Photograph by Thomas MacDonald
Once there was a time, back in the early '80s, when were little more than bricks of complex carbohydrates glued together with not-so-good-for-you ingredients such as processed sugars and hydrogenated oils. As a convenient source of on-bike energy, they certainly hit the mark. As a tasty and healthy fuel, not so much. Fortunately, like helmets, chamois, and streaming Tour de France coverage, bars have evolved for the better. Not only are there great-tasting options, but many offer an array of nutritional benefits. The downside? If you don't know what to look for, it's nearly impossible to narrow the choices.
Cyclists should go for bars with a higher percentage of calories from carbohydrates than from protein or fat, says Molly Kimball, RD, a sports dietitian in New Orleans. Look for about 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat for every 20 to 25 grams of carbs.
"But experiment to figure out what works best for you, " she says. "Some people can digest more protein and fat during exercise than others." And make sure the ingredient list doesn't read like a chemistry quiz. "Bars should contain whole ingredients such as dried fruit, oats, and honey, which also provide nutritional value, " Kimball says.