Energy Bars Costly but Convenient

PowerBars, Luna bars, Zone bars, Balance Bars—energy bars await you at every convenience store, each boasting its ability to enhance your performance. You can spend a fortune on these prewrapped bundles of energy, thinking they offer magic ingredients (not true). Energy bars are far more about convenience than necessity, and they do suit the needs of many hungry people who seek a hassle-free, somewhat nutritious snack. Here is some information to help you decide how much of your food budget to dedicate to these popular snacks.

  • Energy bars are portable. You can easily tuck these compact and lightweight vitamin-enriched bars into a pocket for "emergency food." Energy bars are handy for runners and bikers who want to carry a durable snack on a long run or ride, for dancers who want fuel without bulk, or for hikers who want a light backpack.
  • Energy bars promote preexercise eating. Fueling before exercising is a great way to boost stamina and endurance. The energy bar industry has done an excellent job of educating us that preexercise eating is important for optimizing performance. The associated energy boost likely does not result from magic ingredients (chromium, amino acids) but from eating 200 to 300 calories. These calories clearly fuel you better than the zero calories in no snack. Note that calories from tried-and-true fig bars, graham crackers, bananas, and low-fat granola bars are also effective preexercise energizers.
  • Energy bars promote eating during endurance exercise. Energy bars are also a great way to boost stamina and endurance during extended exercise, such as hikes or bike rides, instead of just relying on what you eat before you exercise.
  • Most energy bars claim to be highly digestible. One could debate whether energy bars are easier to digest than standard food because digestibility varies greatly from athlete to athlete. As with all sports snacks, you have to learn through trial and error during training what foods work for your system and what foods don't.

Do not try this pricey treat for the first time before a special event, such as a marathon, bike race, or rugby game, only to discover it causes discomfort. One key to tolerating energy bars is to drink plenty of water along with the bar. Otherwise, the product will settle poorly. Energy bars have a very low water content to make them more compact than fresh fruit, for example, which has high water content.

Table 5.2 Energy Bars Versus Standard Foods

Sports snack

Cal/oz (cal/30 g)

Carb/oz (carb/30 g)

Cost/100 cal ($)









NutriGrain cereal bar




Nature Valley granola bar




Clif Bar








Balance Bar




Luna bar




Nutrition information from food labels. Prices based in North Carolina.

Nutrition information from food labels. Prices based in North Carolina.

  • Some energy bars boast about a low carbohydrate content. This is a holdover from the "carbohydrate is fattening" era. As I have said before and will say again, carbohydrate is not fattening; rather, excess calories are fattening. You want to snack on carbohydrate-based foods because they are the best sources of fuel for your muscles.
  • Energy bars are expensive. You'll have to fork over at least one dollar, if not two, to buy most sports bars. The better value is to buy low-fat granola bars or breakfast bars from the supermarket at a much lower price (see table 5.2). A handful of raisins can also do a great job.
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