With the Chevron Houston Marathon looming, running and fueling and hydrating are trending topics online and off. My preferred workout fuel is actual food, although I've been known to supplement with a bar or a shake along the way when short on time. Generally I save energy bars for camping and hiking; when I have access to my own refrigerator I choose whole foods most of the time.
But power bars and energy bars do have their place when it comes to working out, and they are among the tools in the arsenal of distance runners, hikers, and endurance sport enthusiasts. Used judiciously they can also become part of a weight-loss strategy, though I always pause when people supplement entire meals with bars and shakes.
Armed with an assignment to Go Forth and Taste Power Bars, I filled a basket with a random assortment of supplement bars from the grocery store and set to work. I got a lot of funny looks in the cashier's line, as my basket contained power bars, shredded Mexican blend cheese, and hand soap.
Pria Nutrition Bar by Power Bar in Mint Chocolate Cookie Very candy bar-like: chewy but also crunchy, with a strong chocolate and mint flavor. Very tasty, but unfortunately at 110 calories not enough to power any kind of substantial run or workout; definitely the kind of thing you want to eat to take the edge off just before a workout if you ate a little earlier than you should have.
110 calories, 3.5 g fat, 15 g carbs, 9 g sugar, 5 g protein
Luna Iced Oatmeal Raisin "The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women" is 70 percent organic and "all natural" with all the "ladylike" nutrients you need, such as calcium, folic acid, and iron. The bar smells strongly of fresh oatmeal with cinnamon, and comes with a thick coating of icing on the bottom along with a drizzle on top. A very soft and chewy texture makes it pleasant to eat -- with a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, this is an acceptable meal substitute or snack, depending on your training schedule.
180 calories, 5 g fat, 27 g carbs, 13 g sugar, 9 g protein
Power Crunch Protein Energy bar in Cookies & Crème You know those wafer cookies that only come in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry? That's the best way to describe the texture -- and artificially sweet aftertaste -- of this energy bar. It's extremely light, with crunchy, flaky layers of cookie-like crunch and an outer coating of what one can only assume is supposed to be the "crème" aspect of the bar. It's got a flavor that is oddly compelling; you want to keep eating it to figure out what it actually tastes like. But once you stop eating, there is a pretty sickly-sweet aftertaste that requires a thorough brushing to eliminate. Not a great option for on the go, unless you've got some gum handy.
205 calories, 12 g fat, 10 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein
Clif Bar in Chocolate Brownie Clif Bars promise both nutrition and sustained energy on the package. Upon removing the package the brownie bar looks...how can we be delicate about this? It's dark brown, shiny, and sticky on the outside and weighs more than it looks like it should. We'll let you figure out the rest. It's easy to appreciate the texture, which is almost like a soft (but again, heavy) cookie, but it's so incredibly dense that I can hardly imagine eating an entire bar. That said, the flavor is decent enough, although the stickiness required an extra glass of milk to wash down.
230 calories, 4.5 g fat, 44 g carb, 23 g sugar, 9 g protein
Snickers Marathon Protein Bar in Caramel Nut Rush Huge and surprisingly Snickers-like in taste, the Snickers Marathon bar is substantially large and very dense. The outside is candy bar-quality chocolate, while the inside is a little more like a power bar; less "caramel nutty" and more "wad of carmel/nut filling." Still, this tastes a lot more like candy than a power bar, so if the chalky, dusty texture of some power bars is what turns you off, this one is a good option. Twenty grams of protein will keep you full through a workout, or help you repair muscle post-workout.
290 calories, 5 g fat, 40 g carb, 22 g sugar, 20 g protein
Rockin' Roll By far the least "candy bar" of the bunch, the Rockin' Roll Nutty Peanut bar is a combination of caramel and nougat rolled in peanuts. On one hand it lacks the artificial sugary aftertaste of some of the other contenders, but on the other it is pretty bland. The nougat is chewy and flavorless, so the only real sweetness comes from the thin layer of caramel between the nougat and the outer layer of peanuts. The peanuts themselves are unsalted and fresh-tasting; it's easy to see how this bar could go stale quickly. The upside of this bar is the high carb and high protein combo, along with a low sugar content which is much better for before or after workout use. High-sugar bars aren't as useful for recovery snacks, but this one is perfect for after a tough lifting session when you're in a hurry and just don't have time to boil a chicken breast.
290 calories, 16 g fat, 25 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 21 g protein
Winner: Luna Iced Oatmeal Raisin. Not only does it taste exactly like it says it will, the texture is pleasant and it's got enough carbs and protein to be worth the calories.
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Loser: Clif Bar Brownie. Bad taste, bad texture, and so heavy I would have to eat it long before any kind of strenuous cardio workout -- so long before it, I might as well eat a meal of real food that tastes, um ... good.
Do you have a favorite protein or power bar supplement? Let us know in the comments.