21 8 10 4
Kind Bar
Blueberry Vanilla and Cashew
40 180 4 19 7 12 4
Kind Bar, Healthy Grains
Maple Pumpkin Seed
35 150 3 22 5 6 2
Lara Bar
Banana Chocolate Chip
45 190 4 26 20 9 4
Lara Bar
Mint Chocolate Brownie
45 190 4 26 19 9 4
Luna Protein Bar
Berry Greek Yogurt
45 180 13 22 16 5 3
Luna 5G Sugar Bar
Cinnamon Almond Swirl
42 180 7 19 5 9 2
Luna 5G Sugar Bar
Chocolate Chip Cookie
42 180 7 20 5 8 3
Probar, Bite
Super Fruit and Greens
49 190 6 27 10 7 3
SoyJoy,
Almond and Chocolate
30 146 5.4 9 7.1 9.9 4.7
Special K Protein Bar
Chocolate Cherry Nut
35 150 8 19 12 5 1
Special K Nourish Bar
Cranberry Almond
33 150 3 20 12 6 2
Vega Bar, Protein Snack Bar
Chocolate Caramel
45 180 10 21 11 8 4
Zego Bar, Seed and Fruit
Sunflower Date
38 160 6 15 11 12 4
 

Workout Fuel


Before hitting the gym or starting a long run, your body needs carbohydrates. It is best to avoid protein, fat, fiber and sugar alcohols, all of which can delay the emptying time of the stomach and slow digestion, causing cramps and sluggish energy levels. Energy bars are usually too high in protein, fat, fiber and possibly sugar alcohols to be used for pre-exercise nourishment. Instead, try another quick-digesting food source before exercising. Read What to Eat Before You Work Out for ideas.  

During your workout, energy bars are not an appropriate refueling choice because aerobic and high-intensity exercises require blood flow to the muscles, not to the stomach for the digestion of foods. After exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, consider a sports drink or sports gel to boost your energy levels, promote hydration and balance electrolytes in the body.

Energy bars may work for low-intensity, very long-duration activities, such as a long, slow hike or bike ride. (During lower-intensity exercise, less blood is diverted to the muscles.)

After your exercise session, your body needs mostly carbohydrates (to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles), some protein (to help repair damaged muscle tissue) and a little fat (for cellular repair). Eating a "real" and complete meal is your best bet. But if you cannot eat a meal within two hours of working out, then an energy bar paired with a glass of water or milk and a piece of fruit is a good option. Look for a meal replacement bar (see examples above) with at least 30 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams (or more) of protein and 5-10 grams of fat. Read What to Eat After You Work Out for more tips and food ideas.
 

Bar None


Don’t feel like you have to rely on energy bars to meet your calorie and nutritional needs. These snack ideas provide energy, nutrition and flavor in a convenient, budget-friendly package:
  • Fresh fruits: apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, bananas
  • Individually packaged fruit and applesauce cups
  • Yogurt
  • String cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grain crackers, bagels or muffins (plain or with hummus, cheese, peanut butter or seed butters)
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Carton of low-fat milk, chocolate milk or soy milk
  • Graham crackers and peanut butter or seed butters
  • 100-calorie pack of microwave popcorn
  • Package of instant, microwave oatmeal
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Member Comments

HOTPINKCAMARO49
Thank you for doing the research for this article! Report
Great info! Thank you! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
This is good information to know as some of them are too much like candy. Report
I don't care for the energy bars, probably due to many of the ingredients are not on my food lists. I try to use other things that are not a mixture of ingredients. Thanks for a very good blog! Report
A nice bowl of oatmeal (1/2 cup) with a couple of sliced strawberries, splenda and a little wheat germ an hour before going on my four hour bike ride keeps ne full until I get home. I also like quest bars as a snack if the ride is longer then planned, 200 cal 1g suger tasty too. The oatmeal is still even more so. A cup if pasta would do too, or rice. Report
Lots of good need-to-know information, thanks! Report
Awesome...thanks.
.. Report
thank you Report
I love this list. As a diabetic, it saves me time at the store looking for carbs on every bar! Report
Very informative! Report
Have a peanut butter sandwich with honey on 100% whole wheat bread. Report
I really watch the sugar intake. what a variety! I will probably choose the Atkins when I can.
Thanks! Report


 

About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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