My current obsession with adventure racing has me eating a lot of energy bars. Out in the woods, running and biking and bushwhacking for hours on end, I may consume eight or 10 bars in a day. Cashew cookie, carrot cake, lemon, chocolate brownie, cherry pie and cocoa mole. All the flavors of the rainbow in my pack. Field testing, as it were.
But, if I may admit, I don’t even really like most energy bars. Many of my climbing and adventure racing cohorts, indeed, have sworn off the “energy food” genre altogether, relying instead on beef jerky and cheese and sandwiches and Fritos. Raw and unfettered calories, they say. Eat real food, they tell me.
Still, I eat energy bars. They are convenient if nothing else. They don’t turn sour or rot, even after days on the trail. They’re condensed energy, highly packable. They’re fast and easy. They fill the gut.
After eating energy bars for years and years on multiple continents and in various stages of adventure-induced delusion, excitement, paranoia and exhaustion, only one thing really matters to me: Flavor.
Now, to name names, there are a few good-tasting energy bars on the market. ProBar (www.theprobar.com) comes to mind. Larabars (www.larabar.com), which are vegan concoctions that come in a dozen unusual flavors, are also above average.
No. 1 in taste during my recent test was the Big Sur Bar (www.bigsurbar.com). These hearty creations have a chewy oatmeal bottom and yummy chunks on top, including pecans, almonds, raisins, chocolate chips and coconut. They taste nothing like an energy bar. They’re more of a desert than anything. They taste like the bars my mom used to make in aluminum pans. (Seven-layer bars, I believe she called them.)
Big Sur Bars come in three flavors — Original, White Zest and Blind Date — and all are good and exceedingly filling. I can rarely eat a whole Big Sur Bar without saving some for later.
I recommend Big Sur Bars for hiking, backpacking and mountaineering. However, the gooey, 5-ounce bricks each contain about 700 calories and are way too filling and dense for eating while pushing your aerobic limits.
The Hammer bar, made by the supplements company Hammer Nutrition LTD (www.e-caps.com), was not as tasty as the Big Surs, but it was better than many of the traditional energy bars I’ve eaten over the years. The company made the bar for its constituency of endurance athletes who appreciate things like alkalizing protein, “healthy” carbohydrates, phytosterols, sterolins and phyto-nutrients — all of which this bar embodies. (However, no refined sugar or artificial ingredients are included.)
Hammer Nutrition offers two flavors: Chocolate Chip and Almond Raisin. The bars have a soft, moist texture, as almond butter and date paste are used as the base.
HOOAH! bars were created by the U.S. military in the late 90s and are now marketed by a company called D’Andrea Brothers LLC. They seemed kind of gimmicky to me at first. But after a few bites my cynicism evaporated.
Essentially, HOOAH! bars (www.hooahbar.com) are like PowerBars, with that same gritty-rubbery texture and a similar shape and size. But they taste, actually, pretty darn good. They’re kind of sweet, but not too sweet, and they have a bit of a greasy aftertaste. Sounds strange, perhaps, but HOOAH! has hit the spot for me during two recent adventure races.
In the end, you can gush about chemical composition and carbohydrate magic — as energy-food companies often do — but if a bar doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to eat it. If you don’t eat it, you’re going to hit a wall or bonk. You’re going to lose the race. You’re going to retreat from the mountain face. You need to eat something out there or else you’re not going to make it.