10 Best Energy Bars for Runners Tested
We’ve always felt that food tastes better when it’s earned. That’s not to say that you need to work in order to deserve a meal or a snack, but rather that it just feels better after a long run or hike. When you work up a big sweat and the body craves a few good calories, average food can taste like a five-star meal in these conditions, and we can find a nice rhythm between our burn rate and consumption this way as well. Remember that not all energy bars are the same and they all offer different health benefits for your body.
Energy bars come in all kinds of flavors, textures, and sizes, but they typically have one thing in common. They provide some type of source of usable energy, whether artificial or natural. The not so natural products tend to have food coloring and ingredients that most of us can’t even pronounce. The general theme we went with for this guide, is to put a list together of products that you don’t have to be afraid to put in your body.
- RxBar Protein Bars
- 100% Natural Ingredients
- BSN Syntha
- Helps build lean muscle
- Larabar Gluten Free bar
- Convenient, wholesome snack
10 Best Energy Bars for Runners Tested
Each pack includes 14 Bars – 2 Chocolate Sea Salt, 2 Coconut Chocolate, 2 Coffee Chocolate, 2 Mint Chocolate, 2 Pumpkin Spice, 2 Apple Cinnamon, and 2 Blueberry Bars — a huge variety!
RxBars are 100% consistent with the paleo diet, no grains, no added sugars, no gluten, no soy, no dairy,and no artificial additives
A solid 12 g protein per bar
Natural, high quality ingredients that are healthy and tasty at the same time
- 12 g protein per bar
- Great flavor options
- No peanutbutter flavor
BSN Syntha-6 Protein Crisp Salted Toffee Pretzel
Contains a healthy 20 grams of protein and only 2-4 grams of sugar per bar.
Comes in different flavors such as chocolate crunch, vanilla marshmallow, peanut butter crunch, salted toffee pretzel, and mocha latte.
Best after training or even the most simple workout.
Does not compromise your macros
Only 240 calories per bar.
- Light and airy texture
- Great source of protein
- Multiple flavors
- 20g of premium proteins
- Some thought the flavors were a little harsh and/or fake
Simple, 4-ingredient treat is a perfect blend of dates, peanuts, chocolate chips, and a dash of sea salt
Kosher, minimally processed, gluten-free, non-GMO, and dairy-free
Contains 10% of the recommended DV of magnesium intake, among many other nutritional benefits
Convenient, healthy snack for an active lifestyle
- Simple ingredients
- Gluten free
- Dairy free
- Short shelf life, bulk ordering not recommended
Paleo friendly snacks
Made in a 100% gluten free facility
Certified USDA Organic
Crafted in small batches not mass produced
Family owned business
- Gluten free
- No added sugar
- A supplement to the paleo diet
- No added sweeteners
- Made from raw, unprocessed food. So if that's not your thing, these may not be for you
ZonePerfect Chocolate Almond Raisin
Contains 15 grams of protein
Has 19 essential vitamins and minerals
Can help boosts immune function and work as an antioxidant
- Contains 19 essential vitamins and minerals
- 15 grams of protein
- The product changed, and the flavor used to be better. It is still pretty good though
Vega Sport Chocolate Coconut Protein
Has 2 grams of glutamine to help rebuild and repair muscle tissue after strenuous excercise
Proudly Vegan and made from organic ingredients, no gluten, artificial flavors and/or colors
Non-GMO Project certified; Informed Choice reviewed and sealed
- 2 grams of glutamine to help with muscle repair
- free of gluten as well as artificial coloring and flavors
- Some aren't crazy about the texture
KIND Bars, Almond & Coconut
Great for people with intolerances — wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free
Low glycemic index, won’t inflate blood sugar
Excellent source of fiber
No hydrogenated oils or trans fats, minimally processed
Individually wrapped bars , transparent packaging — see what you’re buying!
- Minimally processed
- Great source of fiber
- Will not inflate blood sugar
- Gluten and dairy free
- Portions are small
Power Crunch French Vanilla
High-quality whey hydrolysates provide 100% absorption of protein
Perfect ration of protein, carbohydrates, and fats
12 1.4 ounce bars in each box
Bars are individually wrapped for easy portability and access
Bursting with Proto Whey Protein
Sustains hunger without heaviness
Great for children
- Diabetic & kid-friendly
- Provides natural energy
- Sustained hunger satisfaction without heaviness
- No aftertaaste
- Chalky taste
CLIF CRUNCH – Peanut Butter
Made from 70% organic ingredients
Has 4g protein in each bar
Less than 200 calories per serving, won’t break your diet
A great source of fiber (contains 9g total fat as well)
- 70% organic ingredients
- Each bar contains 4 grams of protein
- Great way to get fiber
- Portions are much smaller than many expected
Kashi Chewy Granola Bar Cherry Dark Chocolate
Relative high in fiber and a nice little protein boost
all natural, packaged in recycled materials
- Great source of protein and fiber
- Contains 7 Whole Grains
- No artificial sweeteners
- Some found them to bee a little too sweet
Here’s What We Looked At When Putting Our List Together
Taste and Texture
We know you want an energy that does just that – provides energy. It has got to power you through your day as you jump from task to task on your schedule, knocking off stuff on your to-do list. But you certainly do not want to sacrifice taste and enjoyment for convenience. And we don’t want you to either! Taste can be tricky because it is certainly based on personal preference – some people prefer chocolatey, fruity, and sweeter energy bars while others opt for nutty and saltier flavors. This is precisely why we chose a range of bars that satisfy sweet tooth’s and savory cravers alike. The bars on our list come in a variety of flavors, from tried and true classics like vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter to more unique flavors like mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, coffee chocolate, apple cinnamon, and chocolate sea salt (the RX brand has even jumped on the recent pumpkin craze to provide consumers with a delicious pumpkin spice flavor!).
The sweeter bars that made our list are made using a variety of sweeteners, both artificial and more natural kinds. If you tend to shy away from the taste of artificial sweetness like that of sucralose or aspartame, then be careful about which bars you put in your shopping cart. To keep calories down but maintain higher amounts of protein and fats that are typically found in nuts and protein powders and isolates, companies will opt to use l
ow calorie sweeteners, but not everyone is a fan. If you fall into that category and are content with a bar that might be higher in calories but made of all natural ingredients, opt for the bars that are sweetened using natural sources like honey and real sugar.
Some people are more sensitive to food textures than others, so it is important to know what you prefer and what you do not prefer. Some of the bars featured on our list have a crumblier texture, as they are either made using ingredients that are baked to a stiffer consistency, or they contain multiple individual ingredients (like nuts, seeds, granola, and fruits) that break apart easily. Other bars will have a softer and chewier consistency.
And still others are a pleasant combination of both! Not only does texture come down to personal preference, but it is also important to consider practicality. If you are running a marathon, even if you prefer a softer, gooier texture of energy bar, it might not be the best option for you because it could be overly chewy and too hard to chew, swallow, and digest if you are already eighteen miles in, going up a hill, and begging for mercy.
Nutrition Value and Ingredients
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a well-balanced diet will consist of 45 to 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat and 10 to 35 percent of daily calories from protein. These recommendations are for the average adult, but runners and athletes will likely need closer to 65 percent of carbohydrates to properly fuel workouts. However, depending on your physique and performance goals, protein is definitely important to build muscle. (But fats are definitely important too, especially for regulating organ and internal functions.)
As a rule of thumb, it is best to choose an energy bar that closely sticks to your dietary goals and hits a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Look for an energy bar with a ratio close to 60/20/20 of carbohydrates to fats to protein (respectively). It is important to opt for more carbohydrates to provide quick energy forms that are metabolized quickly to give your workouts and busy schedule the boost you need to power through. And of course, always be mindful of total calories being consumed. Energy bars should supply an adequate amount of calories to fuel your body, but there is also a threshold you should be mindful of. Bars less than one hundred calories probably will not serve your energy needs, but bars over three hundred calories each are more like meal replacement bars.
The ingredients contained in each bar should also be considered. Generally, the longer the list of ingredients, the less natural the ingredients. It is important to read labels and know if what you are eating is loaded with such things as high fructose corn syrups, saturated fats, and a lot of added sugars. If you tend to try to eat organically sourced foods, then check the labels for what is contained in the bar, paying special attention to which sweeteners are used. The majority of bars in our list are made using simple ingredients.
Specifically, the Rx Bars, the Bearded Brothers Paleo bars, Kashi bars, Kind bars, and Larabars are all made using only minimal ingredients that are easy to recognize, such as whole nuts, fruits, egg whites, and natural peanut butter and chocolate sources. When you can, it is advised to opt for “real” food (as opposed to synthetically created foods) so look for bars with ingredients like oats, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and a recognizable and trusted protein component. Of course, if you have special dietary needs and/or restrictions, be mindful of those as well. Luckily, our list of bars can easily fit into gluten-free diets, Paleo diets, etc.
The Price Vs. The Benefits
We know you work hard for your money, and you definitely shouldn’t have to break the bank to get a simple energy bar that fits your needs. Energy bars are more convenient sources of fast energy than some other sources, but there is still no need to overpay for convenience! Shopping and buying in bulk is a great cost-saving trick. The bars in our list can be bought either individually or packaged together in bulk. Buying them in boxes of twelve bars lowers the per serving cost substantially. And because the shelf life of energy bars is typically several months, it makes it easy to buy in bulk and store them away to be used as needed without worrying so much about expiration dates.
We have also taken into consideration overall value of the bar – that is, that you are getting a quality product for your money. The bars on this list are made using quality ingredients and actually do what they are supposed to, which is provide carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that provide for your energy and recovery needs – all while keeping costs relatively low. Also included when considering value is considering portion sizes, and exactly how much (or, in some cases, how little) you are getting for your money. We want your dollars to go as far as they can, and to be spent on energy bars that are substantial in serving size.
One of the criteria we chose to assess our list of energy bars off of is practicality. This has several components within it, the first being the functionality of your energy bar. In other words, when will you be consuming your energy bar and why? We wanted to provide a list of energy bars that cover a range of functions, and that can be consumed easily before a run or workout to give a quick boost of energy, consumed during a run to sustain energy during those intense and rigorous workouts like a full or ultra marathon, and then also after a workout to aid in repair and recovery. Particularly for bars consumed before or during a workout, they need to be easily digestible and provide fast energy sources to quickly refill your glycogen stores to carry you forward at your optimal performance.
Generally speaking, the best bars to eat before and during won’t have as high of protein or fat content as some other bars because these can be heavier in the stomach and digest slowly. (For example, while delicious, some athletes experience stomach cramps from foods like nuts and peanut butter if eaten just before a workout because of they are filled will slow-digesting proteins. However, other athletes are not phased by nuts or nut byproducts at all, so it does come down to individual case by case scenarios. Know yourself and your body!) Yet, these kinds of bars are perfect for post-workout recovery and muscle repair, and will help you come back for your next workout or race faster and stronger.
Another component of practicality is convenience. One of the major appeals of purchasing energy bars is because they can conveniently be eaten in the car, during a workout, at work, in between classes, and the list goes on. They are easy to transport, they do not have to be refrigerated, no preparation is needed, and clean up is obviously a breeze. They also tend to have a great shelf life, so they are a cost-effective snack because you can buy them in bulk and they will stay good in your pantry (or emergency snack stash at the office or in the car!) for months.
They also should not be so big that they can’t be easily taken with you during a run. Brands like the Honey Stinger Waffle bar and the Clif Bar on this list are perfect in this regard because they are smaller in size and can easily fit into compact compartments and pockets. And finally, for convenience sake, the bars need to be simple. That is, you do not want to have to worry about them being too crumbly, too hard to eat, easily melting during the summer months, or frozen solid when you are out on the trails in mid-winter.
A Few Things To Think About
What kind of training are you doing?
Not all workouts are created equal, and so similarly, not all energy bars are equally as fit for every form and type of exercise. For instance, while all athletes need to be mindful of getting a well-balanced diet made up of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, an endurance athlete who is logging miles and miles each day is going to need a different ratio of macronutrients than, let’s say, a weightlifter who does minimal cardiovascular activity and is mostly just focused on building muscle. Runners, swimmers, triathletes, and other endurance athletes typically have needed a higher amount of carbohydrate intake because they need sustained energy for longer periods of time.
Athletes who focus primarily on strength training and muscle building activities, however, need more protein. That’s not to say that one doesn’t need the other – after all, any runner can tell you that central muscle repair and recovery after a hard workout is getting in a decent amount of protein and weightlifters know how much better their workout is when their glucose levels are high. Knowing what you need and want out of your workout will help you to choose an energy bar that has the nutrition you need to help you meet your goals.
Are you consuming your energy bars before, during, or after (or at all three!) a workout?
If you are looking for a quick, convenient pre-workout snack to give you a fast energy source that is easily digested, then you will need to opt for an energy bar that is not overly heavy and laden with too many slow-digesting fats, protein, and carbohydrates. You want something to satiate intense hunger but certainly not keep you feeling overly full and sluggish. For choosing an energy bar to eat during your run or workout, you will still want bars that are not too heavy and are quickly digested, but also that are relatively small or compact so that they can be easily transported in pockets and compartments, and that are easy to eat (i.e. not too crumbly, not too chewy, do not melt or freeze easily, etc).
Brands like Honey Stinger are great right before and during a run because they are easily digested and are a fast source of energy. Kashi and kind granola bars are another great option for before or during a workout because they are substantial enough that they curb slight hunger, but light enough that they do not typically fill you up completely – it is still good to be mindful, though, of how your body responds to and digests dried fruits and nuts. Another important fact to consider when picking an energy bar to eat before or during your run is fiber – too much, and you will probably regret it!
After a workout, an energy bar needs to help replenish your depleted glycogen stores, so carbohydrate intake is still important! But it the real key to getting the most out of your workout is consuming adequate amounts of protein in the “golden window” of thirty to sixty minutes after your workout is finished, in order to best aid in muscle growth, repair, and recovery. Studies suggest that the best way to recover is to consume foods with a 4:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates soon after finishing a workout. Protein rich energy bars, then, are a great option for a stellar recovery snack.
Are you following a specific diet?
Whether you are just trying out a new diet or are a seasoned veteran to all things Paleo, Whole 30, vegan, gluten-free or Ketogenic, your first step in choosing an energy bar (or any snack or meal) is to check out the ingredients. We know you don’t want an energy bar to upset all your hard work, so our list is full of bars that can easily fit into a wide variety of dietary restrictions and regulations. Several of the bars contain only ingredients allowed in Paleo bars (think whole nuts and fruits and animal products) and organic or locally sourced ingredients. A few bars on this list are certified kosher products, and several are even terrific options for those suffering from diabetes or trying to pay special attention to their glycemic index.
Do you have any food allergies?
If you are allergic to certain foods (particularly tree nuts like peanuts, almonds, and cashews, seeds, any fruits, or suffer from Celiac’s disease or are overly intolerant to gluten) than you should always be mindful of what you are consuming, especially when it comes to energy bars or snacks that you might be eating while out on the trails or roads by yourself. Always read the label and be on the lookout for ingredients that might trigger an allergic reaction. Luckily, the range of bars we have included in our list are so versatile and different that, no matter your allergy, you can find one that can safely fit into your diet.
What are grocery store options nearby?
If you choose to shop in the store instead of online, then it is worth checking into what grocery stores are located nearby because not all of the bars on this list can be easily found in the generic grocery store’s aisles. Some of them might require a special trip to a health or specialty foods store or athletic store, especially if you are trying to adhere to a specific diet. Before you make the weekend trek to your local supermarket to pick up a few of your preferred energy bar brands, do a little research and make sure they are sold there!
Q. What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance of carbohydrates for adults?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day. This number is based upon the amount of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) required to fuel an adult’s brain, red blood cells and central nervous system. It is important to have full glycogen stores because when we participate in anaerobic exercise, our bodies switch from burning fat to our quick-burning sources of glucose in order to maintain our energy and blood sugar levels, and continue fueling our brains and our red blood cell production.
Q. How do energy bars fit into the functional diet of an athlete?
An athlete’s diet often focuses on the all important aspect of nutritional functionality. As an athlete, particularly an endurance athlete such as a runner or triathlete, what you put in your body is of critical importance. Sports nutrition is a deep and complicated topic, with tons of research and thousands of books that can be read and analyzed. In this article you won’t find any deep scientific discussions, but what you will find is a thorough review of some great-tasting energy bars that properly serve the basic needs of runners and athletes in providing adequate energy coupled with proper nutrition and an affordable price tag.
Q. What is the difference between protein and energy bars?
For the most part, you won’t find a huge difference between bars that market themselves as “protein bars” and those that market themselves as “energy bars,” and depending on your needs, it might not really make much of a difference to you which one you get (i.e. if you are just looking for a quick, convenient snack too much on between meals while running errands). You might suspect that those that advertise as “protein” bars will have more protein, but that’s not always the case because some energy bars contain significant amounts of protein as well. The ingredients contained in the two often overlap, as you will find nuts and fruits, oats or rice products, and a protein component in both.
When it comes down to deciding what bar is best for you and your needs, it is probably fine to not choose one versus the other because one calls itself an “energy” bar or because one calls itself a “protein” bar. Rather, go with what fits your lifestyle best – i.e., what tastes best to you, what fits into your budget, what fits your dietary restrictions or goals, etc. Both are rich enough in macronutrients that adequate energy will be given to you to power you through a tough workout.
Q. What other purposes do energy bars serve?
In this article, we have mostly only discussed consuming energy bars as a pre, during, or post-exercise snack to aid in your workout and recovery. However, one added benefit of purchasing energy bars is how versatile they can be (which adds to their value!) so if you find yourself not being able to choose which one you want, buy them both and then use them in other recipes to ensure they do not go to waste.
Some ideas include crumbling them up and mixing them into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or as a delicious topping on pancakes, waffles, cereal, and even ice cream or frozen yogurt (after all, some of them just taste like a healthy candy bar)! They can also be used in baked goods and desserts (i.e. if you cut up a chocolate energy bar and mix it into cupcake, cake, or brownie batter, it’s just like adding in chocolate chips). Don’t be afraid to get creative with them in the kitchen!
Q. How much will an energy bar cost me?
If you choose an energy bar from this list, you will pay anywhere from 75 cents per bar to upwards of $2.50 per bar (that is if you are to buy them in bulk, in boxes of twelve or sixteen). If you choose to buy them a la carte at the store, they tend to be higher in price. Save money and purchase in bulk conveniently online by the box!
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional nutritional advice. If you have any allergies or intolerances be sure to read ingredients carefully. If any adverse reactions occur to any nutritional products be sure to seek professional medical/nutritional advice as soon as possible.
Here are a few of our sources:
- Ask the Dietition: What's the Best Carb, Protein, and Fat Break Down for Weight Loss?, Dietary Blog Article, Jun 29, 2016 ,
- The Top 12 Energy Bars For Every Occasion (Post Workout, Gluten Free, and More), Dietary Blog Article, Feb 09, 2017 ,
- Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Government Dietary Guidelines, ,
- Trainer Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Eating for Muscle and Eating for Endurance?, Running and Strength Training Blog Article, ,
- Is Chocolate Milk Really the Best For Recovery?Pamela Nisevich Bede , Nutrition Blog Article, Apr 13, 2013 ,
- Difference Between an Energy Bar and a Granola Bar, Nutrition Blog Article, Jan 02, 2016 ,