The Real Skinny On Energy Bars

Do you know what to look for in an energy bar, or are you just buying a high-priced candy bar?


Energy bars bear a variety of names: health bars, protein bars, muscle-building bars, granola bars, breakfast bars, meal replacement bars—and the list continues to grow. However, how does one determine which bar is nutritionally sound, and more importantly, which ones are appropriate for our individual needs?

Law enforcement professionals work in a job that doesn’t lend itself to designated meal times. More often than not, cops grab something quick at a drive thru or convenience store. Unless you have the time to prepare a healthy meal and pack it each day, chances are your choices will be limited when you’re working your shift.

A candy bar may be the only bit of sustenance available for several hours for someone working a crime scene, or perhaps assigned to a detail.  However, candy bars and other similar snacks are heavily laden with sugar. True, you will benefit quickly in terms of increased energy, but you will soon feel like the bottom has dropped out, experiencing a sugar crash as your body releases a large amount of insulin. Thus, it’s important to stock some energy bars in your duty bag for those times when a healthy sit down meal is unavailable.

I discussed this topic with Kelly Devine Rickert, (www.kellydevinenutrition), Sports Dietitian and Media Spokesperson for the Illinois Dietetic Association. With a myriad of bars flooding the $3 billion market, each making healthful claims about their product, I wanted Kelly to focus on the most popular and easily accessible bars. With her input, I hope you can make an intelligent, informed choice on which energy bar is right for you.

Cliff Bars:

They are extremely popular, and seem to be available everywhere. High in carbohydrates, Cliff Bars are an ideal pre workout/pre race snack. These bars are great to eat while on patrol, particularly when there’s no opportunity to stop and eat at a restaurant. The bars contain 5g of fiber, which helps fill you up, and at least 10 grams of protein. Cliff Bars make for a great breakfast when you are in a hurry, especially if you add a piece of fruit or Greek yogurt.

Power Bars:

Very similar to Cliff Bars, Power Bars provide a quick source of energy. They can be a great pick me up afternoon snack or pre workout meal. Because Power Bars and Cliff Bars are meant to be consumed as pre-workout snacks, Kelly does not recommend them for diabetics, or for those not physically active. They contain too much sugar. 

Lara Bars:

These bars contain all natural ingredients, and are made from nuts, fruits, vegetable proteins, and rice grains, which makes them gluten free. They are excellent for people with allergies, or on special diets. Lara Bars has released a new line of bars, Lara ALT, which have a full 10 grams of plant protein.  Lara ALT Bars are very similar to Kind bars, sold at Starbucks, and Perfect 10 Bars, sold at Trader Joes. Both bars contain all natural ingredients made from mostly nuts and fruits.

Kashi Bars:

Kashi Go Lean bars are made from 100% whole grains and have less added sugars than regular granola bars. Each bar has at least an ounce of protein. Kashi Bars are generally also better than sports bars for heart health reasons, since Kashi bars are low in fat, yet high in fiber.

Balance Bars:

Containing fewer carbohydrates and an ounce more protein than Power or Cliff Bars, Balance Bars are an ideal pre or post workout snack. Balance also offers Balance Minis, which contain only 100 calories. Balance Minis are perfect for anyone who wants to watch their calories, or who is trying to lose weight.

So there you have it, a quick overview of the ubiquitous energy bar. Formerly found only at health food stores, energy bars have flooded the marketplace. Incidentally, just because a product is sold at a health food store does not necessarily make it healthy. Always check the ingredients to find out what’s inside. Ideally, the energy bar you choose should contain the following:

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