Since the claims of energy bars aren't regulated by any federal agency, it's often hard to tell where the candy bars end and the energy bars begin; they're often sold right next to each other in the store. That's why it's important to take a look at labeling. Bars with more than 18 grams of sugar and those that don't contain much fiber or protein are more likely to fall into the candy-bar group. For this report, we looked for bars that contain less than 18 grams of sugar, no trans fats, at least 3 grams of fiber and low saturated fat.

Though taste is largely a matter of personal preference, other characteristics of an energy bar are easier to assess objectively, like its durability (whether or not it can be eaten while frozen, or whether it melts easily in the heat.) Here are some other savvy tips to help you find the right energy bar:

  • Opt for a bar that gets most of its calories from carbohydrates instead of fat. Carbohydrates are digested and absorbed more rapidly than protein or fat, and are the primary source of energy for physical activities. Experts say optimal energy bars should get 65 percent of their calories from carbs rather than fat. To find out what percentage of calories in a bar are from carbohydrates, multiply the grams of carbohydrates in a bar by four, then divide the total by the number of calories in the bar as a whole.
  • For a quick burst of energy just before a short workout, choose a bar high in carbs, low in protein and fiber (no more than 3 grams) and lower yet in fat. The calories from carbs are burned more slowly in the presence of protein and fiber, so the less a bar has of them, the more quickly you'll get an energy boost. Fat is not digested quickly and can sit in your stomach and cause discomfort during exercise.
  • For pre-workout energy, look for a bar with a carb-to-protein ratio of 3-to-1 or 4-to-1. The protein will cause the carbs to be digested and absorbed more slowly, and you'll get longer-lasting energy. Simple math will help you figure out how many grams of protein you should look for relative to the number of grams of carbohydrate in a bar. Just divide the grams of carbohydrate by four and then by three to get a range. Example: A bar has 42 grams of carbohydrates. Forty-two divided by four is roughly 10, and divided by three is 14, so look for 10 to 14 grams of protein.
  • In any bar, look for at least 3 grams of fiber. Fiber naturally aids digestion and it can help you feel fuller. However, too much fiber may cause digestive distress, so be wary of bars with more than five grams. 
  • Steer clear of sugar-laden energy bars. Ideal energy bars should have no more than 18 grams of sugar, says registered dietician Suzanne Farrell, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
  • Count calories. Energy bars can have just as many calories as candy bars -- and if you eat more than you burn off, those extra calories will turn into extra pounds. Eating a bar as a snack and don't plan to burn off any extra calories? Experts suggest choosing an energy bar with 150 to 250 calories, depending on your age, gender, activity level and overall diet.
  • Don't use them as regular meal replacements. Energy bars should not be a mainstay of anyone's diet, since health experts say they are no substitute for real food.
  • Be conservative about fortified bars. If you regularly eat energy bars fortified with vitamins and minerals, you could overdo it, especially if you take a daily multivitamin or eat other fortified foods. The reason: Experts say consuming too many vitamins and minerals can actually lead to oversupplementation, causing health problems.

Back to top