Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



So Many Choices…How On Earth Do I Pick A Nutrition Bar?

What’s the difference between all those nutrition bars?

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

What’s the difference between all those nutrition bars?


Energy bars (also known as power bars or sports bars).The original PowerBar was designed as a portable, nutritious, energy-boosting snack for marathoners. But nonathletes now gobble them up as well for quick fuel. A typical energy bar has 200 calories, 20g carbs, 15g protein and 5g fat.

Protein bars.An energy bar with around 200 calories and 20g carbs, but with extra protein—anywhere from 16g to 35g. However, they may have extra fat, so check labels and aim for the ideal: a count of 5g total fat or less.

Diet or weight-loss bars.Snacks that vary nutritionally depending on the regime they adhere to. For instance, Zone bars, which have about 210 calories, abide by their formula of 40 percent calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat.

Meal-replacement bars.  These generally contain the nutritional equivalent of a low-cal meal: 200 to 400 calories, 30g carbs, 15 to 20g protein, 5 to 10g fat and various vitamins and minerals.

How can energy bars benefit vegetarians?

Vegetarians are always looking for quality protein sources, and some energy bars offer as much as 35 grams per bar—about half of your daily protein requirements. Highprotein bars are especially good for vegetarian athletes who need higher amounts of protein than nonathletes—both for fuel and to replace nutrients lost during heavy exercise, says Liz Applegate, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis,and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. Just check labels for animal protein sources—they’re not always obvious.

Highquality vegetarian sources of protein include soy, whey and casein. Among the best vegetarian high-protein brands are AllGoode Organics, Boulder, GeniSoy, Spirutein, Odwalla and Luna bars.

An energy bar plus a glass of soymilk will bring your protein intake to about 20 grams, the recommended minimum amount per meal for vegetarians or vegans, says Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Another benefit of energy bars? They’re often loaded with zinc, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, and other nutrients. “I’m a huge fan of fortified energy bars,” says Sass, a vegan. Check the bar labels to see what you’re getting.

How do I make sense of nutrition bar labels?


Calories. Look at the overall calories to see if you have a meal replacement or a snack. If they’re much over 200 calories, you’re eating a meal.

Protein. A bar with 15 to 35 grams of protein will help rebuild muscles.

Carbs. While some labels highlight net carbs, look for the complete carb count—that’s the important figure. Some bars can have as many as 20 to 45 grams of complete carbs, but in “real” food, one serving of carbs is 15 grams.

Most people can’t burn the equivalent of three helpings of carbs in an afternoon at their desks, Sass says. She recommends that you visualize how much food your nutrition bar is replacing.

“For example, 15 grams of carbs equals 1/2 cup of rice or whole wheat pasta. So, a high-carb bar with 45 grams of carbs is the equivalent of 11/2 cups of rice,” says Sass. “The illusion that bars are just a little snack is shattered when you think of it that way and see how much just one bar contributes to your carbohydrates for the day.” So, if you aren’t eating bars to gain weight, high-carb bars aren’t a good option for snacking, especially if you are sedentary.

Fat. It varies widely between bars, but look for fewer than 5 grams of fat per bar. “Saturated fat is added to improve flavor, but it’s bad for cardiovascular health,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).