Energy bars are a quick, easy way to satisfy the afternoon munchies or to get a boost during a tough workout. But buyer beware, because store-bought energy bars (a.k.a., sports bars) are often packed full of sugars and unhealthy saturated fats.
Check out the labels, and avoid energy bars that are loaded with saturated fats or include high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and/or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (no trans fats). Look for whole ingredients like peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, and whole grains -- preferably at the beginning not the end of the ingredient list. And so long as you're eating healthy, well-balanced meals, you can probably skip high-protein bars and bars loaded with additional vitamins and minerals.
Of course, the best way to get what you want from an energy bar is to make them yourself. When you know what you've put into them, you'll have a better sense of what you'll be getting out of them.
Here are 6 smart options. Cut them into bars or roll them up into bite-size balls for a quick pick-me-up.
1) Dark Chocolate Delivers Antioxidants -- Chocolate Energy Bars
No added sugars here. Just chopped Medjool dates, cashews, almonds, shredded coconut, and unsweetened cocoa powder. A couple tablespoons of coconut oil provides the fat here. "If you compare these chocolate energy bars to similar fruit/nut bars sold at the store, I think they taste better, are nutritionally superior, and probably cheaper to make at home," says Chef John.
2) Nothing but Dried Fruits and Nuts -- Coconut Date Bars
Here's an energy bar that's similar but without the chocolate. "The on-the-go, travel-light snack bar," says Lacy Wilson, the recipe submitter. "As an outdoor professional, I take these in the back country and they need not be refrigerated and give great energy."
3) Flaxseeds for the Omega-3s -- Cinnamon Energy Bites
These date and cashew balls add flaxseed meal and ground cinnamon into the mix. "These energy bites are super easy to make and are great on-the-go snacks or a paleo-friendly dessert," says Alli.
4) Peanuts Provide Healthy Fats and Protein -- T's Peanut Butter Balls
See how to make a healthier homemade alternative to store-bought energy bars. These no-bake chocolate and peanut butter balls are crunchy, simple snacks that combine chocolate, peanut butter, and oats with agave nectar, flax and hemp seeds. Choose peanut butters without added sugars.
5) Rolled Oats Go Big on Fiber -- Energy Bars
Lots of good stuff in these baked treats: bananas, raisins, dried apricots, dates, plus walnuts, sunflower seeds, rolled oats, and wheat germ. Maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness. "These bars are great before a workout or when you need a quick snack to stave off hunger for a few hours," says Hungry in Vermont, the recipe submitter. "They are easy to make and do not need refrigeration."
6) Bananas Bring the Potassium -- Banana Oat Energy Bars
This one combines grated carrots and apple with mashed banana, unsweetened applesauce, rolled oats, and chopped peanuts. No added sugar. "Really great and healthy, perfect pre-run breakfast or for a quick snack," says cecdaisy, the recipe submitter.