Are most energy bars nutritious?

August 22, 2000

Are most energy bars nutritious?

Sports or energy bars are no longer just for endurance athletes. They're being marketed to soccer moms, busy kids and just about anyone who wants a "pick-me-up" snack. Are they really the nutritious snack they claim to be, or just an expensive version of a regular candy bar?

That depends on the one you choose. The original sports bars were chewy, high-carbohydrate bars that tasted bland and left a metallic aftertaste from the added vitamins and minerals. Today, many of the bars taste more like candy bars than "nutrition" bars.

In some cases, this is because the formulas have been perfected. In other cases, it's because they are more like candy.

What should you look for in a sports bar?


Sports bars vary from just more than an ounce to nearly four ounces. In general, the larger the bar, the more calories it will provide.

Fat and calories

The original sports bars were low in fat. Not all of today's bars are. Look for one that provides less than 30 percent of total calories from fat and no more than 5 grams of fat per bar. If you're watching calories, choose bars that provide less than 250 calories per bar.

Carbohydrates and fiber

The original sports bars provided 60 to 70 percent of calories from a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. Today, many bars follow the 40-30-30 ratio: 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat. Either probably works as long as fiber is included in the mix. Look for a bar that provides at least 3 grams of fiber.


Protein is "in," and newer bars are packing plenty of it. Some protein is good, but too much is hard on the kidneys. It's best to choose a bar with no more than 20 grams or 30 percent of total calories from protein.

Vitamins, minerals, herbs

Sports bars traditionally come fortified with vitamins and minerals. While it may be argued that you could just as easily take a vitamin-mineral supplement, the extra vitamins and minerals probably aren't an issue, as long as the level of fortification doesn't exceed 100 percent and you don't eat too many sports bars.

As for herbs, bee pollen and other special ingredients may be added to bars; however, the amount added generally isn't enough to have either a positive or negative effect.


Sports bars are not cheap, and they won't make you leaner, stronger or faster on their own. In fact, there are no magic ingredients that can pump up muscle or enhance performance without proper training. On the other hand, sports bars are a convenient, quick source of high-carbohydrate energy. They're a better choice than a candy bar when you're running low on fuel and your day doesn't allow time to reload between events.


Be sure you wash down your sports bar with plenty of water. On the label of almost every bar on the market is a recommendation for drinking at least 6 ounces of water with the bar. Most bars are very concentrated. Water aids in absorption of the nutrients in the bar. It also helps protect against dehydration, a major concern among athletes at all levels and a common cause of impaired performance.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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