Energy bars have come a long way. The artificially flavored, jaw-exhausting wedges of firm sludge that were once relegated to the dustiest corner of the candy shelf are a thing of the past. These days, bars have entire sections dedicated to them in supermarkets and are made with whole ingredients like egg whites and dates, and superfoods such as chia seeds and seaweed. There are even bars made of 100 percent wild-caught salmon.
But while bars were having their moment, the energy foods category expanded. Now, energy can be found in every shape, every package and every level of viscosity. Gels, chews, pouches, waffles — even cookies and gum — are available in flavors fit for every palate. Classic standbys like chocolate, strawberry and citrus are offered alongside more unusual tastes like gingerade, spearmint, s’mores and even pizza margherita. Yes, pizza margherita. There are so many flavors and textures to try that deciding on the best fuel for your next marathon, thru hike, or century ride can be paralyzing. To help you navigate the ever-expanding group of energy foods that don’t come in bar form, we did the only thing we could: we ate them. Here’s what’s worth stashing in those tiny athletic pockets, and what’s better left in the drawer at home.
Energy Gels: Energy Shots Made of Calorie Goo
GU Toasted Marshmallow: GU created the energy gel, so it’s no wonder that the company has nailed its flavor as well. One of the latest gels in its lineup is a collaboration with Hoka One One, maker of extra-cushiony, maximalist running shoes. That alliance produced a marshmallow goo better than Fluff, one that tastes remarkably like the better part of a s’more. “It tastes like Lucky Charms but doesn’t feel like chewing on cardboard,” said one taster.
Energy Chews: Energy-Packed, Cube-Shaped Gummy Bears
Clif Bloks Salted Watermelon: Clif is known primarily for bars, but the California company gave itself a run for its money with a wide range of uncommon energy chew flavors including ginger ale and spearmint. But salted watermelon took the prize with its fine-tuned balance of sweet and salty flavors. The chews are meant to give you an extra boost during long endeavors, but no one would judge you if you ate them like candy. The salted watermelon flavor also contains double the sodium of normal Clif Bloks, making it ideal for boosting electrolyte intake and preventing over-hydration.
Waffles: A Dutch Treat Turned Into Fuel
Untapped Raspberry Waffle: Stroopwafels have solidified themselves as one of the most popular bar-alternative energy delivery vessels, and for good reason. They’re tasty, often closer to an indulgence than “training food.” Untapped is known for its pure Vermont maple syrup, and here the company has blended its key ingredient with organic raspberries to make the tastiest waffle available. As a bonus, nearly all of the other ingredients on the list are simple and organic.
Food Pouches: Simple Ingredients, Squeezable Packaging
Clif Banana Beet with Ginger: Like baby food for grown-ups, food pouches are convenient, portable calories that are easily digestible. This particular flavor from Clif is made with only five all-organic ingredients that are so well blended, no individual flavor rises to the top (beet-averse readers, take note). It’s a delicious shot of energy that’s not overly sweet; one taster noted, “It’s just like my morning smoothie.”
Nut Butter: Sweet and Salty Superfood Paste
Probar Sriracha Peanut Butter It’s long been known that peanut butter is a great delivery system for sugar, salt, protein and healthy fats. That being said, there’s been little experimentation, when it comes to making the stuff tasty, that doesn’t involve adding extra sugar. Probar has found the formula with this peanut butter sriracha blend. It’s sweet, spicy and salty, and it comes in a single-serving package that’s easy to take anywhere (although if it came in a tub, we’d eat it with a spoon — it’s that good).
Protein Cookie: Like a Bar, But Better
Munk Pack Double Dark Chocolate Protein Cookie: Endurance athletes have been concocting their own protein cookies for years; it was only a matter of time before someone produced them on a larger scale. Munk Pack’s best recipe goes all in on chocolate in a morsel that’s somewhere between cookie and cake-y. It’s not easy to cover up the tell-tale traces of protein flavor (and the cookie packs 18 grams of the stuff); chocolate chips seem to do the trick.
More Great Flavors
We’d recommend just sticking with this one.