When it comes to a convenient pre-workout pick-me-up, energy bars are a favorite. In fact, according to a 2016 IRI survey, 60% of people are after the boost of energy that these popular bars promise. Consider that energy is really just calories and that calories come from virtually any type of food you eat, and you're left wondering...do energy bars really give you a leg up in the energy department? Are energy bars healthy? We’re answering these questions and more.
What’s in an Energy Bar?
You’ve got the good stuff—nuts, seeds, fruits, dark chocolate—but more often than not you’ve also got the bad stuff—vegetable oils, sugars, sugar alcohols, and more. The result? Bars high in saturated fat and sugar and low in protein and fiber have no more nutritional value than a candy bar.
Take Quaker Chewy Granola Bars as an example. While the exact makeup of ingredients varies according to flavor, they contain more than 16 different types of sugar! Quaker Chewy Yogurt Granola Bar in Strawberry has 25 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of sugar, 4.5 grams of fat (2.5 grams of saturated fat), and just 2 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber.
Luna bars aren’t any better with soy protein isolate and brown rice syrup at the top of the ingredients list. With 9 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, it's more filling and satisfying, but saturated fat still comes in at 2.5 grams and sugar at 10 grams. Larabars, Powerbars, and Clif bars don't fare much better.
But the sugar count can’t be your only guide. Many energy bars are low sugar because they substitute in sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol. The problem is that the body can’t entirely absorb sugar alcohols and they can cause gastric distress. It’s far better to opt for a bar with sugar from natural sources, even if there are more sugar grams overall.
Choosing the Healthiest Energy Bar
If the ingredient list contains the following red flags, then choose a different energy bar:
- Vegetable oils and palm oils
- Soy protein isolate
- High fructose corn syrup
- Natural flavors
Look instead for real food ingredients like:
- Seeds, like chia and pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate (a healthier choice than chocolate chips!)
- Almond butter
- Sea salt
Let’s take a look at the ingredients in an Rx bar: dates, dried egg whites, cashews, almonds, chocolate, cocoa, natural flavors, sea salt.
Notice how you’re on a first-name basis with these ingredients and know them well. There are no unknown or fancy-sounding ingredients in that list, just healthy fats and good-for-you whole foods.
A Sakara bar contains: organic raw hemp protein, organic sunflower seed butter, organic dates, organic cassava root fiber, chicory fiber, organic almonds, organic cacao nibs, organic cacao powder, Himalayan pink salt, L-theanine, and vitamin B12. Saturated fat comes in at 2 grams, sugar from natural foods at 6 grams, protein at 10 grams, and fiber at 12 grams. That’s a keeper of a nutrition bar!
Are Energy Bars the Best Way to Boost Energy?
Energy bars are a no better way to gain energy than, say, a handful of trail mix or a spoonful of peanut butter, but they do well in a pinch and are convenient and transportable. Just don’t depend on them too heavily to meet your nutritional or weight-loss goals. They aren’t the most filling healthy snack and are likely to contribute more calories than you are looking for if you are on a diet. The calories from dried fruit and whole grains can add up fast!
If you’re looking for an energy boost before, during, or after a workout, then it’s far more calorically sensible to supplement with essential amino acids. Essential amino acids will also give you a much greater energy increase.
Essential amino acids are scientifically proven to improve muscle function, focus, and endurance during even the most intense workouts. The precise formulation of essential amino acids in The Amino Company’s Athletic Performance Blend are clinically proven to improve strength and physical performance in controlled trials:
- 20% increase in exercise completed
- 22% increase in endurance
- 11% increase in peak power during exercise
- 10% improvement in cognitive function during exercise
Those types of energy gains just can’t be had from an energy bar. So, if you’re in a snacking mood, look for a high-protein energy bar without added sugars or artificial sweeteners. But if it’s clean, low-cal, low-carb energy you’re after, then supplement with Perform.