Stash one of these steady-release energy bars in your pocket and you’ll be able to push on longer and train better…
Buying power packs: what to look for
How we test: our testers have suffered more than their fair share of energy products over years of marathons, Ironman races, sportives and long, long nights in the office. To test these bars as fairly as possible we used them in very low intensity indoor riding sessions lasting an hour, and also ate them immediately before long, slow running sessions to see how palatable they were in both disciplines. We practised tearing them open one-handed as you would on the road, and we also did a few ‘blind’ taste tests with different people to give a bit of context to our wholly subjective judgements on taste and texture quality.
If you’re eating solids on a workout or in a race, it’s because you want a decent energy hit. Look for a bar that gives you 30-40g of carbs, ideally with a mix of quick-access sources and slow-release energy.
One thing bars have over drinks and gels is the opportunity to offer a bigger, better range of flavours and some brands, such as Mule Bar, now even have savoury bars to break up the sugar monotony.
Fats and protein
Most energy bars designed for use during training are low in fat, to make them easier to digest. However, some contain a moderate amount of protein, which should help kickstart recovery.
Meal in a bar
Often if a bar is more expensive then it will contain added vitamins and minerals. You won’t feel an instant benefit during your session, so it’s for you to decide whether the longer-term benefit is worth it.
In a bar, taste is unlikely to be offensive, but the wrong texture could be off-putting, which means you won’t finish the bar and get your fuel. You need a bit of moisture, or a lot of drink to hand to wash it down.
You might think taste and texture are the most important factors in a bar, but packaging that won’t open easily while riding, or bulky or unusual shapes that don’t fit easily in a pocket can be deal-breakers too.
1. Clif CLIF BAR
68g bar: 243kcal, 37g carbs, 21g sugar, 10g protein, 5g fat
Some energy bars are clearly and firmly aimed at sports addicts looking for something ‘formulated’ to help them perform better. Others have a broader appeal, and the packaging and bulk of the Clif bar immediately tell you that it falls into that camp. Six flavours are available and we tried the Crunchy Peanut Butter, Chocolate Almond Fudge and Oatmeal Raisin Walnut – all absolutely delicious. This was easily the product we most enjoyed eating. It’s a heavy flapjack type consistency, with an oat and rice syrup base, but trouble has been taken to ensure a rounded nutritional make-up with protein, fibre and 11 vitamins in the mix. During our turbo tests, however, this product needed plenty of fluid to wash it down as the consistency is dense and occasionally dry. The pack opens easily but it’s bulky for top tube bags. Energy release was slow and sustained with this.
2. High5 ENERGY BAR
60g bar: 195kcal, 42g carbs, 23g sugar, 2.4g protein, 2.5g fat
This simple bar hasn’t changed in years and, frankly, why would it. It’s a slim package of fruit-based energy, with dried fruit making up 57% of the content on our favourite Berry flavour. Though sugar content isn’t through the roof, its protein and fat content are pretty low so this bar goes down well even if you’re pushing the pace a bit – we found it gave a pretty quick energy boost, without a horrible spike. For long rides you might wan to carry a few of these but the packets are slim and we can fit a few into jersey pockets or top tube bags easily. The bar opens easily but we also found it easy to lose the corner so mind if you’re worried about littering. This is a really pleasant bar to eat, not something you’d choose for your lunchbox but pretty much bang on for riding. It’s nice and moist, not too dense or chewy, and despite that fruit hit we didn’t find it overly sweet. Without any ‘secret ingredient’ additions, its price is good too.
3. Maxifuel VIPER BOOST
45g bar: 191kcal, 30.8g carbs, 13.7g sugar, 3.4g protein, 6.2g fat
You can tell a lot about an energy bar from its name, so it’s no surprise that something called Viper Boost is not to be eaten just before bedtime. Our brief for this test, strictly speaking, was slow-release energy, but we’ve included the Viper Boost as a ‘break out in emergency’ option. Its top ingredients are sucrose, rice flour and dark chocolate, so although it only contains 13.7g of sugar, it’s a pretty fast hit. What you’ll really feel though is the 141mg of caffeine that’s been added – it really packs a punch and is best saved for the end of a workout when you’re flagging. The bar keeps surprisingly well in a pocket, though we wouldn’t want to take it out on a really hot day. It has a pretty unique consistency and flavour among the bars here – a peachy marzipan effect (probably down to the ground almonds). It split opinions among testers. The compact size means it lends itself to stashing as a second bar for long, steady rides.
4. Mule Bar ENERGY BAR
£19 FOR 12 mulebar.com
56g bar: 195kcal, 37.1g carbs, 24.3g sugar, 4.3g protein, 3.5g fat
Another bar that tastes as though your mum might have made it for a treat, we tried an array of flavours and liked the Strudel option best (nutrition above shows this flavour) – Mule Bar cleverly sell customised mixed boxes so you can choose your favourites. Though it’s not much lighter than the Clif bar it is a lot more portable thanks to its more standard bar shape and tighter packaging. It wears its eco credentials on its sleeve, with organic Fairtrade ingredients, and some bars have compostable wrappers – not the easiest to open but certainly not a problem. Despite the fairly high sugar and fruit content, the Strudel bar didn’t seem overly sweet and it’s pretty easy to eat as it’s so close to ‘real’ food – though if you upped the pace you’d struggle with it. It’s just moist and crumbly enough to get down easily without having to chug back water, and we found it gave a nice, sustained energy boost.
5. OTE DUO BAR
65g bar: 228kcal, 40g carbs, 18g sugar, 10g protein, 4g fat
Though the brand is still relatively new, the people behind OTE have been in sports nutrition for years and are avid athletes themselves, and it shows in the thoughtful way this product has been put together for maximum user friendliness. It comes in two pieces, each giving 20g carbs, so it can be used as part of OTE’s modular energy system. The papery wrapper is easy to open. The bar itself has a crispy-cake texture, which it turns out was just about perfect for riding even when dehydrated. Despite the fairly high protein content – to aid recovery and adaptation – it goes down easily without sitting on the stomach and its relatively low sugar content gives a steady energy release. However, our testers were really divided on the taste. Although it’s chocolate, it’s not really sweet but one tester felt it had a strange, chalky aftertaste, while the other just thought it was delicious, like a rice crispy cake.
5. PowerBar ENERGIZE
55g bar: 202kcal, 37g carbs, 20.9g sugar, 7.1g protein, 2.4g fat
PowerBar has a range of energy bars, including the Snickers-esque Ride and newer waffles. We went for the Energize bar because it keeps perfectly, is pancake flat so easy to stash in your jersey, and most importantly it does the job. It’s designed for use in competition as well as training so it delivers energy quickly, through PowerBar’s C2Max dual source carb mix – carefully measured glucose/fructose for optimum use during exercise. It also contains sodium and magnesium. The texture might stretch some people’s definitions of ‘bar’, as it’s very soft and clings tightly to the wrapper – the only thing that makes it somewhat tricky to eat when you’re on the go. But we found it really good for riding; it’s moist but granular, and we really enjoyed the Cookies and Cream flavour which sounds sweet but isn’t too full-on. It’s not the cheapest bar on test, but for a focused energy bar it’s a good price.
6. SIS GO BAR
40g bar: 139kcal, 26g carbs, 12g sugar, 4.5g protein, 2g fat
Another bar that we could almost describe as a classic, this has been stuffed in the pockets of cyclists and runners for years in one form or another. Its standard size is 65g but we prefer the newer, mini 40g version, which at around 26g carbs is enough for an hour with energy drink thrown in. There’s nothing really fancy about this – it’s not loaded with extra vitamins, minerals or natural highs – it has more in common with the High5 energy bar. It’s a fruit juice, fruit and cereal-based bar, low in protein and fat and high in carbs. However, it’s not too sugary and we didn’t suffer any spikes or crashes when using this. The texture is like a very moist flapjack, and the flavour is sweet but not overwhelming. Not something you’d choose to put in your lunchbox but just the right kind of inoffensive for eating lots of on long rides or runs.
7. Sponser HIGH ENERGY BAR
45g bar: 172kcal, 32g carbs, 15g sugar, 3.3g protein, 2.9g fat
‘Salty Nuts’ is surprisingly successful as a flavour when you’re fatigued from riding. In terms of make-up, this bar from Swiss brand Sponser isn’t too dissimilar from others on test, made up of oats, glucose-fructose syrup, and other carb sources. However, it’s oats first rather than syrup this time, and the addition of salt and peanuts gives this bar a more savoury note than the others on test which is quite refreshing if you’re using energy drink at the same time. Though it gave us a decent, sustained energy lift, we did find it quite hard to chew, and perhaps because of this it tended to sit on the stomach. If you’re not a fan of the mostly fruit and chocolate flavoured options on offer, this is a good alternative. Pack size and shape is neat for carrying.
8. Honey Stinger ENERGY BAR
50g bar: 190kcal, 27g carbs, 17g sugar, 5g protein, 5g fat
This is a bar you’ll either love or hate, as our testers will tell you. If you’re a fan of honey, nutty things then it’ll be right up your street. The bar is based on the Honey Stinger mix: honey, sea salt, and water, which the company markets separately as a gel, the idea being it’s the perfect natural energy gel. Add nuts, rice, oats and more than 20 vitamins and minerals and you have this energy bar. We tried the Peanut Butter n’ Honey and Rocket Chocolate flavour and found the former easier to use during exercise (and the latter harder to leave alone when sitting in front of the TV later). Although the taste was absolutely fine, the texture was quite dry during our indoor turbo tests and we had to keep drinking with it to get it down easily. We’re not certain we need to pay the extra for all those extra vitamins and minerals either.
9. Torq TORQ BAR
45g bar: 149kcal, 32.9g carbs, 14.5g carbs, 1.9g protein, 1g fat zyro.co.uk
Like the OTE system (though actually it pre-dates it) Torq’s own fuelling system makes it easier for athletes to mix and match their fuel types, with one ‘Torq unit’ equal to around 30g of carbs: one gel, 500ml of drink or one bar from the range. Athlete-friendliness is what this range is all about and a lot of effort has gone into making bars that are easy to eat as well as delivering carbs over a long period with a maltodextrin:fructose mix. The neat bars come in a range of interesting flavours – and we mean interesting in a good way. Our favourite was pineapple and ginger (nutrition listed above), which seemed to take the edge off exercise-induced nausea nicely. The moist, sticky bar goes down fine, though we did find them a bit too chewy, but you’d be happy necking a few of these over a long ride or run. The Torq bars also cram in a vitamin and mineral mix, at a fair price (the organic mango flavour is more, though), and ribose, which helps with recovery.
10. USN PROTEIN, NUTS & SEEDS BAR
£29.88 for 12 bars discount-supplements.co.uk
65g bar: 338kcal, 22.3g carbs, 14.5g sugar, 14.1g protein, 19.3g fat
Although this is one of the pricier bars on test, in terms of pence per calorie it probably breaks even thanks to a whopping 338kcal delivery per bar. This is a slow-release energy bar, designed as much for pre and post-workout fuelling as during training. As the name suggests it’s made up of nuts and seeds, as well as soya, honey and glucose syrup. The nuts are what’s driving that energy content and it’s very high in fat, so although it’s tasty to eat you do need to be taking it steady both with your riding and with the speed of your consumption of this bar, or you’ll be rewarded with a stitch. However, the bar holds its shape well so we found we could nibble at it, stash it away and have more later. Its best use for triathletes would be low-level, long Ironman training rides, where the decent hit of protein will kickstart recovery from the session.
11. Wiggle ENERGY BAR
£17.99 for 20 wiggle.co.uk
60g bar: 235kcal, 40g carbs, 18g sugar, 3.2g protein, 6.3g fat
Having been pleasantly surprised by Wiggle’s own-brand energy gels a few months ago, we were looking forward to seeing if the brand could bring the same top value, no-nonsense approach to a bar. The answer is yes. This isn’t the tastiest bar here, the packet isn’t the easiest to open and there’s no special supplement mix included, but it’s a decent fruit and oat-based bar that packs in a hefty dose of carbs at a very good price. The bar is small for its weight and with that hefty serving of carbs, we rarely got through it in one, but it will keep well in a back pocket. The texture is sports bar flapjack and the flavours we tried were OK – we preferred the coconut bar to the fairly sharp, sweet berry version. As long as you take it slowly with these bars they go down nicely and keep you spinning – we felt a bit wired after the berry version but the coconut with slightly lower sugar content seemed to give a more steady release.
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WORDS: Elizabeth Hufton PHOTOS: Joby Sessions