Energy bars can be something of a cheat code for runners. When you’re pressed for time before a morning run, or if you prefer something more palatable than gels on the road or trail, an energy bar is the quickest and easiest way to power up. But with so many choices in the grocery store aisle, it can be daunting to choose the right bar.

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So we’re here to guide you. We enlisted the help of registered dietitian Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D. to break down all the nutrition information on energy bars, and loaned our taste buds to determine which are appetizing—and which are almost inedible.

Our Top 8 Energy Bars

    nutritional bars testing
    Lakota Gambill

    Why Energy Bars?

    Bars sometimes get a bad rap for their high fat and sugar content, but Goodson explains that there’s a difference between nutrition and sports nutrition. “If you’re sitting at a desk, it is not the same as running for two hours, so the demands on your body are different,” Goodson says. That’s why bars are the ideal convenience food for athletes like us on a tight schedule or for those in the throes of a heavy training load and in need of extra nutrients.

    When you’re shopping for energy bars, don’t freak out about the amount of sugar and carbs. Remember, that’s what helps fuel your miles and replenishes your muscles afterward. Artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, won’t cut it in that regard because they’re calorie-free. Instead of looking at bars as a meal replacement, think of them as a convenient snack or supplement. They’re tools that can support your nutrition and training goals when you’re on the go, so you can run better and recover faster.

    nutrition bar testing
    Lakota Gambill

    When to Eat an Energy Bar

    Many companies, like Honey Stinger and PowerBar, put a recommended time of consumption right on the product packaging for you. This suggested timing is determined by the balance of macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—in the bar. Here’s a cheat sheet on how to figure out when’s the best time to eat an energy bar:

    Before your workout: “You’re typically looking for a bar that’s going to be higher in carbohydrates, because carbs are your main source of energy during running,” Goodson says. Look for a 4:1 ratio of carbs to proteins (40g carbs to 10g protein, for example), and be wary of higher fat and fiber content since this can slow digestion and cause GI distress.

    And while Goodson advises eating a bar 30 to 60 minutes before a run (or an actual meal two to four hours beforehand), workout intensity and duration—and your own individual digestion process—are factors that could impact this recommendation.

    During your workout: Most people have enough stored fuel in your body to support runs that are 60 to 90 minutes at an easy to moderate intensity. But if you’re planning a long run of 90+ minutes, or a run that includes high-intensity efforts over 60 minutes, you’ll want to start fueling early.

    If you’re training for a marathon, it’s best to troubleshoot what your stomach can tolerate on long runs. Look for a bar that’s high in carbs, but low in fat and protein—and very low in fiber, because that nutrient slows down digestion. “While you’re working out, you want food to digest as fast as possible, which is why you need simple sugars,” Goodson says. Try nibbling on a bar every 30 minutes for a serving of 25g of carbs total to keep up your energy on a long run.

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    After your workout: Even though running is an endurance activity, you’re still doing damage to lean muscle mass, says Goodson. Within 30 to 60 minutes after a run, consume about 20 to 25g of protein to help replenish and repair your muscles. Goodson also recommends not consuming a lot of fat immediately after a workout, since fat slows digestion. “Post-workout, the goal is to digest quickly,” she says. “The faster it digests, the faster it’s going to get into your bloodstream and be used for energy.”

    Whey protein is often in recovery bars because it contains leucine, the amino acid that acts like “the on light switch for muscle recovery,” Goodson says. Compared to other protein sources, whey digests among the quickest.

    As a snack: Bars that have more fat (such as “whole food” bars with nuts and nut butters) are great for a snack in-between endurance workouts, and sometimes even before a workout. You can chow down on them when slow digestion isn’t an issue. Just take note of added sugars if you plan to snack on light running or rest days.

    nutritional bars testing
    Lakota Gambill
    nutritional bars testing
    Lakota Gambill

    How We Tested These Energy Bars

    During our first round of tasting, we gathered nine Runner’s World staffers to blind taste-test 25 bars at our HQ, while following COVID-19 protocol. For the second cycle, we mailed 29 bars to 11 RW tasters—five of whom participated in the previous round of tasting—to ensure safety during the uptick in cases during the 2020 to 2021 holiday season.

    This time around, deputy health and fitness editor Mallory Creveling and I divvied up new bars and consumed them around our workouts. We snacked on them pre-, during, and post-workout to see how effective each bar was in satiating our appetites and providing energy. We included the bars’ nutrition information, texture, when to eat them, and tasting notes along with our two cents on why we loved them.

    nutrition bar testing
    Lakota Gambill

    Best Gluten-Free

    Skratch Labs Anytime Energy Bar Raspberries and Lemons

    Lakota Gambill
    Raspberries and Lemons
    Skratch Labs

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 220/33g/4g
    When to Eat:
    During a workout

    Turns out Skratch Labs—the team behind those convenient hydration powder packets—can create a mean energy bar. Actually, a couple of tasty energy bars. We tried the Cherries and Pistachios and Peanut Butter and Strawberries too, but the Raspberries and Lemons reigned supreme—an appropriate flavor after a lemon of a year.

    “Just when I thought it would be impossible to beat the cherry pistachio flavor,” said deputy editor Courtney Linder, “I was taken aback by the lemon and raspberry bar—it was slightly sweet like a raspberry jam, but packed all of the tartness of your favorite lemon pie. And the texture was really great, with pieces of dried fruit inside and a nice snap when you crunch your teeth into the bar.” Skratch touts the bars are for “anytime” but we recommend gnawing on them during a workout when you need that extra boost of carbs.

    Best Protein

    Jambar Jammin’ Jazzleberry

    Jammin’ Jazzleberry

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 235/36g/10g
    When to Eat:
    After a workout

    Creator and CEO of Jambar, Jennifer Maxwell goes way back in energy bar-making. She founded PowerBar with her late husband Brian in 1985. The “jam” in Jambar doesn’t actually refer to fruit jam; it’s inspired by how we move our bodies and jam out to things like our favorite music.

    The brand uses both vegan and non-vegan protein sources in its bars. The Jammin’ Jazzleberry bar above has a combo of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, as well as sunflower seed protein powder. “These bars have a good amount of protein and not a ton of added sugar,” said Creveling, “They are a little on the drier side compared to a Bonk Breaker and even Kate’s or Bobo’s.”

    Best Caffeine Kick

    Picky Bars Smooth Caffeinator

    Lakota Gambill
    Smooth Caffeinator
    Picky Bars

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 180/24g/6g
    When to Eat: Before or during a workout

    Most of our staff can’t live without coffee, and research shows that consuming caffeine an hour before a physical challenge can help both endurance athletes and sprinters go farther and faster than when they go without it. And according to the American Physiological Society, post-workout caffeine can aid in muscle recovery if consumed with carbs.

    Made with organic coffee beans, this bar contains just a smidge of caffeine—11mg, to be exact—and 45g of carbs. It has a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, making it an ideal source of energy before endurance activities. “I love their list of whole ingredients,” said Creveling. “It’s similar to a Rx Bar, but it has a better texture and is easier to bite and chew.”

    Best Pre-Workout

    Kate’s Real Food Lemon Coconut

    Kate’s Real Food
    Lemon Coconut & Ginger
    Kate’s Real Food

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: (1/2 bar) 130/17g/3g
    When to Eat:
    Before or during a workout

    It’s a tease that this delectable brick is a two-serving bar (the packaging actually instructs you on how to wrap the second half and save it for later). Like a Pringles can or ice cream pint, we just can’t stop once we’re halfway through. Don’t get us wrong, though—this bar is filling. We also feasted on the Dark Chocolate Cherry & Almond bar, but the “clean, pleasantly sweet, and aromatic” Lemon Coconut & Ginger made us feel like we were eating a classier, grown-up version of a Rice Krispie Treat.

    Best During

    Bonk Breaker Real Food Energy Bar Peanut Butter & Jelly

    Peanut Butter & Jelly
    Bonk Breaker

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 270/36g/8g
    When to Eat:
    Before or during a workout

    A reader recommended Bonk Breaker after part one of our energy bar tasting (and no, not all the brands we test advertise with us, and we don’t get paid by them). So, we sought out Bonk’s wares and were astonished by its many offerings. We tried the Collagen Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate Chip Protein Bar and munched on the Peanut Butter & Jelly High Protein Bar, postrun. But the Peanut Butter & Jelly whet our appetites.

    “Great flavors,” said Creveling. “Tastes sweet but not artificial. It has a softer, stickier texture than oat-based bars.” Plus, this PB&J won’t go soggy like a school lunch sandwich or crumble in your pocket during a run. “I love this bar. I love textured, chewy granola bars like this so I knew it’d be a hit. And the flavors were great,” added photo director Amy Wolff. “Nothing artificial in here, and I could even taste/feel the coconut bits. No upset tummy, plenty of nutrients to keep you going. Citrus, coconut, not too sweet.”

    Best Post-Workout

    Kind Energy Peanut Butter

    Energy - Peanut Butter

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 250/32g/10g
    When to Eat:
    After a workout or as a snack

    After a run or strength workout, you’ll want a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio in your bar for recovery and muscle repair. We included Kind’s Energy bars, along with Kate’s Real Food and Picky Bars which are also on this list, in our Fitness and Nutrition Awards because they check off everything runners want and need: a delicious taste, good texture, and all the nutrients to keep you going.

    Note that these bars are a great source of fiber (the peanut butter flavor has 5g), so we definitely recommend erring on the side of caution before a workout. Bite into these postrun instead.

    Best for Snacking

    JoJé Pancakes and Bacon

    Pancakes and Bacon

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 260/35g/5g
    When to Eat:
    Before, during a workout, or as a snack

    The bacon in this bar is vegetarian-friendly. It’s a good excuse to house your favorite postrun breakfast before your run. The bar has a generous amount of carbs for pre-workout fueling and anytime snacking. A slightly smoky taste and sweet maple flavor make this hearty oat bar one of my personal favorites.

    Best Non-Bar

    Honey Stinger Waffle Salted Caramel

    Salted Caramel Waffle
    Honey Stinger
    $15.99 (15% off)

    Calories/Carbs/Protein: 140/21g/1g
    When to Eat: Before or during a workout

    Coffee’s BFF, the stroopwafel waffle, is also an ideal pick-me-up for runners. It isn’t too dense in calories or fiber, and it has 21g of carb to give you that extra boost during a long run. The only drawback is how easily it crushes and crumbles when shoved into a pocket or jostled around in a gym bag.