The first sports energy bar appeared on the shelves of cycling and running shops in 1983. In the 26 years since that lone high-performance bar made its debut, an almost-unimaginable variety of choices have sprouted at convenience stores and supermarkets.

There are high-carb bars, protein bars, brain-boosting bars, meal-replacement bars, diet bars and women-only bars, each of which claims to make you better, faster, stronger or in some way enhance your life.

But before you buy, be sure to read the label. An energy bar can contain as much sugar and fat as a candy bar. There are several things to consider when choosing the best energy bar.

The Bar Facts

Energy Bars Do Not Contain Magic Ingredients

The boost in stamina and endurance you get from an energy bar comes from the 200 to 300 calories it provides. Eating before exercise and during endurance training is important to optimize performance. But keep in mind that fig bars, graham crackers and bananas can be just as effective – at a much lower cost.

Energy Bars Are Not Meant to be Meal Replacements

Energy bars are a convenient way to get calories and carbs in a snack, but they do not provide a complete range of nutrients. You may be sacrificing the fiber, carotenoids and other health-protective phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

For a quick snack, you might be better off eating an apple or a banana, a whole-wheat bagel with a slice of melted cheese, or a cup of yogurt sprinkled with high-fiber cereal. If you opt for an energy bar instead of a meal, be sure to eat at least one real food along with it.

Energy Bars Can be Too Much of a Good Thing

Because energy bars are highly fortified, they can cause gastrointestinal problems. Athletes test them out during training before using them in competition. Be sure to do the same thing until you learn what works for you and what does not.

If you’re consuming multiple bars a day or eating other fortified foods along with them, you may be overdosing on certain nutrients. Too many vitamins and minerals can be as unhealthy as not getting enough.

Never Judge a Bar by its Wrapper

In independent laboratory tests, some bars did not stand up to the claims listed on the label. Let the buyer beware!

Our Picks for the Best Energy Bars

Instead of hopping from bar to bar, use these general guidelines to help you find the one that works for you:

  • Look for bars with fewer than 5 grams of fat
  • Aim for 3 to 5 grams of fiber
  • If you’re using energy bars as snacks, be mindful of the calories; consider eating half a bar to keep your caloric intake within limits – a Luna bar contains 170 to 180 calories, for example, while a Promax Oat-rageous bar has 330 to 340 calories
  • If you’re shopping for an actual meal-replacement bar, choose one that has about 15 grams or more of protein – along with some fiber – and is fortified with 35 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins and minerals

We’ve sampled them all and have found these to be some of the best energy bars:

  • Power Bar: Performance Bar
  • Power Bar: Whole Grain Harvest
  • Luna Bars (selected flavors)
  • Promax Oat-rageous (selected flavors)
  • Optimum Rebound
  • Clif Bars (selected flavors)
  • Zoe's Bars (selected flavors)

Remember that added flavorings can change the nutrient content, so always check out the label before indulging.

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