Energy Bar Analysis and Comparison. Let the Data Speak.

Forget every other energy/protein bar review you’ve read. This is different.  We dig into the nutrition data to SHOW you how the bars stack up.  Taste is subjective. Numbers aren’t. And nothing beats a side-by-side comparison. 

Our analysis will help determine if you’re getting the “most” out of your bar. You decide what “most” means. Is it taste? Protein? Natural ingredients? Low Sugar? All of these? This post will make you think twice about your favorite chocolate covered bar.

Our ideal bar:

 Minimizes calories/gram and % sugar/gram
 Maximizes healthy fats, fiber, protein, natural ingredients 

Approach

There are two categories of energy bar eaters:

  1. Those who like the bar chocolate coated
  2. Those who don’t

I prefer chocolate coated. Our Editor in Chief likes them naked. So clip in your cycling shoes and get ready for the Athletic-Minded Traveler Energy Bar Throw Down. And for those naysayers who always retort, “that bar is just a dressed up Candy Bar”, we’ve got that angle covered too.  And you’re wrong.

Objectives

  • Demystify the nutrition label of popular energy/protein bars
  • Introduce you to new bars
  • Guide your buying decision

 The Data Speaks for "Naked" Bars:  The bars are sorted by Energy Density: Calories/Gram 

NAKED GNU Foods (Chocolate Brownie) Clif (Chocolate Chip) PowerBar Perform. (Choc PB) Bobo's Oat Bar (Almond, full package) Balance Bar Peanut Butter Odwalla (Chocolate Chip Peanut) Bonk Breaker (PB&Choc chip) Clif Mojo (PB Pretzel) Perfect Foods Bar (Carob Chip) KindPlus  Bar (Cranberry Almond) Snickers
Size (grams) 45 68 65 85 50 56 62 45 71 40 58.7
Total Calories 140 230 240 340 200 230 255 190 310 190 280
Calories/gram 3.111 3.382 3.692 4.000 4.000 4.107 4.113 4.222 4.366 4.750 4.770
total fat 4 4.5 3.5 14 7 8 9 9 17 13 14
  saturated fat 1 1.5 1 3 3 1.5 1 2 3.5 1.5 5
Sodium (mg) 30 150 200 140 170 170 170 220 60 20 140
Total Carbs 30 43 44 48 21 33 35 20 27 20 35
Sugar + Sugar Alcohols 9 23 26 20 17 14 16 9 17 12 30
Sugar/gram as % 20.00% 33.82% 40.00% 23.53% 34.00% 25.00% 25.81% 20.00% 23.94% 30.00% 51.11%
Fiber 12 4 1 4 1 4 2 2 4 0 1
Protein 4 10 9 6 15 7 8 9 17 3 4
Approx Cost/Bar $1.75 $1.00 $1.50 $2.50 $1.25 $1-$1.50 $2.00 $1.25 $2+ $1.50 $1.00
AMT's Take Oaty, less sweet, natural. LOW density. Travels well; sugar is high, filling Very high sugar. ONLY for those "training" 1 package should be 1 serving NOT 2. Crumbly = messy Original, Bare & Gold have similar nutrition data We're fans. Nice balance of sweet & savory Super natural flavor, tasty, filling. Cocoa butter Don't like that first ingredient is sugar Low sodium. Super moist. Sweet. If you like nuts, it's a GO Uses Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil

The Data Tells the Story:

  • Size Matters. Don't write off a bar with a high calorie count UNTIL you look at the size of the bar. What is important is how the calories stack up gram for gram. If you are trying to keep your weight in check, then GNU Foods' 3.111 calories per gram is much more appealing than Perfect Foods Bar's 4.366! This is simply an example of a lower density food vs. a higher density food. (Lower density foods contain a smaller number of calories relative to their size.) Think popcorn. You can eat 3 cups of it or 1/4 cup of granola. Same approximate number of calories!
  • Taste Test: It all depends upon you. GNU Foods are not as sweet as the BonkBreaker or Odwalla. The data supports this observation. Just look at the sugar as a percentage of weight: GNU at 20% vs Bonk at 26% & Odwalla at 25%. All three bars have a similar texture, softer vs. crispy or crunchy. And all 3 boast natural, high quality ingredients. BonkBreaker wins if taste is the only consideration. We found the Perfect Foods Bar too sweet and we prefer fewer calories per package...hard to stop eating! 
  • Ingredients: We compared the first 5 listed ingredients of all bars. If "natural" is your thing and you want to avoid sugar, Clif Mojo and the Clif original bars' first ingredient is brown rice syrup. PowerBar Perform is designed for training/recovery and doesn't seek to be "pure". Typically the higher protein bars have more "stuff." KindPlus lists almonds, dried cranberries, macadamias & honey. These bars are basically nuts and dried fruit in bar form. And proving that "energy bars" ARE better than candy bars, the Snickers is a calorie and sugar bomb!! Bobo's, Perfect Foods, GNU, Kind & Odwalla do well on the "natural" ingredient check.
  • Our favorites: After this analysis we stopped buying Clif Chocolate Chip. Too much sugar. We stocked up on GNU Foods for the kids and ourselves. BonkBreaker remains a favorite, but more as a treat. We also buy Odwalla. The Clif Mojo was a new discovery and we like the sweet/salty mix. We wanted to like the Bobo's more. Despite good, natural flavor, they are messy/crumbly, and we don't like the 2 servings/package format. PowerBar is for those in training and they can be very sticky. Kind Bars did well in the tasting, but the sugars are high. So our money goes to GNU, Bonk & Odwalla and sometimes, Clif Mojo.
  • Cost: We've always been "cheapies" with bars. It pains us to pay more than $1.50/bar. BUT, looking at the data, we are willing to pay more for GNU and BonkBreaker. They are worth it. Odwalla is a deal at around $1.25/bar. 

On to the Chocolate Covered Bars! The Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil Debate

Chocolate Covered Atkins (Dark Chocolate Decadence) Kashi GoLean Dipped (PB & Choc) Luna Bar (S'mores) Clif Builder (Chocolate) NuGo Dark (Chocolate Pretzel) Balance Bar (Cookie Dough) NuGo Slim (Brownie Crunch) Zone Perfect Dark Cookies & Cream Kind Plus PB & dark Chocolate + protein Snickers
Size (grams) 44 55 48 68 50 50 45 45 40 58.7
Total Calories 150 200 180 270 200 210 190 190 200 280
Calories/gram 3.409 3.636 3.750 3.971 4.000 4.200 4.222 4.222 5.000 4.770
total fat 6 5 5 8 5 7 6 6 13 14
  saturated fat 5 3.5 2.5 5 3 4 2.5 4 3.5 5
Sodium 190 180 140 230 350 200 160 190 50 140
Total Carbs 23 32 27 30 28 22 19 21 17 35
Sugar + Sugar Alcohols 10 17 13 20 15 17 2 14 10 30
Sugar/gram as % 22.73% 30.91% 27.08% 29.41% 30.00% 34.00% 4.44% 31.11% 25.00% 51.11%
Fiber 10 5 3 4 2 1 7 1 0 1
Protein 10 10 9 20 10 15 16 12 7 4
Approx Cost/Bar $1.25 $1.50 $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $1.25 $1.50 $1.25 $1.50 $1.00
AMT's Take Wow fiber, but Ew ingredients, tastes good 3.5g saturated fat is 18% RDA; PKO, Sugar! Why PKO? Taste is a plus PKO, Sugar, Filling We’re big NuGo fans. Some may not like salt Original, Bare & Gold all have similar nutrition profiles. PKO Low Sugar. Natural. No "alcohols" PKO, Taste is a plus palm kernel oil, all bars have nutrition add-ons Uses Cocoa Butter vs Palm Kernel Oil. Sugar bomb

The Data Tells the Story:

  • Size Matters: The Clif Builder is the largest bar reviewed in this category at 68 grams and 270 calories, but it comes in right in the middle in terms of energy density (3.97 calories/gram) versus the lower density Atkins. Our point is that calories and the size of a serving need to be considered together.
  • Taste Test: This is where the battle of the fats comes in to play. ONLY the NuGo bars & Snickers use cocoa butter for the chocolate. The others all use Palm Kernel Oil. WHY??? Some facts:
    • Our tasters give an edge to a bar with cocoa butter. Less waxy, better taste.
    • Cocoa butter's fats are better. The saturated fat is mostly stearic acid.  Some studies indicate that this type of fat does not raise cholesterol levels as much as other saturated fats. Cocoa butter is considered the premium fat.
    • 1 T cocoa butter oil contains 8g saturated fat (4.5g are from stearic acid); 4.5g monounsaturated fat, .4g polyunsaturated fat
    • Cocoa solids contain antioxidants. Dark chocolate has more than milk chocolate.
    • Palm Kernel Oil (NOT to be confused with Palm Oil, which is better in terms of fat allocation) packs 11.1g SATURATED fat per tablespoon and only 1.6g unsaturated fat. This grid from Culinary Arts is our source.
    • PKO & Palm Oil both come under attack for sustainability issues with respect to the palm fruit. There are "sustainable" sources of the fruit, but even these are often steeped in controversy.
    • Bottom line: PKO is used because it's CHEAP. The melting point is higher, so transport is easier. It's also why most chocolate covered bars don't "melt in your mouth." 
  • Ingredients: For the chocolate coated bars, it really is all about the fats. PKO is a saturated fat powerhouse. Boo! :( And from our research, food makers use it to save cash and ease transport. That does little for you and your taste buds. Of the bars we detail above, the ingredient winner is NuGo. Kind Bars are also very "natural". ONLY NuGo uses cocoa butter. Even the Kind Bars use PKO. That is a BIG surprise.
  • Our Favorites: NuGo. If we get over the cocoa butter vs PKO issue, we give a thumbs up to the taste of all of these bars. And we give kudos to the low calorie, high fiber combo of the Atkins Bar. The sugar content relative to the size of the bar is a weakness for the Balance Bar. Take note that the NuGo Slim has only 2 grams sugar...without any funny business, e.g., sugar alcohols. 
  • Cost:  Cost is less of a factor for these bars. All are in the $1 to $1.50/bar range. Very reasonable.

WHERE'S MY BAR? Guess what, we ran out of room in the charts. But long, long, ago, we published similar data for a number of other bars including Tiger's Milk, Detour, Lara Bar, Perfect 10, Powerbar Triple Threat, PureFit, Promax, Met-Rx Big 100. ** Scoll down to see data organized by calories/weight.

Summary:  While we selected particular "flavors" for bars, keep in mind that the winning "producers" make bars in myriad flavors! We seek to maximize ingredient quality, minimize sugar and look to taste, fiber and calorie bang per gram when selecting a bar. GNU Foods, NuGo, Bonk Breaker, Odwalla and Clif Mojo cover the bar bases for our team...for now!

Thumbnail Image: 

I would like to know if

I would like to know if Odwalla choc peanut butter bar has caffeine in it?

There is no caffeine added.

There is no caffeine added. You can view all ingredients on the Odwalla website. Chocolate really is not a source of caffeine, despite what most people think. To learn more about chocolate and why it "stimulates" read our blog post about it:

http://athleticmindedtraveler.com/blog/will-dessert-keep-you-up-all-night

Hi Erin and others, Would

Hi Erin and others,

Would also love to see what you think of nutTea bars.

Here is the link (we just launched on Kickstarter!) It has the nutrition and other info on it.

http://bit.ly/nutTEAamt

Hi nutTea, The taste would

Hi nutTea,

The taste would have to be outstanding to overcome the 21g sugar. The concept (tea) is unique. Kudos. The ingredients are pure. We tend to categorize your type of bar with those like LaraBar -- date based. We are typically not big fans of date based bars. Take a look at the Bar Blog we just posted: http://athleticmindedtraveler.com/blog/getting-smarter-our-top-energypro... And go to end and see our comments about the Larabar. While the caffeine is not an issue for most of our team, we do have 1 or 2 that wouldn't go for it.

P.S., we finally did try the cookie dough Lara and still not good enough to overcome high sugar content -- and surpass our other favorites.

Good luck!

Thanks for the feedback. I am

Thanks for the feedback. I am a strong believer of everything natural including natural sugars from fruit which is why I chose to include dates in the bars. The runners I shared with all liked the caffeine, tea and did compare it with Larabar for taste. But I can see why not everyone may want this. Natural caffeine and sugar help with proving the energy which is intended effect of the bar.

Thanks though for sharing your thoughts! If anyone in your team wants to try the bars hope they can pledge on Kickstarter.

Glad you liked the Clif Mojo

Glad you liked the Clif Mojo bars I turned you onto!

PS: thanks again for the great travel pajamas from Cool-Jams...I am on a trip right now and just love them!

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Great article. I like the

Great article. I like the chart, especially how these bars compare to a candy bar like Snickers.
I personally like the Mojo Bars a lot. There are also the Mojo Dipped Bars for chocolate lovers.

Another energy bar that I really like and that is not mentioned above is the No Opportunity Wasted line of bars. Yum!

Stay tuned Daniel, because we

Stay tuned Daniel, because we will soon be putting our favorites to the test and a few will get knocked down a notch or too...mainly due to reliance on Soy Isolate Protein (SIP). There is much to not like about this protein source as compared to whey.

Regarding the No Opportunity Wasted Bars, we like that most of the bars rely on whey or rice for protein. However, sugars are pretty high. And we always favor loose trail mix vs trail mix bars...which are held together with sugar.

I was glad to see Gnu listed

I was glad to see Gnu listed first. I've been using them for months as a high fiber, low net carb (assuming carbs are kept under 60 total per day). Also for low carb, I've come to like an occasional Atkins chocolate covered chocolate chip cookie dough (2 net carbs) but there is a lot of sugar alcohol. So just an occasional treat.

Thanks for a great comparison.

EDITOR Reply: We like those

EDITOR Reply: We like those Atkins bars too, but you are right with the sugar alcohols and other "chemical-like" ingredients, it's hard to feel great eating them. Try NuGo Slim. low-carb, NO sugar alcohols and better ingredients. Try any flavor EXCEPT brownie crunch. It's not so good. The raspberry truffle is very good.

A nice perspective to look at

A nice perspective to look at chocolates, at least new to me! I liked your detailed analysis, it is seriously helpful.

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Glad you liked the Clif Mojo

Glad you liked the Clif Mojo bars I turned you onto!

PS: thanks again for the great travel pajamas from Cool-Jams...I am on a trip right now and just love them!

I too was surprised that

I too was surprised that think thin didn't maker cut!

Kila, As mentioned below our

Kila,
As mentioned below our team wasn't crazy about the taste of these bars and the un-natural ingredients. Yes, sugars are low but that is because a sugar substitute is used: maltitol which does have calories and can cause intestinal discomfort. Google "maltitol" and you'll see it is not the most desirable sweetener.
AND, we just realized too that most Think Thin bars use Palm Kernel Oil and NOT cocoa butter. The dark chocolate Think Thin bar uses PKO. We are not fans. There are better alternatives.
If you are in search of a higher protein, low sugar bar with quality ingredients, take a look at the data above for the NuGo Slim. More fiber, about the same protein, no funny business with the sweeteners and the chocolate is not PKO.
We hope this helps! :)

Thank you! I will certainly

Thank you! I will certainly try the NuGo!

Picky Bars are amazing. They

Picky Bars are amazing. They are also gluten & dairy free. Designed and used by professional runners Lauren Fleshman & Stephanie Rothstein and pro triathlete Jesse Thomas.

http://pickybars.com/

Thanks Chris! The Picky Bar

Thanks Chris! The Picky Bar website is good. Information about the bars easy to find etc. We analyzed the nutrition info: Great ingredients. Sugars are high for our "ideal" and the calories/gram are on the higher end. But taste is key for bars like these. What is the price point? We'll have to search them out and give them a try. They sound like a cross between the Bonk Breaker and the Perfect Foods Bar...

Why would you want to

Why would you want to minimuze the energy in your energy bar? That makes no sense at all and just wastes money.

It's about quality calories.

It's about quality calories. For some, it's about having a good food source that is filling w/o being calorie loaded. Low Density foods are sought out by many.

From email, Julie

From email, Julie writes:
"What about Think Thin Bars? No PKO. The bars use cocoa butter! And at 20g protein and no sugar, what is not to like?"

Editor's reply: These bars got a thumbs down for taste. We are also not a fan of the "sugar alcohols" as a "no sugar" solution. The ingredients are also very mediocre in terms of being natural. So the bars simply did not make the "cut."

Thank you for the feedback!!!

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