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Best energy bars balance taste, calories, nutrients

For a healthful, filling snack or to fuel a workout, experts say to look for a bar with a carb-to-protein ratio of three or four to one -- so if a bar has 36 grams of energy-fueling carbs, look for about 9 to 12 grams of protein. This balance best supplies sustained energy, since this protein ratio optimally slows the rate at which carbs are burned. Additionally, in any bar, nutritionists say to look for at least 3 grams of filling fiber, no more than 3 grams of unhealthful saturated fat, no trans fats, and no more than 18 grams of sugar.

With this criteria in mind, we found the most popular and best reviewed energy bar to be the Clif Bar (*Est. $1.25). This product line currently comes in 19 flavors ranging from 230 to 260 total calories. Two of the flavors, Peanut Toffee Buzz and Cool Mint Chocolate, also contain 50 mg of caffeine (something you don't typically see in an energy bar) to give individuals even more get up and go. Clif Bars are made from 70 percent organic ingredients and are also fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, like vitamins C and E. Clif Bars contain about 9 to 10 grams of protein, 4 to 5 grams of fiber and at least 40 grams of energy-fueling carbohydrates per bar (the carb-to-protein ratio of 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 that experts recommend for lasting energy). These energy bars are low in saturated fat, too -- no more than 2 grams in any flavor. Grams of sugars range from 17 to 23.

Many reviewers give Clif Bars high marks for their taste and nutrition, and say they travel well. Editors at Climbing Magazine give the Clif Bar their Editors' Choice Award, noting that the bars are "very durable and stay edible in most temperatures." Editors at Fitness magazine name the Clif Oatmeal Raisin Walnut bar (one flavor in the line) the best energy bar and describe it as "an ideal snack pre- or post-workout, or any time you need an energy boost." Over 200 users give the Clif Bar an average of 4.5 out of five stars at Amazon.com, where they're described as "portable" and "delicious." Reviews at Drugstore.com are equally enthusiastic.

Another option in the Clif Bar line, the Clif Mojo bar (*Est. $1.20), which is billed as "the sweet and salty trail mix bar," is also well received. It ranges from 180 to 210 calories. Though Clif Mojo bars contain less than the 3 grams of fiber nutritionists recommend, they're made from 70 percent organic ingredients. Though Clif Mojo bars aren't quite as popular as regular Clif Bars on retail sites like Amazon.com and Drugstore.com, those who do buy them give them high ratings for their taste. They're second among the top camping and hiking food products rated by consumers on Outside magazine's website, with close to 80 reviews.

Two PowerBar products are also mentioned in several expert reviews: PowerBar Harvest (*Est. $1.30) and PowerBar Nut Naturals (*Est. $1.40), which feature whole grains and trail mix-like ingredients, respectively. The granola-type Harvest bars come in six flavors and have 240 to 260 calories each, with 45 grams of carbohydrates, about 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. About.com sports medicine guide Elizabeth Quinn lists them as a guide pick for energy bars, though it's not clear why she chose them. Additionally, about 60 users at Amazon.com give these bars four out of five stars. PowerBar Nut Naturals, meanwhile, are named the Best Crunchy Energy Bar by Real Simple magazine. They contain nuts and fruit and have 10 grams of protein, 19 to 20 grams of carbs and 3 to 4 grams of fiber, providing 210 calories per bar. Both of these PowerBar products also have added vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and E, and folic acid.

High-protein energy bars are an option for highly active individuals

Many brands now market energy bars with 15 to 20 grams of protein for more active individuals. Experts say average consumers should look for an energy bar with no more than 15 grams of protein, since protein slows the rate at which energy-fueling carbohydrates are burned. However, people who plan to engage in prolonged exercise or are trying to bulk up with weights may want more. Some people also eat these higher protein picks as meal replacement bars, though it should be noted that energy bars are not recommended to be routine meal replacements by health experts. As with all healthful energy bars, these protein-rich items should contain at least three grams of fiber to fill you up, less than 3 grams of saturated fat and no trans fat, and no more than about 18 grams of sugars. High-protein bars are also generally quite a bit higher in calories.

One popular line, Promax bars (*Est. $1.50), contain 20 grams of protein and are fortified with 18 added vitamins and minerals. They range from 270 to 290 calories. The Promax line features nine flavors, three of which have been reformulated to eliminate high fructose corn syrup. Promax bars contain about 38 grams of carbohydrates for quick energy and they are low in fat, so they can provide quick as well as sustained energy for a longer workout. Almost 50 users at Amazon.com give these energy bars an average rating of 4.5 out of five; most use them as occasional meal replacements or post-workout bars. User comments range from "delicious" to "not too sweet and dry." ShapeYou.com, a site for people interested in health and fitness, awarded its 2008 Gear of the Year Seal of Excellence to Promax Cookies 'n Cream and Nutty Butter Crisp flavors. BodyBuildingForYou.com has a review of three of the flavors, mainly concentrating on their taste and texture. The reviewer describes the bars' texture as "very soft, smooth, somewhat chewy" and gives them an overall rating of nine out of 10.

PowerBar also makes a high-protein bar, the Protein Plus (*Est. $2.00). This energy bar has around 20 grams of protein and 300 calories. These bars contain 3.5 grams of saturated fat and very little fiber, but they're relatively low in sugar, and they contain added vitamins, including vitamins C, E and K and the minerals phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. We found few user reviews for Protein Plus bars, but About.com features a more comprehensive comparison review in which editors compare four PowerBar products. Their two testers prefer the PowerBar Protein Plus Chocolate Peanut Butter to the other bars they try. Still, testers at Climbing magazine complain that these energy bars have an "unnatural taste" and "limited temperature range," though they also note the bars are "filling, with lots of protein."

One last product in this category, Clif's high-protein Clif Builder's bars (*Est. $1.75) come in six flavors. They have 270 calories, with 20 grams of protein and around 30 grams of carbohydrates. Consumers who have tried them in different conditions say they taste good but are a little heavy in the stomach, and can't be eaten when they're frozen. Still, they get high ratings from users at Amazon.com, over 150 people give them an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars.

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Clif Mojo Bar, Mountain Mix, 1.60 oz. Bars, 12 count (Pack of 2)
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PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars, Double Chocolate Crisp, 2.29-Ounce Bars (Pack of 15)
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PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars, Mixed Nuts, 1.58-Ounce Bars (Pack of 15)
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Promax Protein Bar, Nutty Butter Crisp, 2.64 Ounce, 12-pack
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PowerBar Protein Plus 22g, Chocolate Peanut Butter Reduced Sugar, 2.46-Ounce Bars (Pack of 12)
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Clif Bar Builder's Bar, Chocolate Mint, 2.4-Ounce Bars, 12 Count
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