When choosing the best cycling energy bars for you there are several considerations; why you are using it, when you are using it, what it will do for you and above all else the personal consideration of taste and enjoyment.
Here at Veloforte we believe the best energy bars are those that deliver natural fuel in a tasty, powerful and delicious way that can be easily digested and absorbed by your body.
Types of cycling energy bars
For cyclists, the best energy bars typically come in four categories:
Carbohydrate bars: Carb bars are the real ‘energy’ bars as these provide fuel for your working muscles and are designed to be used before and during strenuous exercise, such as long rides.
Protein bars: Protein bars are typically designed to aid in muscle repair after exercise. They are rich in protein but some are also low in carbs so do not provide much energy. Others with higher amounts of carbs may be good for Recovery.
Low-calorie bars: Low calorie bars are of limited use to cyclists as they provide very little energy or nutrition to aid exercise or recovery. They are aimed as snacks at the weight loss market. There are other, healthier and just as convenient real food options to choose from.
Meal-replacement bars: Meal replacement bars are designed with a balance of all nutrients; carbs, protein and fat. Whilst they don’t completely replace the nutritional benefits of a meal they are useful and convenient when travelling or if you're time limited but shouldn’t be relied on as a regular part of your diet.
Why real food fuels better - Natural vs. synthetic energy bars
Real food is always better for your body to digest than heavily processed and synthetic foods.
Sports nutrition doesn’t have to mean synthetic; energy from natural sources appeals to the eye, the nose, the mouth, the stomach as well as your legs! It's tasty and enjoyable to eat, plus your body is better able to process it without the painful bloating, wind and stomach upsets that can come with eating synthetic energy bars.
One of our key goals at Veloforte is to produce bars that cyclists will enjoy eating, which is why we are always so pleased when riders find us and agree.
“These are the best and tastiest energy cycling bars I have ever had! I’m currently training for Ride London and being a healthy eater have been looking for ages for a natural alternative to the usual on the market,” - cyclist Karen Nash
Natural sugars vs. artificial sugars
The sugar substitutes found in many bars can play havoc with your digestive system and artificial sweeteners found in low-calorie bars upset your body’s natural insulin response to sugar.
Many of the manufactured sugars used as energy sources in synthetic bars and energy gels contribute to gastro problems such as stomach bloating, wind or unpleasantly frequent toilet stops! In a natural energy bar the high levels of carbohydrates come instead from ingredients like dried fruits, oats and whole grains. If you choose a bar that has both fructose (the sugar from fruit) and glucose then you will be able to absorb the maximum amount of energy you can.
These not only taste delicious but real ingredients like these also create a texture that is moist and feels good in your mouth.
Natural taste vs. synthetic taste
The most effective way to fuel our body is with food that we enjoy eating. The smell, taste and texture of food is an important part of digestion as the first stage of breaking down foods begins with the saliva in your mouth.
If a food doesn’t excite your mouth and make it water you are missing out part of the natural process. Your body is naturally more responsive to the smells and flavours of real food and there is no unpleasant after taste.
If a bar is tasty and delicious, it can be something to look forward to on a long ride, both motivating and comforting. It also makes it unlikely that you will under fuel.
If you are carrying bars or gels that need to be forced down and feel a chore, then you are more likely to feel uninterested in eating them and under-fuel. As cyclist and Veloforte user Nigel Vaughan told us:
"No other bar combines such great taste with all of the energy needed to get you through a long, tough ride."
Naturally hydrated food vs. dry food
Synthetic and highly processed bars are often very dry, manufacturers make them this way to help prolong shelf-life and force-in large amounts of powdered ingredients - helping them to produce large volumes cheaply.
However, as anyone who has ever tried to eat a dry bar whilst cycling on a hot day up a long climb will tell you, very dry food is difficult and unpalatable to chew. It is like chewing card board!
Very dry bars aren’t just unpleasant to eat, they are also very difficult for your body to digest, you need to consume a lot of extra water to help your body soften and absorb the bars and this can contribute to bloating. If you are under hydrated, then eating dry bars can dehydrate you further by taking precious fluids from your system and give you painful stomach cramps.
Natural energy bars contain up to 7 times more water (they are often naturally hydrated from the fruits) making them easy to eat, easier to chew and swallow as well as better for your stomach and gut.
Your body knows what to do with these bars as they are natural foods that we have been designed (through evolution) to enjoy.
Natural vitamins vs. artificially added vitamins
The ingredients in natural energy bars are nutritionally dense, providing not only energy but vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which are good for your body, your digestion and your performance.
Some highly manufactured bars are crammed full of sugars but provide very little in the way of vitamins or minerals, to the extent that manufactured versions of vitamins need to be added! Why not just eat the real thing in the first place?
One of the problems with added vitamins is the potential for over dosing if you are eating several bars a day over the course of a long ride or back to back training sessions, plus taking nutritional supplements and eating fortified foods.
Consuming an excess of some vitamins can lead to stomach and gut problems and even affect your liver and other organs. Natural foods provide a much more balanced and body friendly amount of the vitamins and minerals you need for health and performance in a way that makes it almost impossible to over dose.
Healthy fats vs. trans fats
Fats are an important part of a healthy balanced diet but they need to be the right fats, from the right sources.
Synthetic bars often make use of cheap fats such as trans fats and palm oil.
Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products but they can also be manufactured commercially by a process called hydrogenation that chemically alters liquid vegetable oils to become solid fats.
The hydrogenated vegetable oils are used to bulk up or improve the texture of food, they are cheap to produce and have a long shelf life. Trans fats have been linked with high cholesterol as they raise levels of our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol whilst also lowering the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. There is an associated risk between eating high levels of trans fats and coronary heart disease.
Palm oil is a natural source of fat and can have heart-healthy benefits, however many companies are choosing to avoid using it altogether or sourcing it only from ethical sources due to the environmental impact of farming practices.
Fats in natural energy bars come from the nuts and seeds. Nuts are a great addition to a healthy diet, they are a great source of heart-friendly fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as phytosterol compounds that can have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels. They add texture to your bar, making it more enjoyable to eat and contain a broad range of vitamins as well as fibre.
Texture should not be underestimated when it comes to your enjoyment of food, our bodies want the whole experience of real food; something that smells and tastes amazing that you can really get your teeth into.
One of the reasons that gels can be hard to use is that they are in an unnatural format. Steven Fyfe is a convert to the Veloforte real energy revolution;
“Gels are dead! I have tried various energy gels bars in the last few years. Veloforte has done it, no more sickly gels for me. It’s the best I have tried, they are even good with a coffee.”
What’s the best time to eat a cycling energy bar?
Timing and quantity are key considerations when it comes to eating your chosen energy bar.
If you ride for short distances, then you don’t need to eat that many energy bars to supply the energy for your ride; our bodies have their own store of carbohydrate that provides enough fuel for around 90 minutes.
A good time to eat an energy bar is shortly before your ride or near the start of it, especially if you haven’t eaten much during the day, or haven’t had breakfast, as this will give you a mental and physical boost to get you started on your ride. Natural energy bars also make a convenient snack for after your ride, particularly if you have a long wait till your next meal.
If you are exercising frequently and your road bike rides are over two hours then energy bars can play an important role in fuelling your training, topping up your body’s stored energy and re-fuelling you for the next ride. Your body needs 60g-90g of carbohydrate per hour of exercise, so if planning a ride of two hours or longer then start eating after the first 20 minutes.
Natural energy bars can be useful immediately before and after long rides, particularly if you have a busy working lifestyle and are rushed for time between meals.
Long-distance and expert riders
If you are an endurance rider, training regularly and completing back to back long rides eating enough carbohydrate to fuel your exercise and aid your recovery is crucial.
Having a bag of Veloforte Bites in your back pocket is one essential way to ensure that you are getting enough energy to allow you to complete the distance and train hard and perform at your best.
Veloforte bars contain both glucose and fructose allowing you to absorb as much 90g of carbohydrate an hour. Start eating within 20 minutes of beginning your ride and eat a bite every 20 minutes to maintain your energy levels.
Restoring your glycogen levels after long rides is important too, natural energy bars can be used on hard training days to ensure you maintain a good energy balance, ready for your next session.
On very long rides good food can be the key to motivation as Veloforte user and ultra-distance cyclist Steve Wadey found out:
“I'd always been a bit cynical of the marketing for these bars, but an epic 160 mile day out with a mate meant I wanted to carry and try something different to keep me going, so I tried one of these bites bags. OMG! Fantastic - nice, firm, dense, chewy and especially tasty bites that impressed.”
Fuelling your ride with the best natural energy bars will make a real difference both to your performance and to your enjoyment.
At Veloforte we believe that all too often there is a disconnect between the real food values we all tend to share across the rest of our lives and what we eat on our bikes.
Eating to fuel your exercise should not be a chore; the food you eat on your bike can be just as wholesome, healthy, delicious and enjoyable as any other food choice you make.
We designed Veloforte bars to supply the energy you need to perform at your best in a bar you'll actually look forward to eating when you are next out on your bike.