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Best Energy Bars For Triathlon 2013

| Gear | Nutrition | 18/02/2013 05:30am
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The best energy bars for triathlon taste tested, rated and reviewed for 2013


Best Energy BarsCynics might suggest that the marketing of sports nutrition is a seething mass of often contradictory, cherry picked, pseudo science that ends up extremely confusing for the end user. There are some basic truths that hold most of the time for most athletes though so at the risk of vast oversimplification here’s our bite sized bar nutrition break down.

The major constituent of all the bars here are carbohydrates. These vary from slow release fibre rich cereals, through faster to break down starches to fruit based fructose sugars then quick acting simple sugars.

Fat contains over double the calories pre gram but in general it’s less efficient and slower for the body to convert into energy, particularly when you’re exercising hard. There’s a big difference between the ‘good’ fats found in nuts and seeds and artery clogging saturated fats when it comes to overall diet too.

We’ve deliberately left high protein ‘recovery’ bars out of this test. A lot of research suggests a small amount of protein (a ratio of 1g of protein to 3-4g of carb is often quoted as ideal) can help steady carbohydrates processing.

Fibre is important in your overall diet but can cause digestion problems if your body is already working hard. The same is true of sodium (salt) and over strong flavours which might be fine on a steady ride but can give you the gip if you’re really going for it.

Finally there are a whole host of extras that some bars use as a chewy chat up line. These can range from chocloate or yoghurt toppings to supplemental vitamins or even stimulants such as caffeine or guarana. If you think you’re missing these in your lunching life then give them a go, but from experience, the simpler the snack the less likely you are to see them again.

Don’t think that expensive energy bars are your only option for eating on the go either, shop around and you might be very surprised at how close the nutritional breakdown of a malt loaf, breakfast bar or even a jam sandwich is to some of the bars here.

 

High-5-Energy1. High5 Energy

£1.19 
www.highfive.co.uk
Weight 60g

This fruit-based bar is a good fast fix reviver but best nibbled steadily for a slower release. The ingredients of all four flavours are mostly dried-fruit based, bulked up with starch sugars and oats. What little fat there is comes from natural oils and it’s low in sodium. The relatively strong but not overpowering flavours are all natural with no nuts, artificial colours or sweeteners. It’s easy to open, moist enough to chew easily and temperature stable too. There’s very little protein (High5 do a separate 27% protein bar) and that’s backed up in a fair old rush of energy shortly after eating. This is great if you need a quick pick up, but generally it’s better being nibbled gradually rather than gobbling down in one.

 

Verdict

Easy to eat, decent value, best used when you need a fast fix of energy.

Performance 3/5
Value 4/5
Overall 3/5

 

High-5-Sport2. High5 Sport

£1.19
www.highfive.co.uk
Weight 55g

High5 sweeten their mixed oat and fruit bar with a generous yoghurt or chocolate topping and it’s tasty enough to bring out on a tea break without people thinking you’re a freak. The 20% chocolate top isn’t ideal from a pure performance slant, but sugar percentage is actually lower than High5’s Energy bar and the fat percentage higher. That correlates with the fact it doesn’t seem to spike your energy levels as noticeably if the easy eating gets the better of your “one bit at a time” intentions. It’s one of the higher calorie bars here which makes it better basic value, and great for long rides, but beware if you’re weight watching. It opens easily, works in a range of temperatures and has no nuts, artificial colours or sweeteners either.

 

Verdict

Limited flavours but very easy eating candy-coated chunk of mixed source energy.

Performance 3/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

 

High-5-4-1-Bar3. High5 4:1 Bar

£1.19
www.highfive.co.uk
Weight 50g

Definitely the most ‘techy’ bar in High5’s line up, and as such the one that comes closest to the usual ‘monkey poo’ criticisms of more focused fruit-based performance bars. It isn’t something you’d unwrap at elevenses and, while it’s soft whatever the weather, the recipe means it takes longer to chew down than most. There’s only one flavour (cranberry) available. As the 4:1 name suggests, it has three times the protein and 50 per cent less simple sugars than the other High5 bars for a more sustained release that works well during and after training. It’s free from nuts, artificial colour and sweetener and easy to open too. Stickiness means it gets very messy very quickly if left half-eaten though.

 

Verdict

Versatile during/after energy balance for  hard training, but sticky single flavour  .

Performance 4/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

Winner of the Triathlon Plus Value Award

SIS-Go-Bar

 

4. SIS Go Bar

£1.20 
www.scienceinsport.com
Weight 65g

The cobbled texture of rice, oats and soya nuggets in the Go bar mean chewing is slightly slow – particularly when cold – but there’s no stickiness afterwards, which is great in hotter temperatures or during higher intensity use. A decent amount of protein and the overall recipe mix means energy arrives controllably and it’s a decent post-ride or run choice. None of the flavours are too sweet either and they stay palatable even after eating several in a row on a long day or heavy weekend of training. Loose packaging makes it easy to pull open even with gloves on and there’s a 40g, £1 option for smaller appetites. Fat is very low, they’re vegan friendly and free from artificial colouring, flavouring, preservatives and nuts.

 

Verdict

Chewy, but otherwise very versatile, easy on the stomach, high-performance snacking.

Performance 5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

 

Cliff-Bar5. Clif Bar Energy

£1.25
www.2pure.co.uk
Weight 68g

This distinctively free-form splat of a snack might look like something you’d find on your shoe after running with a vegan dog but in taste and texture terms, Clif bars are in a different class. They even passed muster for the kids’ packed lunches. They’re a bit more fatty and fibre-rich than most of the bars we tried and there’s a fair amount of chewing to do before they’re on their way. There’s plenty of protein in the rice/oat/soy/fruit mix, though, and energy delivery is stable and steady whatever intensity you’re working at, though they are better suited to slower stuff. Clif use as high a proportion of organic (70%) and ethically sourced ingredients as possible, they’re resistant to extremes of temperature and they’re good value too.

 

Verdict

A bit slow to chew but great value and all- round performance with wholesome ethics.

Performance 5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

Winner of the Triathlon Plus Gold Award

 

Zipvit-ZV86. Zipvit ZV8

£1.30
www.zipvitsport.com
Weight 65g

Despite oat flakes and rice crisps well up in the mix this actually has one of the lowest carb servings on test. A mix of ‘polydextrose’, fruit sugars and nuts gives predictably steady overall energy delivery. Supplemental vitamins, pantothenic and folic acids are designed to aid energy delivery and overall recovery too. Flavours aren’t too overpowering or queasy, even if you’re working really hard between mouthfuls, and it chews down really fast. We’ve used it before, during and after rides and it’s worked well enough in each situation (including very hot and very cold weather) to make it one of our favoured bars. Packaging disintegrates easily and leaves it vulnerable to fluff and filth if you’re a half now, half later snacker.

 

Verdict

Versatile, quick eating energy delivery  without a bellyache backlash.

Performance 5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

Winner of the Triathlon Plus Peak Performer Award

 

Power-Bar-Ride7. Powerbar Ride

£1.35
www.fisheroutdoor.co.uk
Weight 55g

The opposite end of the Powerbar spectrum to the Energize bar (p96), the Ride bar gets a chocolate flavoured whey protein-enriched coating over a mixed fructose and glucose caramel paste with soya crisps, peanut butter and oat fibres. It’s vitamin bolstered, but vegetable oil and simple sugar syrups are well up in the mix. That means a lot of fat in the stats, including over 8 per cent saturated fats, which is almost double that of any other bar here. The comparatively low carb proportion means a slow release that only really works at low intensities but there’s a lot of protein for recovery purposes. Both flavours taste synthetic and the chocolatesque coating does them no favours in hot pockets either.

 

Verdict

Protein packed but synthetic-tasting fake chocolate coated, high-fat disappointment.

Performance 2/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

 

Torq-Bar8. Torq Bar

£1.35
www.torqfitness.co.uk
Weight 45g

One of the real feel-good content crusaders, Torq assure as much of their ingredients are organic and fairly traded as possible. Moreish flavours make them initially easy on you as well as the world, although the more fruity ones can be quite strong to handle if you’re hammering your racing or training. The high carb/sugar to minimal protein ratio means they hit your system pretty hard too, but that’s offset by the new smaller 45g size that means their gels and drinks all pack the same punch for easier energy strategising. They’re as cold tolerant as you’d hope from a UK product too, but being extra nice to farmers and furry friends inevitably comes at an extra cost per gram of product.

 

Verdict

Fast acting, moreish energy from responsible recipes, but strong taste and weak value.

Performance 5/5
Value 2/5
Overall 4/5

 

Pulsin-Beond-Berry9. Pulsin Beond Berry

£1.39
www.pulsin.co.uk

Weight 40g

This totally raw ingredient date and almond-based bar also delivers a one per cent Acai berry superfood payload for those who value even the most marginal of gains. It’s fully organically certified too, so the warm fuzzy feeling about the environment will last as long as the powerful raspberry flavouring. The almonds and other bits keeping it together means a lot of fat (16.7 per cent), but that and the super-soft consistency means it chews down quickly. You will need to eat most of a second bar to get the same carb load as most of the bars here, which works out expensive. The high protein content potentially makes it a good post-workout option though.

 

Verdict

Organic raw ingredient, high-protein bar, but high price for low superfood content.

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

 

Mule-Natural-Energy10. Mule Natural Energy

£1.50
www.madison.co.uk
Weight 56g

Another slightly awkward to open bar thanks to a tight, sticky wrapper, but at least the Mule bar’s tricky packaging is compostable if you bring it home (or it accidentally blows away). A high proportion of the ingredients are organic and/or Fairtrade too, so it’s a low-guilt gobfull. A high percentage of starch syrups and fruit mean it packs a rapid energy delivery, chews down quickly and, for once, the wide range of flavours are as appetising as they sound. That does mean potential to trigger an energy spike if you get greedy but pack size is slightly smaller than average which helps steady snacking, if not relative value.

 

Verdict

Very tasty, fast-acting fruit based bar,  but awkward to open and high price.

Performance 4/5
Value 2/5
Overall 3/5

 

Power-Bar-Energize11. Powerbar Energize

£1.50 
www.fisheroutdoor.co.uk

Weight 65g

Powerbar have massively expanded their energy bar range to include more palatable options, but the Energize bars will appeal to lantern-jawed hardcore fans of the original bars. It’s definitely not convenience food as the wrapper is a sod to open on the move and even at room temperature there’s a lot of chomping to do to put it in the past tense. The powerful flavours need a tolerant palette – or a rapid rinse with water – too. The C2Max dual source (fructose/glucose) mix does seem to perform well particularly over longer, lower intensity sessions though – where the opening and chewing issues are less of an issue too. There’s enough protein in there to make it worth finishing after training if you didn’t manage during.

 

Verdict

Awkward opening, dubious texture and arduous chewing but good performance.

Performance 3/5
Value 3/5
Overall 3/5

 

Pulsin-Energy-Bomb12. Pulsin Energy Bomb

£1.59
www.pulsin.co.uk

Weight 50g

This gluten-free veggie nugget is designed to kickstart your workout or raise your game in the final furlong with a hit of ginseng, green tea and guarana. It certainly seems to work too, properly pepping us up even at the end of the dreaded first week back to work and serious training after Christmas. The mix of fruit, rice malt and whey protein means release is more restrained so you’re not eating an energy hand grenade either. Not everyone is tolerant of the obvious buzz of stimulants in a sports context though. Saturated fat and fibre levels are high too and they’re not cheap. That does pay for eco-electric, locally prioritised production values though.

 

Verdict

Sustained release ethical energy with a  mental kickstart, but not cheap.

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 3/5

 

Berry-Burst13. Pulsin Berry Burst

£1.59
www.pulsin.co.uk

Weight 50g

Not your average sports energy bar but the “ultimate in-between meal snack” built from dates, cashew butter, goji berries, unroasted chocolate and rice malt and powders. That makes it one of the fattiest bars in the test and the rich texture and taste didn’t agree with everyone either. The carb/protein balance makes it a reasonable all-rounder in terms of energy provision for longer, steadier rides (where the fat is less of an issue). There’s a lot of vitamin C if you’re worried about scurvy, while iron and protein levels are designed to beef up vegetarian athletes. Antioxidant elements will appeal to those who subscribe to their benefits too.  Ethical credentials come at a cost though.

 

Verdict

Antioxidant and vitamin C-rich slow-burn eco bar, but high in fat and price .

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

 

Maxifuel-Viper-Boost14. Maxifuel Viper Boost

£1.99 
www.maxifuel.com

Weight 45g

 

Maxifuel’s Viper Boost puts a varied mix of sucrose, rice flour, ground almonds, starches, fructose and glucose syrups under a relatively thick (14 per cent) dark chocolate skin. Relatively low sugar percentage with high protein and fat content makes it a steady energy delivery bar. Its infamous reputation comes from the caffeine and guarana buzz’ ingredients for kick-starting workouts or restoring flagging focus in the last gasp of a race. Like most stimulant-enriched products, tolerance before queasiness kicks in varies between athletes. Add a crash as noticeable as the boost and you need to check how these bars work for you before racing with them. Very pricey, too.

 

Verdict

Highly charged bars with a real buzz but expensive and need using carefully.

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 3/5

 

chimpanzee energy15. Chimpanzee Energy

£1.99
www.harris-active.co.uk
Weight 55g

Chimpanzee bars are another contender for the ethical energy market, with 31% organic content, “1% for the planet” profit share membership and vegetarian society approval. The packaging is easy to open even on our roller test and it’s a soft and easy eat  with the fruit pieces, oats, soybeans and rice crisps chewing down quickly – albeit with lingering shrapnel. The 3 flavours are distinctive and more-ish too and while they’re not cosmetically appealing they taste good enough to come out at tea break. While fat is relatively high, saturated fats are low and the carb:protein balance is bang on 4:1 so it delivers it’s energy in a sustained and versatile way. Buy in bulk though or they’re vastly expensive.

 

Verdict

Refreshingly distinctive flavours with versatile protein rich energy balance but bulk buying essential.

Performance 5/5
Value 3/5
Overall 4/5

 

9-Bar16. 9Bar

£0.85
www.9bar.com
Weight 50g

Looking like a block of bird seed under a carob carapace 9bars come in a range of 6 easy eating flavours. The amount of seeds (and often nuts too) plus vegetable fat and oil gives them an extremely high fat %. The balance also means slow relatively inefficient energy release so they’re best for fuelling long steady sessions, replacing missed meals or as a recovery option. At over 250Kcal per average bar they’re not for weight watchers either. The seeds are packed with minerals, vitamins and amino acids though and they’re dairy, gluten, yeast, egg plus artificial sweetener, preservative and colour free too. This means most allergy/ethically restricted eaters have only got the nuts to worry about and they’re very well priced as well.

 

Verdict

Very tasty, low cost and nutritous seed bars but extremely fatty and less suitable for high intensity work.

Performance 3/5
Value 5/5
Overall 4/5

 

 

OVERALL VERDICT

So at the end of a month of desperate calorie expenditure and aching jaws we can certainly say there’s a very broad range of taste and texture options from tea-break-friendly chocolate-coated treats through to suspect-looking mush and bars that look and taste like leftover emergency rations from the lunar landings. There’s a big difference in the way they deliver their energy, how much protein, fat or other things are mixed in and whether they turn you into a training raver or will keep even the most ecocentric hippies happy.

The more we ran, rode, swam and most of all chewed, the more a few of the bars stood out. High5’s Sport bar was the nearest to a treat, while their 4:1 bar works really well for intensive training. While Zipvit’s bar was never the most tempting initially it slipped down easily and kept us going particularly well whatever our work rate. Torq’s bars scored highly for performance too but they’re bloody expensive.

That leaves us with two clear winners. If you don’t mind trading a bit more fat and fibre for a more ‘snacky’ style taste and texture then Clif Bar are the way to go. For lean, clean, slightly chewy but otherwise versatile eating before, during and after all types of exercise, though, we have to give the Go ahead to SIS.


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Posted on Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 5:30 am under Gear, Nutrition. You can subscribe to comments. You can leave a comment, or trackback from your own site.

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