Are energy bars good for running?

Is that energy bar really what you need?
Is that energy bar really what you need?

Running for sport or fitness can increase your overall energy. But in the short term, it can temporarily zap your vigor. So wouldn't it be great if there were a food that could help restore or enhance your energy levels before, during or after a run?

Well, there's no magical power booster, but there are energy bars that can provide you with quick and convenient delivery of calories (calories are units of energy, after all) for extra fuel. As an added bonus, bars that contain high-quality protein (such as whey and soy) can assist your body in muscle building and injury repair [source: Young].

The problem, however, is in choosing the right energy bar for you. Different runners have different needs. Sprinters, for example, may benefit from high-sugar bars to get a helpful energy jolt before a run. Long-distance runners, on the other hand, need to keep their energy at a more consistent level and should consume bars with a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these snacks are not created equally. Even though there are scores of brands that make sometimes-astonishing health claims, very few energy bars offer any real nutritional value -- and some may even be bad for you. So here's what you should keep in mind when selecting energy bars for running:

  • Look for bars with at least 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of carbohydrates.
  • Stay away from high-protein bars if you're a long distance runner.
  • Seek out bars made with dried fruits, whole grains and soluble fiber, when possible.
  • If a bar's packaging makes big nutritional claims, be sure to read the fine print.
  • Remember that energy bars have low water content -- unlike, say, fruit. So you should drink water when consuming one.

Energy bars are convenient, but they can also be expensive. Keep reading to learn about alternatives to the snack.