But an energy bar taken at the right time can really give you that extra drive in your workouts, and for gruelling long-distance sport, it can be a life saver.

Many health and fitness gurus will dismiss energy bars and sports drinks as unnecessary additives to a balanced calorie intake. While for many people this is true, fast-release carbohydrates and vital minerals, like those found in most energy bars and sports drinks, can give you that extra drive in a hard workout. In a long-distance or cardiovascular heavy competition, an energy bar can give you a real edge or needed pick me up.

While various sports performance bars are interchangeably termed protein, energy or sports bars, generally they serve two purposes:

# Protein bars

As the name suggests these bars are full of muscle building protein. These bars are primarily used by the bodybuilding crowd as an alternative to a post-workout protein shake, and increasingly these bars are almost identical in their macro and micro nutrients. Protein bars, of course, are useful for any post-workout recovery, providing it was a heavy one. You don’t need a protein bar after a light swim or jog.

# Energy bars

If protein bars are protein shakes in bar form, energy bars are the bar form of energy drinks. More so than protein bars, these are very specifically for high endurance athletes. Some protein bars could step in as a meal replacement here and there. Energy bars on the other hand are best left on the shelf unless you’re regularly hitting the roads, the bikes, the pool, or all three.

What to look for:

  • Seek bars with natural ingredients such as rolled oats, nuts, nut butters and fruits.
  • Avoid bars with syrups, sweeteners and particularly high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Seek bars with high fibre, on the higher end of the usual 2-5 grams.
  • Avoid bars with high saturated fat, on the lower end of the usual 2-5 grams.
  • Seek bars with calories relative to your fitness and sports goals

So, you’re an endurance athlete, or on your journey to becoming one? How do you take energy bars effectively to maximise your performance? Here’s our advice:

# Before you run (Pre-workout)

  • Load up on carbs.
  • Eating carbohydrates an hour before a workout fills your glycogen stores ready for action.
  • Top choices include an Isostar Energy Sport Bar or Power Bar Energize, due to both bars containing between 20-40 grams of carbohydrate which is recommended before heading out on the track.
# Long Distance (On the go)

  • Working out past the hour mark can top up those dwindling glycogen stores.
  • You want to add around 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.
  • While most energy bars fall short of the 30-gram mark, you could double up on an Aptonia Cereal Bar to hit 40 grams.
  • Of course, eating mid-exercise isn’t the easiest task, try breaking up your bar into pieces before starting the workout or race.
  • Energy gels are an energy bar alternative when you are on the go, one PowerGel Original will get you past that 30 grams of carbs whilst giving you an additional caffeine boost.
# Recovery (Post-workout)

  • Post-workout it’s time to break out the protein.
  • Generally, a serving of 20-30 grams of protein is recommended post-workout.
  • Options include SIS REGO Protein Bar which will hit you with 20 grams of the muscle building molecule, or a PowerBar Protein Plus for a whopping 52 grams for that post endurance test hit.

Ultimately, there are always natural, whole food options from which you can get needed energy boost before, during or after workouts. But, protein and energy bars can provide tasty and quality nutrients, providing you are putting the work in. If you start to chomp down on these as snacks, you’re probably going to find your tipping the calorie scales in the wrong direction.