According to market research, the global sports nutrition market could hit $44-billion by the end of 2021. That’s a stack of sugar and a stack of confusion with some companies tacking non-enhancing amounts of ingredients and plastering their mooted benefits over their ad campaigns until, in a moment of weakness, you input your bank details and await disappointment. Thankfully, the selection of products here come out of both lab and real-world testing where the science adds up.
So what’s important when it comes to an energy bar? Well, unlike a drink or gel, where glucose appears in the bloodstream in around 5mins, an energy bar takes 10mins. When it comes to a bar, you’re looking at around 60mins before peaking. So they’re beneficial during longer events – we’d say Olympic-distance upwards – or long rides. We’d also recommend consuming them only on the bike, the ability to maintain a pretty still upper body useful when putting more stress on the stomach.
As for composition, bars are a mixed bag. Some, though none here, add protein for the muscle-repair process. Some, like a couple here, have a reasonably high fat content for both taste and potentially for longer, lower-intensity rides. Some, again a couple here, are carb-heavy, their focus on sugar and fast-delivering carbs all about providing energy during high-intensity exercise. That’s not to say you can’t consume fats and protein during races – especially for Ironman – but note that they both slow down the metabolism of carbs. It’s why some bars are billed as all-rounders than pure racers
And remember there’s always the complimentary homemade energy bar option, especially over Ironman where flavour fatigue is common. You can find recipes for homemade energy bars here
The best energy bars for triathletes in 2021
The carrot-cake option from Torq’s Explore range is delicious, and the same is true of the ginger-cake offering: that warming ginger hit particularly appreciated on cold rides. Don’t expect performance benefits like easing of nausea, though, as the ground ginger content is minimal. Do expect a similar nutritional profile to the OTE bar thanks to an overall calorie count of 263, with 8.1g from fat and 43g from carbohydrate. Arguably, that’s a stronger breakdown when undertaking exercise, yet its sunflower oil content isn’t ideal due to its inflammatory nature. On the positive, like all the ingredients in the bar, it is organic. As you’d expect from Torq, it lacks colouring, preservatives and artificial sweeteners, plus it’s vegan-friendly. A box of 20 comes in at a not-bad £33.
Verdict: Delicious bar for low-intensity riding or snacking, 85%
This is a terrifically tasty start to 2021, with a rich blueberry burst with every bite. And nutritionally? Well, as the name suggests, this is more everyman than pure racer, sending fat stores to a reasonably hefty 10.8g per bar. Those fats heavily derive from vegetable oils, so not great due to omega-6 inflammatories. Not surprisingly, it does, however, add a moistness often lacking in commercial energy bars. But it’s not all about the fats, of course. Carbohydrate content comes in at 35.1g per bar with the primary source from the
slow-releasing oats. These are gluten-free, so good for coeliacs; the bar’s also suitable for vegans and those with nut allergies. At 255cals per bar, it’s the second weightiest here so, when consuming on the bike, consume small and often.
Verdict: high fat but very tasty and will appeal to many, 80%
Enervit fuelled Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, the Italian company providing the Slovenian with the full gamut of products from energy powders to gels and bars. Did he consume this, Enervit’s Competition Bar? Probably, but this is the least tasty bar on test. Yes, it’s a nice hint of orange, that citrus twang sharp enough to cut through any flavour fatigue. The problem is the texture, which is a touch old-school dryness for our liking. Okay, maybe not the Weetabix-alike specimens of times gone by, but not the smooth delivery we’ve come to anticipate of the contemporary bar. Maybe that’s why it’s recommended to ‘eat one bar with an appropriate quantity of water’. On the positive, this is a fast-acting race-focused morsel with 23g from carbs and less than a gramme from fat.
Verdict: Good for racing but better bars out there, 65%
High5 Slow Release
High5 has established a reputation for serving up delicious energy bars at a good price. And they’ve achieved that balancing act once again with this parcel of apricot joy. On face value, anyway. You see, while the others on test are more expensive, their energy content is significantly higher than the 151 calories seen here. Short changed? Partly. While the fatty hit of 4.7g is much lower than seen in the Torq and OTE bars on the left, so is the 23g of carbohydrates. In short, they’re not like for like; in fact, this is a bar designed to consume solely for training and racing, providing a nice mix of slow- and fast-releasing sugars thanks to both the dried fruit and the addition of isomaltulose, which has a lower GI rating than glucose and sucrose.
Verdict: focused high-intensity remit and a good price, 82%