If you look in any grocery store, health food store, or outlet/club store, chances are you will see no less than fifty different brands and flavors of bar (variously billed as energy bars, protein bars, etc.). When I was growing up, these things were exclusively the realm of the dieter – someone who had gone to confession and admitted the sin of being unable to master the dark art of portion control and therefore needed the gods of some random food manufacturer to portion out their appropriate allotment of vitamins, minerals, calories, and what-have-you that make up a healthy diet. Similarly, granola bars have been around for quite some time. Originally, they were clearly targeted at kids lunch boxes and those that needed a snack on-the-go.
Modern energy bars are a natural combination of both of these trends. They serve as a meal-replacement for someone trying to manage their diet and count calories with deadly accuracy. They serve as a snack for on-the-go kids and adults that want to have some notion that what they are eating is healthy and has some measurable nutritional value. Most importantly, for our purposes, they serve as a means of getting a high amount of calories into our digestive systems for some athletic goal. This might be generating energy for a run or workout; providing appropriate fuel for muscle-building afterwards; or getting some quick-digesting energy to keep us going after a period of sustained exertion like a long-distance run.
Whatever your purpose for eating them, sorting through the huge variety of available bars can seem daunting. With price-tags that can cost as much as a cheap take-out meal for a single bar, it’s reasonable to want some sense of what you’re buying when to invest in a case of bars. Have no fear: we’re here to help. We intrepidly tested a number of widely-available protein/energy bars and rated them on the following categories:
- Nutritional Content / Breakdown
- Price (except we got most of these from other people… so, uh, we can’t help you. Sorry y’all.)
It’s a six star rating scale. Why six and not five? Oh, wouldn’t you like to know.
First up, we have Picky Bars Lauren’s Mega Nuts.
This has what might be the most healthy nutritional content. It’s 45 grams, rather than 40 grams like most of the others. It has 200 calories, with 56 calories from fat making it lower fat content than all the other bars we tried. That’s 46% less fat than all of the 40 gram bars we tried, even though there’s more bar there. Boom goes the dynamite. (I’ll give you a hint of who did the math for this post… it wasn’t me.)
It has a very earthy texture. Dude likened it to peat moss, but I’m thinking he’s never ate peat moss so what the heck does he know?
If you’re looking for energy or meal replacement with it being as healthy as possible, this is the way to go.
In addition, you could make a health-nut buzzword drinking game out of the label and end up incapacitated (eg non-gmo, organic, agave nectar, cane juice, etc.). We have very little memory of eating this bar because of this aforementioned game.
5 out of 6 stars for nutritional content / breakdown
3 out of 6 stars for taste
Next on tap, we’ve got the Luna Peanut Honey Pretzel bar, which Dude ate without me before the gym (not that I’m bitter or anything…)
This bar tastes great, is the largest portion size of those we tested (at 48 grams), and has the second lowest fat calories at 70.
On the other hand, it achieves this combination not through health-nut buzzwords, but the miracles of modern chemistry. The ingredients are in fine print on a reflective portion of the label, but the fastidious among us can find AP chem classics such as: magnesium oxide, ferrous fumarate, potassium iodide, and other geek classics. (Dude note: these are all in the vitamin/minerals section and are good for you but don’t sound as much earthy goodness as folks might expect.)
This bar kept Dude going during an intensive training session with our sociopath trainer (his words, not mine. I love you, Ron).
Editors note: It is only at this point during our review that Dude noticed the Luna bar’s label tag line “Whole nutrition bar for women.” He is displeased with my having recommended this one to him, but stands by his review nonetheless.
Are you ready for our next taste test? Sure you are! That would be the LARABAR uber: Roasted Nut Roll.
Dude said this bar should automatically be disqualified because it did not hail him a cab. #giantgeek
Despite containing very natural ingredients, the nutritional content of this bar leaves something to be desired, including containing 24% of your recommended daily intake of fat in a small 40 gram bar. Oy vey!
That being said, it tastes good. It has a distinct trail mix flavor so if you were a Scout as a kid, odds are you’ll feel right at home with this bar.
Like the KIND bar we’ll talk about later, it’s relatively low in carbohydrates, so if you want a bar for a quick burst of energy look elsewhere.
Are you ready to hear our thoughts on thinkThin Crunch Caramel Chocolate Dipped Mixed Nuts? Okay, awesome, because we are ready to share them.
This bar has a seal on the front that says “Wholesome abundance, 9g protein, 6g sugar, 4g fiber.” We cannot fathom why they left off 11g fat.
Despite this omission, we can say that this bar is one of our favorites. It’s lower fat than the worst offender, but better tasting and with better texture than the rest of the competitors. We’ll let the missing fat grams on the seal slide.
Like with some other bars, the low carb content makes this a better meal replacement bar than an energy or recovery bar. Dude would eat six of them in one sitting if I did not stop him (for those of you following along at home, that would be 102% of Dude’s recommended fat intake).
Finally, we have the KIND Nuts & Spices Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt.
This bar has a unique flavor that seems specially crafted to help you prove how much better than everyone else you are. The nut flavors alternate with the sea salt taste in a way that is hard to argue is not fantastic.
The wrapper has a tag line “…made from all natural ingredients you can see and pronounce”. Exercise for the reader: pronounce soy lecithin.
More fun label facts! “A study by the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center indicates that eating two KIND bars a day helps prevent weight gain.” Studies by the Daniel-Daniel Prevention Research Center indicates that eating twelve daily does not afford such benefits. We’re not sure if they’re talking about eating just the two bars and nothing else for the entire day because two of these bars would give you 46% of your recommended daily fat intake.
In conclusion, we like eating bars. We also like drinking at bars. We hope this guide helps you choose a bar that meets your needs – whether it’s a meal replacement, a pre-workout energy bar, or a post-workout recovery food.