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A Few Good Food Bars

Anyone who’s got an active lifestyle inevitably goes for a nutrition bar at some point. After all, it’s really hard to cook nutritious food in a ready-to-go format when you’re already busier than you can handle, never mind when you’re not home most of your day.

The nutrition bars step in to fill the need. However, after trying many, many different bars, it didn’t take long to discover that all nutrition bars are not created equal. Some are extremely high in protein; others are really high in fats, sugar, and empty carbs.

We’ve been caught out on the road at times and had to settle for a questionable bar, and regretted it every time.

After having tried a gazillion of them, we’ve settled on a few favorites. We’ve got pretty strict requirements for our favorite bars. Here’s what we look for:

  • Have a decent taste – We want the bars to taste like food and not techno-goo or sawdust. There’s nothing so off-putting as being really hungry and having to gum a bar as your nutrition.

  • Provide a stable energy without caffeine – So many bars that we’ve tried, even good names, have left us with a buzz and then a drop in energy. We look for a bar that provides a steady feed of energy. Both Chelsea and I are sensitive to caffeine, so we’ve made that one of our requirements as well – we want energy from a food balance and not caffeine.

  • Have a balanced nutritional make-up and provide some real nutrition – The options available now in energy bars are wonderful compared to when we first started eating them years ago. It’s much easier to find healthy ingredients and even organic ingredients nowadays. We hold out for that if we can.

  • Do okay in high heat situations or very cold conditions – We used to like the original Power Bars (well, at least I did) but they turn into gooey messes in the heat. The Power Bar Harvest Grain bars get really stiff down around 30 degrees, and are really tough to eat. The Greens Plus Bars nearly disintegrated in the heat.

In the interests of full disclosure, we aren’t using any bars on the trip now, except for Power Bar Harvest Bars, and we use those really sparingly. Why? The expense is the biggest factor. We burn so many calories a day that our daily budget would be astronomical if we relied on energy bars.

The second factor is that we are almost always off the beaten path where nutrition stores are always miles away from where we are. We simply can’t find the bars, and the hassle of buying them online and having them shipped to an address ahead of us is just more than we want to do.

That being said, we do try to keep some on hand to throw in our backpacks as emergency rations when we are sightseeing or out on shopping trips with our hosts.

One final note – learn to read labels. The differences between bars can be amazing. You’ll want to look at what portion of the bar goes to sugar, fat, protein, fiber, and sodium, as well as how many calories it has.

Clif bars – Clif Bars are widely available, with seventy percent organic ingredients. Their taste and texture are widely liked, and there seems to be a flavor for everyone. Several of them contain 50 mg of caffeine.

Clif Bars have a quality mix of carbs, protein, fat, and fiber which means the energy balance is pretty stable. They are considered to be filling, too.

They stay “eatable” in most temperatures, and they last pretty well in your bags.

Greens Plus – We ran across Greens Plus bars several years ago, and used them on local rides as a form of breakfast. We tried them out on our cross-country ride, but ran out early in the trip, so we tried a lot of other alternatives – nearly every so-called “energy bar” on the shelves, oatmeal, and we even tried cold pizza one morning.

Absolutely nothing worked as well as the Greens Bars, so we started tracking down the Whole Foods stores where we could get them, and we’d get several boxes at once. At one point, I finally ordered online from their website and had them shipped to me at a campground.

We found that we could both ride at least 40 miles on only one full bar each – a half a bar before heading out, and another half bar about 15-20 into the day. We’d supplement with trail mix.

What we liked so much about the Greens Bars is that there was never a “buzz” with them – they have a clean form of energy, and there was never a drop as it wore off. Not only that, but there’s actual nutrition in the bars.

We found that Greens Bars changed their formulation, as we now find them to taste much more of honey, and to have a bit of a “greasy” feel, we think from the honey.

We also found after the reformulation that they didn’t last us more than about a half hour (in all fairness, none of the other bars last either), and we suspect it’s because we are burning so many more calories this year, pulling 70 lbs of gear. We’ve dropped them from our short list, as they don’t last well in heat.

Power Bar Harvest Bars – Power Bar has been a player in the market for quite a while now, and we used to use their original bars constantly. Chelsea rebelled against the consistency, and the way they got gooey in heat was a real put-off, so we stopped using them.

The Harvest Grain bars are very different. I tried them based on a recommendation I read from a well-known cycling coach in Bicycling Magazine, and they aren’t half bad. They aren’t organic, but they compare reasonably well to other bars.

They are easy to eat, and they stay down really well. We find that we can split a bar before starting a ride, and go up to ten or eleven miles before we need to split another one. After that we need to start eating trail mix or something more substantive.

The downsides are that they need a lot of water to help them go down, and they get like rocks when it’s cold.

A big plus for us is that we can find them at most big grocery stores.

ProBar – ProBars are really tasty and we love eating them. They don’t give a buzz or a drop; they are organic bars; and they go down easily and digest easily. We did feel full after eating them, and we found we wanted another because they tasted so great.

The downsides are that they are very expensive for extended daily rides like we’re doing, and with the calories we’re burning, they don’t last long enough to justify the expense.

If we had them donated to us, or we had a much bigger budget, they’d definitely be finding their way into our front packs for emergency rations, and they’d be perfect for the end of the day’s ride when we still need to set up camp before we can cook.

Lärabar – These are another great bar. Again – all natural, organic bars – no buzz and no drop. As far as we know, they are the only bars on the market to use exclusively raw and unprocessed ingredients. This makes it easier for the body to digest and assimilate. The Lärabars are free of gluten, dairy, soy, and corn, and are vegan and kosher.

We found that we were hungry almost immediately after eating the bars, and we never had a feeling of being filled up. They’re expensive and don’t last long enough into our rides to justify the expense.

Again, if they were donated to us, or we had a bigger budget, they’d make the cut to the short list. If we were around home using them only occasionally, we’d definitely have them in the cupboard.

Where to buy

You can find Clif Bars, Larabars, Greens Plus Bars, and ProBar on www.iherb.com. Use code FEN369 for a first time discount when you shop on the iHerb website.

If you’re near a Whole Foods , you’ll find all the bars in their nutrition bar section, and many grocery stores stock the Clif Bars and Power Bars.