How to Choose the Best Energy Bar for You
Energy and protein bars are everywhere, and I get asked about a new brand or product on a weekly basis. Bars are a great option to keep on hand for times you need to grab something on your way out the door, when you’re traveling, if you need something quick before or after some movement, to keep stashed on hand in case hunger strikes, or if you just happen to be in the mood for one. However, with so many options on the market, how do you choose which are right for you?
When stocking up on bars to keep on hand, ideally, you want a bar that includes a mix of carbohydrate, protein, fiber, and fat to keep you full and energized for as long as possible. BUT most importantly, you want a bar that tastes good – to you!
How to Pick an Energy Bar
When it comes to picking a protein or energy bar that’s right for you, consider the following:
- How does it taste? A lot of bars may advertise a yummy sounding flavor, but do not deliver. A bar could also have a wonderfully enticing name and fun, colorful packaging, but if it tastes like cardboard (or worse), why eat it? It may take some time – try to experiment with different brands and types of bars to see which you like the best.
- Does it keep you full and satisfied? Bars can be a great way to satisfy your hunger in between meals and/or when you’re on the go. In addition to taste, pay attention to your body: do you feel satisfied after eating the bar? How long does it keep you full for? While bars are rarely as satisfying as a meal, ideally they will keep you full for at least a few hours, to get you to the next meal.
- Energy Factor: While I normally do not like to talk about calories, I find that many people underestimate how many calories they need for a snack. Also, many bars market themselves as “low calorie” – or even if they don’t, they end up being less than 150-200 calories, which is generally not enough energy for a snack. Most people need anywhere from 250-500 calories between meals (which depends on a LOT of factors – which is why the best gauge is usually your hunger/fullness levels). If you’re not going to be able to eat for more than 2 to 4 hours, aim for a bar on the higher end of that calorie range. And again, pay attention to how full/satisfied you feel after eating it – if you’re still hungry, you need to eat more.
- Snack vs. Meal Replacement: I generally do not recommend utilizing a protein or energy bar as a meal replacement. These bars never contain enough nutrients to sustain you as a full meal does. Now there may be times when a bar is your only option (like when I was in the middle of a long drive and there were no quick restaurants in sight), in which case it is definitely better than nothing, but in general it’s best to not replace your meal with a bar. If you find that you are still feeling hungry after eating a bar, try pairing it with more food, like a piece of fruit or a scoop of nut butter to raise that satisfaction factor.
- Ingredient List: I personally pay more attention to taste and hunger cues than ingredients at this point, as that is really what tends to make the difference for me. But you may find it helpful to check out the ingredient list to see if it includes foods that will help you feel satisfied and full. Ingredients like nuts, seeds, nut butters and whole grains tend to help bars be more filling.
- One thing to watch out for on an energy bar label: sugar alcohols. They are derivatives of sugar, but are partially indigestible which means they can cause bloating, nausea, and even diarrhea after eating. Unfortunately many protein bars and energy bars on the market use these as a way to make their bars sweeter, without increasing calories (diet culture strikes again!). While this may seem like a benefit, many people find that these bars are way less satisfying and they end up eating a lot more later on than when they have bars that contain real sugar (remember: sugar is energy for our body!) – and not to mention, the negative gastrointestinal side effects are not fun! Examples of commonly used sugar alcohols are: Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol, Isomalt, Maltitol, Lactitol, and Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates.
Below I’ve included a round-up of protein bars, energy bars, and granola bars. The majority can be found in your local grocery store. While I have not personally tried all of these, they’ve all been recommended to me by at least one person I know. Word of caution: some of these bars may have harmful diet culture messaging – remember at the end of the day, your personal taste and satisfaction is what is most important so try to come back to that as you try these.
- Bob’s Red Mill Bars
- Bobos Oat Bars
- Epic Bars
- Evo Hemp bars
- GoMacro bars
- Health Warrior Chia Bars
- Kashi Granola Bars
- KIND Bars
- Luna Bars
- Nature Valley
- Perfect Bars
- Pure Organic Bars
- Raw Crunch Bars
- Rise Bars
- Rx Bars
- Zing Bars
Have you tried any of these? Or do you have another favorite? I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.
Looking for intuitive eating support?
Check out my Unapologetic Eating 101 Course, an online, self-paced program to liberate yourself from dieting and make peace with food and your body.
My team and I also offer virtual one-on-one support – you can check out our virtual intuitive eating nutrition coaching packages.
My book, Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life, is also a great resource that includes information, research, and reflection prompts to help you move away from dieting and come back home to your body, so you can live your most unapologetic, liberated life.
This article was written and reviewed by Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CSCS, a registered dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She specializes in weight-inclusive care, intuitive eating, body image healing, mindfulness, self-compassion, and healing from chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Alissa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science, and a Master’s Degree in Health Communications, and is also an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
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Alissa Rumsey, RD.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS (pronouns she/her/hers) is a registered
dietitian, nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the author of
Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace With Food and Transform Your Life. Alissa is
passionate about helping people reclaim the space to eat and live,
A twice-a-month round-up of inspirational stories, lessons, practical tips and encouragement for living your most authentic, unapologetic life.