Best energy bars 2023: High-carb snacks for on and off the bike

Six different energy bars on a wooden bench, each with the top open and the bar protruding out
(Image credit: Josh Croxton)

The best energy bars will help keep you fuelled, whether you're riding, running, hiking or undertaking any other form of exercise.

You'll usually get a good dose of carbohydrates to help keep your blood glucose levels up, paired with some fat and protein to add some balance, with the latter also aiding muscle recovery post-ride. 

Energy bars are an efficient way to fuel to avoid bonking, also known as hitting the wall. Technically called exercise-induced hypoglycaemia, this is what occurs when your blood sugar drops and your body's glycogen stores are depleted. 

The best energy bars usually contain oats and other slower-release carbohydrate sources as well as dried fruit which delivers a mix of more simple sugars. So unlike the best energy gels, which usually have a high content of simple sugars such as glucose and fructose and are designed for a rapid energy boost, the best energy bars are a good way to sustain yourself on longer, lower-intensity rides. They're also much less likely to cause gastric distress than a gel.

The other fuelling option is one of the best energy drinks. As with gels, these usually contain more simple sugars than bars and so give you a more immediate energy hit. They also usually offer electrolytes to help replenish salts lost when riding, and of course, water to keep you hydrated.

With so many different options available from sport-specific brands and our supermarket shelves alike, which are the best energy bars? And how do you differentiate one from the next? To answer this, I've spent months testing and tasting all the available options in a bid to find out which are great for quick energy, slow energy, recovery and more, as well as which actually taste like something you might want to eat. 

Best energy bars: Quick list

How to choose the best energy bars for you

Why energy bars at all?

Comprising solid ingredients such as oats, rice and nuts, energy bars are typically best for slow-release carbohydrates, meaning they are suitable for anyone wanting to fuel longer, lower-intensity efforts such as endurance training rides or off-the-bike adventures. They also contain a small-to-medium amount of fat and protein, which not only helps you to feel full for longer but also helps with post-workout recovery too. 

The act of chewing also helps relieve feelings of hunger, so it's likely that you'll feel full for longer than with a carb-intensive gel or drink, which can give you an on-bike sugar rush, followed a little later by an energy trough.

What composition of carbs, fat and protein is best in an energy bar?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this, and the best energy bar for you will ultimately depend on what you want from it. If you're after something to fuel you quickly, then a bar with more carbs and less fat and protein will be best. However, if you want to fuel a big day of easy riding, then higher fat content will be fine. A little protein will help to keep you feeling full for longer and will prevent your body from breaking down your own muscles in extreme circumstances. 

It's worth noting that many energy bars contain nuts, which contribute a significant amount of fat content. This is usually considered good fat though, so shouldn't be a turn-off. It does make things tricky for nut allergy sufferers.

When should you eat energy bars?

During exercise, your body can process 60 grams of carbohydrate from glucose, and a further 30-48 grams from fructose, assuming you've trained your gut. If you're looking to fuel workouts at this rate, energy bars might only be used during the early part of a race or training session. If you're fuelling solely using energy bars, then you'll need to check the quantity of carbohydrates in your chosen bar and measure your intake accordingly. 

However, a positive about some energy bars is that they are reasonably well-rounded foods that can be eaten off the bike, too. In this scenario, eat to hunger like you would any other snack, but remember they are still high in carbohydrates, so take it easy. 

Are energy bars good for you?

Depending on the ingredients chosen, energy bars can provide a healthy on- or off-bike snack. While some are packed with syrups and chocolate for flavourings, and are probably not likely to be overly healthy, others can contain oats, nuts and dried fruits, which when eaten in the correct quantities are far from unhealthy. 

What's wrong with supermarket options?

When you cut through all the marketing claims, none of the best energy bars listed here or anywhere else include any magic ingredients or silver bullets. Ultimately they are all a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats made from ingredients like rice, oats, fruits, nuts and so on. Head to the correct part of your local supermarket and you'll find countless products with similar ingredients that will ultimately serve a similar purpose at a tenth of the price. 

Sure, you may need to spend some time reading the ingredients, but that investment in time could save you a lot of cash over the course of a season's worth of riding. Of course, this will be a case of trial and error to find a suitable taste, texture and composition, but with such a vast abundance of options and the relative cost saving available, it should still prove worth it if you want to go down this route. 

How we tested energy bars to find the best

Finding the best energy bars and weeding out any that weren't up to muster required a lot of hands-on testing with a whole range of different brands and options. 

The primary consideration is that of the nutritional composition, i.e. how much carbohydrate, protein and fat is included in each. Take a look at the ingredients list, to see whether it's packed with words we can't pronounce, or made solely from natural and wholefood ingredients. 

This info then needs to be balanced against the look, texture and taste, including how easy it is to chew, break down and swallow. There's no point in having great ingredients if a bar tastes horrible and feels unpleasant to eat. 

I also considered the ease of use of the packaging, i.e. how easily it can be opened whilst riding along, and the eco-friendliness of the packaging. 

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