Yoghurt-coated banana, caramel chocolate, wild berry, cinnamon roll crisp, stawberry whip… they might sound as though they should be gracing the dessert menu of a restaurant, but they’re actually just some of the flavours that can now be found in the energy bar section of your local health-food shop, supermarket or specialist running store.
This choice of tempting flavours simply highlights that there is now a massive choice facing runners when they come to choose an energy bar. To make the decision a little easier, we have included a rundown of the information you need to know when choosing an energy bar, and the results of our test of 17 of the bars currently available.
When you’re running for long periods, you need to supplement your energy by replacing the calories you burn. And, as you already know, carbohydrates are the most effective and useful source of those calories. A great way to get that essential fuel is to eat an energy bar that supplies you with between 30g and 60g of carbohydrate for every hour that you run.
The carbohydrates in different energy bars tend to come from similar sources. You’ll find complex carbohydrates in the form of rice, oats and, in a few products, maltodextrin. Any simple carbohydrate is commonly derived from dried fruit or fructose and glucose syrup.
As well as the carbohydrates, energy bars contain plenty of other ingredients, and these can have a significant effect on the bar’s effectiveness. Fibre, fat and protein can all slow down the digestion of the bar, which in turn slows down the fuel as it heads to your blood stream. Ideally, an energy bar should contain less than 5g of fibre, 4g or less of fat and 10g or less of protein. (A couple of the bars tested here are really recovery – rather than energy – snacks.)
Something else to bear in mind is that you’ll also need to drink something with your energy bar. Not only will this help you to swallow it – especially when you have a dry mouth during a run – but it will also speed up the digestion. So aim for 350-500ml of water with each bar you eat. (You don’t have to – and probably won’t be able to – eat the whole bar at once. Just nibble on it during your run.)
In our review, we’ll indicate how much carbohydrate, protein, fibre and fat each bar contains, and as we’ve tested all the bars here, we can also tell you what they taste like. The overall score is a combination of nutritional make-up and the more subjective taste test.
Calories per bar (220kcal), carbs (45g/72%), protein (8.2g/12%), fat (1.3g/2%), fibre (2.3g/3.6%).
Main ingredients: Grape juice, maltodextrin, soya protein, oats, crisp rice, fruit, plus added vitamins and minerals.
Taste Test: Chewy and moist. Contained plenty of real fruit bits and easy to nibble. Not too sweet, so quite easy to eat during activity. Cherry and vanilla flavour particularly pleasant. 9/10
Calories per bar (212kcal), carbs (39g/71%), protein (2.9g/5.3%), fat (4.8g/8.7%), fibre (1g/1.8%).
Main ingredients: Glucose syrup, oats, fruit, rice, maltodextrin, vitamin B1 (coated versions contain cocoa butter).
Taste Test: A real mixed reaction, some felt these coated bars tasted synthetic. Sweet, flapjack consistency, that is hard to chew. Also a little high in fat. 7/10
EAS Simply Nutrition
Calories per bar (235kcal), carbs (32g/53%), protein (13g/22%), fat (8g/13%), fibre (2g/4%).
Main ingredients: Caramel, protein blend, honey, palm and palm kernel oil, high fructose-glucose syrup.
Taste Test: Closest to a traditional chocolate bar, but not as pleasant. Very sticky, quite sickly and would be very hard to eat while exercising. Too much fat and protein for true energy bar. 5/10
Calories per bar (197kcal), carbs (20.7g/45%), protein (11g/24%), fat (7.8g/17%), fibre (1.4g/3%).
Main ingredients: Glucose syrup, milk protein, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar syrup, strawberry powder.
Taste Test: Although called an energy bar, it is much more like a protein recovery bar in taste, texture and composition. A powdery, dry and artificially sweet bar, and very high in fat.
High Five Energy Bar
Calories per bar (211kcal), carbs (48.7g/75%), protein (2g/3.1%), fat (0.9g/1.4%), fibre (3.1g/4.8%).
Main ingredients: Mixed dried fruits, oats, maltodextrin, puffed rice.
Taste Test: Simple, flapjack-style bar. Easy to eat, breaks down quickly in the mouth, but does need to be washed down with water as it’s pretty dry. Wild berry flavour very pleasant.
Calories per bar (126kcal), carbs (22g/66%), protein (1.9g/5.7%), fat (3.4g/10.3%), fibre (0.7g/2.1%).
Main ingredients: Fruit, oats, glucose syrup, hazlenuts, raw cane sugar.
Taste Test: Simplest of the bars here as it’s not really designed for the sport market. But it is good value. Crunchy, with a nice oat/fruit/honey taste. Not particularly high in carbohydrate, and higher in fat than most of the bars here, but certainly the cheapest.
Dr Gillian McKeith’s Organic Superfood Bar
Calories per bar (244kcal), carbs (51g/73%), protein
(5.3g/7.6%), fat (2g/2.8%), fibre (n/a).
Main ingredients: Oats, apple juice, brown rice malt, raisins (all organic), Dr Gillian McKeith’s Living Food ENERGY Powder (inc. sprouted quinoa, sprouted millet, flax seeds).
Taste Test: Looks like dry bread pudding, but not unpleasant to eat. A little heavy and dry, but not over-sweet like some bars tested.
High Five Sports Bar
Calories per bar (219kcal), carbs (40g/70%), protein (3g/5%), fat (4.5g/8%), fibre (1g/2.6%).
Main ingredients: Glucose syrup, milk chocolate, oats, rice crisps, fruit, maltodextrin.
Taste Test: The standout winner in the taste test. A chocolate coating and chewy, flapjack-style filling means you can easily choose them over most chocolate bars – they’re also lower in fat. Caramel flavour is a genuine treat. The chocolate coating does compromise nutrition slightly, though.
Calories per bar (410kcal), carbs (59g/59%), protein (15.2g/16%), fat (12.6g/13%), fibre (n/a).
Main ingredients: Syrup, rolled oats, whey protein, fruit.
Taste Test: Very high protein content, so better as a recovery bar, though it is quite high in fat. Dry, powdery texture similar to other protein bars. A strange sweet/savoury tasting bar – a mixture of chocolate and, according to some, beef stock cubes.
Calories per bar (226kcal), carbs (42g/65%), protein (10g/15%), fat (2g/3%), fibre (3g/4.6%).
Main ingredients: Fructose-glucose syrup, oat bran, maltodextrin, milk protein, rice, plus added vitamins and minerals.
Taste Test: Very chewy with a smooth texture. A definite cereal crispiness once you bite into it, though. The original energy bar – introduced in 1986 – is an acquired taste, and some find it tough to eat on the move. Not overpoweringly sweet. Chocolate was our favourite flavour.
Calories per bar (185kcal), carbs (33.5g/67%), protein (6g/12%), fat (3.5g/7%), fibre (1.5g/3%).
Main ingredients: Glucose syrup, cereals, soya protein, fruit purée, sugar, dextrose, plus added vitamins and minerals.
Taste Test: Likened to eating marmalade on toast, mainly because of its gooey orange topping. Nice crisped-rice texture, but a little too sweet for many. The bar itself is quite dry, and the topping is very sticky.
EAS Myoplex Lite
Calories per bar (190kcal), carbs (27g/50%), protein (15g/28%), fat (4.5g/8%), fibre (n/a).
Main ingredients: Protein blend, fructose, corn syrup, polydextrose, palm kernel oil, plus added vitamins and minerals.
Taste Test: A crisp rice cake, so feels like more of a treat than some of the other bars here. A little dry, with a strong cinnamon taste, so definitely not a bar for eating during a run – as confirmed by its hefty whack of protein.
Calories per bar (222kcal), carbs (17.1g/28.5%), protein (21.3g/35.5%), fat (7.6g/12.7%), fibre (4.8g/8%).
Main ingredients: Biomax protein mix, inverted sugar syrup, dark chocolate, oligofructose, vegetable fats.
Taste Test: A true recovery bar, so can’t really be compared. Does have the slightly powdery texture of most protein bars. But this is countered by a great chocolate taste, one of the best tasting protein bars on the market. (Maximuscle is introducing a Viper Extreme energy bar later this year.)
Calories per bar (216kcal), carbs (40.5g/66%), protein (7.2g/13%), fat (3.2g/5.2%), fibre (1g/2%).
Main ingredients: Rice syrup, oats, rice-wheat crisp, fruit, rice flour, rice crisp with protein, almond butter, plus added vitamins and minerals.
Taste Test: A sweeter, more traditional flapjack version of Powerbar. Drier than the original bar and much sweeter. That, combined with a strong aftertaste, means it isn’t ideal while running.
EAS Results for Women
Calories per bar (198kcal), carbs (28g/5%), protein (11g/20%), fat (6g/11%), fibre (3.4g/6.2%).
Main ingredients: Protein blend, fruit, oats, glucose syrup, glycerine, sugar.
Taste Test: One of many bars with a coating (in this case yoghurt) to provide extra calcium for its female target. Quite dense, and would be hard to eat in any great quantities. Men noted a strong chemical aftertaste, but most female testers did enjoy it. High protein means more suited to recovery.
Calories per bar (273kcal), carbs (49g/70%), protein (3.6g/5.2%), fat (7g/10%), fibre (2g/2.8%).
Main ingredients: Oats, milk chocolate, glucose syrup, fruit, rice crisps, maltodextrin.
Taste Test: Similar in style to High Five’s Sports Bar, but not quite as tasty. Still, very pleasant, if a little citrusy. Not as sweet as a number of the other bars, and easy to swallow.
Nature’s Plus Spiru-Tein
Calories per bar (150kcal), carbs (20g/51%), protein (10g/26%), fat (4g/10%), fibre (3g/8%).
Main ingredients: Honey, soya protein, peanut butter, fructose, cocoa, peanuts, rice, oat bran, plus added vitamins, minerals and spirulina.
Taste Test: Definitely a recovery, rather than energy, bar. High protein. Very, very dry and too sweet – like peanut butter mixed with golden syrup. Contains spirulina, an algae claimed to have a myriad of health benefits.