Think back to the last time you ate an energy bar. Chances are, you were kind of hungry—but not hungry enough to eat a full meal—and reached for one to have as a snack. However, these types of bars are generally better suited for munching on before a workout to properly fuel you through it.
But if you’re a little lax about when you eat energy bars, that’s okay! You’re not alone. According to KIND Snacks, 75 percent of people don’t eat them at the right time—but the brand is on a mission to change this stat.
But back to the nutrition facts on energy bars: How exactly can they help fuel your workouts?
“Energy bars are typically higher in calories and carbohydrates than the traditional protein bar,” Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition a la Natalie, told Runner’s World. “For example, the KIND Energy Bars have 230 calories with oats as the first ingredients. Oats provide complex carbs, which take a while to digest and provide the body with sustained energy throughout your workout.”
Rizzo recommends eating an energy bar with complex carbs about an hour before exercise because of the fact that they take longer to digest than a simple carb (something made with white flour). Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, adds that if you’re consuming an energy bar immediately before a run, something with simple, easily digestible carbs is ideal.
However, according to Goodson, there are some instances where it may be okay to have an energy bar when you’re not getting ready for a run. You just have to make sure it has all three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat.
“If you are eating an energy bar for a mid-morning or afternoon snack, then finding a bar with a good ratio of carbohydrates—ideally with fiber—protein, and fat is ideal to help you feel full and stabilize energy levels in the few hours after eating it,” she told Runner’s World.
“For snacking while out and about, I generally recommend something that is higher in protein and healthy fats—those two nutrients satisfy hunger and keep you full in between meals,” she said. “I generally wouldn’t recommend eating an energy bar as a snack when you’re not working out, unless you don’t have time to eat a full meal. In that circumstance, an energy bar can get some nutrients into your system to give you sustained energy to make it through the day.”
Rizzo recommends looking for a bar whose ingredients you know and understand, as opposed to additives like artificial sweeteners and oil blends.
“Some sugar is okay, but I would prefer it’s not the first ingredient,” she said.