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- Vegan and plant-based granola bars offer clean fuel with minimal GI distress while you’re on the trail.
- A quality energy bar provides 30g of carbs to keep you fueled on endurance days.
- Brands like Picky Bars and 88 Acres ideal nutrients for refueling with plant-based ingredients.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, RD, a nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice in New York City.
As getting outside and being active become a staple in our lives, so have snacking on energy bars. Some 44.5 million Americans consumed energy bars in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey. Gone are the days of choking down a chalky, crumbly bar just for its macro fuel. Energy bars — also called granola bars and sports bars — are now so tasty, we look forward to our mid-ride or mid-run snack break.
But not all energy bars are created equal. Mainstream options found at grocery stores and gas stations can be loaded with added sugar, making them more like a candy bar than a health food. Plus, the longer shelf life of big-brand bars often means it’s a product rich in preservatives (not to mention a sub-par taste).
Plant-based energy bars made by smaller brands offer a fresh, tasty alternative to the standard granola bar. And, when it comes to outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, and trail running, plant-based ingredients are a smart option because they tend to be easier to digest, sports nutritionist Aja Gyimah, RD, founder of Compete Nutrition, told Insider.
“If you usually have gas or stomach pain when you eat foods that contain eggs or dairy during a workout, you might find that plant-based energy bars won’t be as hard on your stomach,” she said.
Whether you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet or just looking for a simpler post-workout snack, plant-based bars are filled with protein-rich nuts and seeds, natural sweeteners, and unexpected flavor combinations that delight and energize.
In general, Gyimah suggested looking for bars with a saturated fat content of less than 10% of daily value.
She added that when it comes to physical activity, it’s best to opt for a snack that has enough carbohydrates to keep you energized. For longer activities, a small amount of protein can help keep you full once hunger hits, and start to facilitate muscle repair. How much you need for bikes, hikes, and runs will vary depending on your weight and the distance and intensity of the activity, Gymiah said.
In general, you want to eat 30 minutes to an hour before you start moving, and then re-fuel after the first hour if you’re still out, she added. Ideally, that looks like this:
- One hour before, fuel up with complex carbohydrates (like whole grains). Or, 30 minutes before, reach for simple carbohydrates, like bars with dates and berries, which your body will be able to break down faster.
- If you’re moving for longer than one hour, snack on something high in carbohydrates (30+ grams) to provide energy, like a bar with oats and nut butters, nuts, or seeds.
- If you’re moving for more than 2 hours, reach for a bar with around 30g of carbs, but also 10 grams of protein since you’ll start to get genuinely hungry.
You also want to look for a nutrition label with a short list of ingredients and words you recognize. The one thing to look out for is sugar content, Gymiah adds. The rules here are a bit different than for most other food because sugar is a type of carbohydrate and provides our body with glycogen to fuel our muscles.
But you still want to minimize the artificial stuff: “Sugar that comes from dried fruit offers slightly more nutrients than regular, added sugar. If you’re trying to decide between two energy bars and one contains dried fruit (no added sugar), choose that one.” Note that for each pick below, we’ve included only the added sugar on the nutrition label, since the natural sugars in a bar are a key source of energy.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing an energy bar to fuel your active lifestyle, so I did the work for you. Here’s a look at the most delicious plant-based energy bars that are energizing, packed with protein, and actually healthy.