When the road miles reach into the double digits, an energy bar can be a cyclist's best friend. Energy bars provide a burst of energy that helps cyclists power through difficult training rides and races. As the sport has steadily gained in popularity, so too has the number of energy bars at a cyclist's disposal.
Energy bars are sometimes called nutrition bars. For cyclists, energy bars typically come in four categories: carbohydrate bars, protein bars, low-calorie bars and meal-replacement bars. Most energy bar manufacturers will post nutrition information about their products online. Choosing the right bar depends on what you need most on the road.
Different energy bars function in distinct ways. High-carb bars such as those made by PowerBar provide rapidly absorbed carbohydrates and are a good source of fuel for strenuous bike rides. Protein bars such as those made by Myoplex and Protein Plus help cyclists build muscle but do not add much energy unless they also have a significant amount of carbohydrates. Low-calorie bars such as Luna have less calories than high-carb bars, are often marketed to women athletes, and are not a typical choice among cyclists looking for a significant energy boost. Meal replacement bars such as the Balance Bar generally provide a balance of carbs, protein and fats, as well as more ingredients than other bars, although they are not meant to replace full meals.
Cyclists who consume a lot of energy bars should be aware of a few important issues. High-fructose corn syrup used to flavor many bars can cause gastrointestinal discomfort during rides. Cyclists who consume too many vitamin-rich bars may likewise exceed daily nutrient allowances and run the risk of spurring new health problems. And some energy bars contain trans fats, oils that can additionally pose a health risk if consumed in large quantities.
Elite cyclists schedule their energy bar consumption around a race or training session. Generally, consuming protein, fiber, minerals and fat before a race can cause intestinal discomfort because these ingredients are hard to digest. High-carb bars are a good pre-race and mid-race choice because they emphasize fuel-providing carbohydrates that are easily digestible. Consuming a protein bar after a race or training session can help aid recovery of sore muscles.
Often, cyclists must chase bars with plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated. Energy gels such as those made by Clif provide similar amounts of carbohydrates and are easy to consume during a race or training. Some cyclists eat Sport Beans, carb-heavy candy pieces. Still, others prefer natural foods to energy bars, particularly those that have equivalent amounts of carbohydrates, such as bananas, honey and raisins.