It’s important to stay fuelled on a long ride. For any exercise that lasts over an hour, it’s recommended to carry some extra food to keep your energy levels stable. Some people rely on energy gels, but nothing beats real food: it tastes delicious, delivers a burst of energy, and provides all the calories you need to keep you going. Plus it’s much less likely to cause digestion problems than energy gels.
Since energy bars are so high in calories and carbohydrates, it’s best to limit them to when you’re actually exercising and using energy. You can eat them pre-, during, or post-training, though it’s a good idea to think about the types of nutrients individual bars provide, and which stage of training they’re best suited for.
Since very few of us are nutrition experts, here’s a handy guide to help you understand which nutrients you need, the difference between carbohydrates and protein, and finally how to choose the best kind of energy bar for the type of ride (or general exercise) you’re taking on.
One final, and very important point, is that if you’re training for a big race or event, you should never try anything new on the big day. Experiment with different energy bars during your training period, so you can learn what works best for your body. When race day comes, have your secret weapons to hand, and go get ‘em.
Carbs vs protein
It’s easy to get caught up in questioning the difference between carbohydrates and and protein, whether or not you should be eating both, and when in relation to your workout you should have them. We’re going to keep things very simple for you.
Carbohydrates are your fuel. You need them to power your body through vigorous exercise and long rides: the harder the engine works, the more fuel it needs. If you’re heading out on a long ride and need to fill your jersey pockets, fill them with high-carb energy bars.
Protein, on the other hand, builds and repairs your muscles, so it’s hugely important post-workout. Store some high-protein energy bars in the glove compartment if you’re driving home, or have them readily available when you get home.
How much to consume
An hour before you set out on your ride, consume one high-carb energy bar to top up your glycogen stores. This is what your muscles burn for energy, so look for something with around 100-200 calories, and between 0.8 and 1.4oz of carbohydrates. Try to avoid anything with high levels of protein, fats and fiber, as these will slow down your digestion.
Once you’ve passed the 60-minute threshold, it’s important to keep your glycogen levels topped up. Aim to consume between 1 and 2oz of carbohydrates every hour. It’s better to break up your energy bars into bite size pieces to make them easier to graze on evenly throughout the ride.
It’s generally recommended to consume between 0.7 and 1.4oz of protein after a workout, to help your body rebuild your muscles.
Other things to consider
Of course, not all energy bars are created equal, so it’s important to read the nutrition labels and check the list of ingredients. Ideally, opt for whole grains, such as rolled oats, nuts, or fruit. These need to be at the top of the ingredients list (meaning high concentration), rather than sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup or maltitol.
Check the calorie count and consider how many you actually need for the workout you’re doing. Some bars will contain around 170 calories, while others can have 300: the same as a small meal. Always choose bars that contain less than 0.17oz of saturated fat, and after you’re done working out, look for high-protein bars that contain at least 1oz of fiber.
Huge array of flavors to fuel an epic ride
Clif bars are a popular choice among athletes for a reason. When it comes to flavor, they can’t be beat. Chocolate almond fudge, white chocolate macadamia nut, and peanut butter with dark chocolate are just a few of the delicious flavors on offer. The classic bars are dense and chewy, which really satisfies those cravings for real food that come after several hours of hard pedalling. However if you want something a little different, there are even nut butter-filled bars that feel utterly decadent.
Nutritional content varies per bar, but overall you’re looking at around 1.4oz of carbs, 0.14oz of fibre, and 0.3oz of protein. Watch out for the sugar content, though. At around 0.7oz per bar, you need to make sure you’re definitely burning them off.
These bars are all about the carbs
If you’re looking for high-carb energy bars to fuel you through long days in the saddle, these High5 energy bars are just the thing you need. With 1.41oz of carbs per 2.12oz bar, they pack a powerful punch, and are ideal for eating before and during your ride. They even include enough fruit to count as one of your five-a-day! Ingredients also tend to include a whole grains, so these will be great on your digestive system. These Peanut flavour bars are sure to be a winner for serious athletes.
For when only cake will do the job
We get it. You’re doing your best, you’re spending long days in the saddle, and sometimes a traditional energy bar just won’t cut it. Your body's calling out for something more substantial, more decadent, and more cake-like. Basically you want cake. That’s okay. So here’s a compromise. Instead of actual cake, why not try these Soreen Banana Loaf bars instead?
They have a cake-like texture, taste sweet thanks to the banana, but also deliver slow-release carbohydrates, as well as B-vitamins and amino acids. They also contain 0.85oz of carbs per 1.5oz serving, and are suitable for vegans.
These really seem more like snacking on candy bars
These dark chocolate, nuts and sea salt bars from Kind are utterly delicious and seem more like eating a healthy version of a Snickers bar, with added crunch. They’re made up of mostly mixed nuts - almonds, peanuts and walnuts - with dark chocolate drizzled over them and topped with sea salt flakes for a sophisticated flavor. They’re also sweetened with honey and glucose syrup, so they’ll satisfy your sweet tooth as well.
Each bar delivers 200 calories, 0.6oz carbs, 0.5oz fat and 0.2oz protein. On top of the energy they provide, these bars also come with the added benefits of eating nuts in their whole form. Walnuts, for example, are bursting with omega-3 fatty acids, that can reduce the risk of heart disease, while almonds are packed with vitamin E, magnesium and potassium, to help oxygen and nutrients flow freely through the bloodstream.
Not technically a bar, but delicious nonetheless
It’s not technically a bar if it comes in a spherical shape, but these Bounce energy balls are another winning option with the added bonus that they’re already bite size and easy to stuff into a feedbag without disintegrating into crumbs later down the line. The Peanut flavor is great, because it’s not too sweet but leaves you feeling really satisfied afterwards. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of PB?
Each energy ball contains between 0.5 and 0.7oz of carbohydrates, 0.35oz of protein and a little bit of fiber.
A great post-ride snack for the super health-conscious
For those trying to stay as healthy as possible in their energy bar choices, you can’t go wrong with plant-based, low-sugar and non-GMO organic ingredients. These vegan-friendly bars can be a good post-ride snack, thanks to their 0.5oz protein content in easily digestible, as well as delicious, packaging.
The flavor options are bountiful and read like a menu at an ice cream parlor. Caramel Sea Salt, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Chocolate Fudge Brownie should be enough to get your mouth watering, and there are still more to discover. Who said you have to sacrifice great taste to make healthy food?
A chocolate brownie without the guilt
This Chocolate Sea Salt protein bar should be a winner among the paleo crowd: egg whites feature among its ingredient list, delivering 0.42oz of protein per bar. It’s also Whole30 compatible, since all ingredients are real foods, including dates and nuts for sweetness and crunch. It can work as either a pre- or post-ride snack, and provides 0.18oz of fiber to keep things regular.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.