By Paul Knott
Your stomach is the fuel tank for your body – and letting it run on empty over rides in excess of 90 minutes is almost certain to leave you breaking down in the lanes and hills.
There's a range of theories around the best way to keep your energy levels flourishing, but the overriding view of the experts is that carbohydrates are the most efficient top-up tool during exercise, with 1 gram per kilo of bodyweight the suggested dose per hour.
That means a 75kg rider needs to ingest about 75g of carbohydrate per hour, once the ride duration is over 90 minutes. The requirement will increase if the ride is intense, and decrease if it's not.
Carbohydrate requirement varies between individuals, but given that there is a ceiling as to how much your body can absorb, it is important not to overdo it. Finding the balance between avoiding the dreaded bonk and over-eating is essential.
Popular methods of getting the carbs in include energy drinks, energy gels, energy bars, and good old-fashioned traditional food. They each have their benefits.
The quickest to be absorbed, dosage is spread out over the course of the time it takes to drink a bottle. Best combined with gels or bars and sipped throughout a ride, these include electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat.
Second quickest to be absorbed, a quick hit of high-glucose carb will give you a kick when you need it. Gels are easy to swallow and are best for races and high intensity when chewing is hard work. Some include electrolytes.
Slower to release energy, bars are also lower in sugar than gels so are usually better for your gut and teeth. They require breaking up and chewing, and so are more suited to endurance rides. Conveniently packaged to suit jersey pockets.
Usually the best for your bank balance, stomach and teeth – assuming you've chosen something healthy – don't forego natural food. They are usually harder to chew and store in a pocket, but homemade oat, fruit and nut bars are a great option.
Our pick of the best energy bars
Energy bar preference varies, but within the Cycling Weekly HQ, there are some clear favourites. We've outlined our top picks below.
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A traditional bar with traditional (nutritional) values: each 45g promises around 140-150 calories, 31-32g of carbs and 4g of protein.
Torq's bars use a blend of glucose-derivatives and fructose to get close to the 2:1 glucose/fructose ratio which studies have shown offers a higher delivery of carbohydrate per hour – delivering 40 per cent greater absorption according to the brand.
The bars have a very moist and natural taste that reminds us of the dried fruit squares we ate as kids. Around 13 per cent of the bars come from real fruit and flavours such as Raspberry and Apple, Sundried Banana and Mango provide a wholesome mouthful. The Spiced Mince Pie option will appeal come Christmas.
The bars also contain a dose of D-Ribose, said to aid recovery, plus vitamins and minerals. Flavours like Banana are fair-trade and the Mango bar is organic.
Read our Torq Bar review
Trek Protein Energy Bar
These 50g bars break easily into bite-sized pieces, and contain between 208 to 234 calories depending upon your choice, with 20g of carbs and 9 to 10g of protein.
The trend towards packing in protein is a healthy one – a lot of athletes don't get enough. However, the jury is out on fuelling rides with it, so this bar lends itself more to the recovery bar side of the nutrition conversation.
On the plus side, these taste great and they're readily available in newsagents around the country, which can be handy when you're out and about.
Read our Trek Protein Energy Bar review
SiS Go Energy Bar
SIS offers the Go Energy Bar Mini, Go Energy Bar Mini + Caffeine and Go Energy Bar + Protein.
The mini will take up less room in your pocket, though it's a bit counterproductive if you then need to carry more of them. Each 40g serving offers 139 calories, 26g of carbohydrate and a moderate 4.5g of protein. They're made from natural fruit ingredients and go down easily.
The Go Energy Mini + Caffeine is all of the above, with an added 75mg of caffeine to ensure you're getting the ideal dose. The Go Energy + Protein is 60g a serving, with 200 calories and 34g of carbohydrate plus 10g of protein, meaning you're still getting plenty of carbohydrate with protein to help speed up recovery when you stop.
Read our SiS Go Energy Bar review
High5 Energy Bar
High5's energy bar isn't known to be the greatest tasting, but they're moist and go down easily – also providing one of your 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg which is a nice addition.
The 55g bars pack a punch, though nutritional values vary per flavour, so make sure you choose according to your needs as well as your taste buds.
As an example, the banana option provides 180 calories, 36g of carbohydrate and 2.4g of protein with 2.4 g of fat while the peanut flavour offering gives you 255 calories, 25g of carbohydrate and 7.2g of protein with 13g of fat.
Read our High5 Energy Bar review
OTE Duo Bar
At 65g, the OTE bar is larger than most, but that's because is each packet is designed to be eaten as two servings. Within each full bar, you'll find 278 calories, 71.1g of carbohydrate and 7.4g of protein. At over £40 for a box of 24, the added content is reflected in the cost, but you are getting more calories for your buck.
The idea is you split them up into doses delivering 20g of carbs a go, but the great tastes means it'd be quite easy to 'forget' and just eat twice as much...
We're also big fans of OTE's 'Anytime' bars - these are designed for snacking but work well on the bike, being gluten and nut-free, suitable for vegetarians and very crumbly and easy to swallow. Each 62g bar provides 213 calories, 36.6g of carb and 2.8g of protein.
Read our OTE Duo Bar review
Veloforte won a 'Great Taste Award' for its Classico in 2017, and it's easy to understand why. Made from fruit peel (orange, lemon, citron), with almonds, cane sugar, honey, and a host of spices, they're pretty special.
Each 62g bar contains more calories than most, counting 260: 39.7g of which are carbs, 5.3g protein and 7.6g of fat. It'd be easy to gobble down more than you need to fuel yourself, so beware. They're not cheap, either.
The packaging can be quite hard to peel from the product – though Veloforte has worked on this with a new and improved wrapper.
Read our Veloforte Classico review
Cliff Bar makes a range of excellent tasting flavours, that taste natural and are easy to digest (though some need a little washing down with fluid). The brand uses organic and whole ingredients such as rolled oats, oat fibre and dates to make its bars – so you know you're getting real food.
These are quite large: a 68g White Chocolate Macadamia Nut bar contains 279 calories, 7.4g of fat, 42g of carb and 9g of protein, giving you more than just your basic carb-focused bar.
Clif's Nut Butter Bar provides 227 calories and 7g of protein. The jury is out on its on-bike fuelling capability but they make great snacks.
Read our Clif Bar review
All of these bars will re-stock your carb levels – taste preference is subjective. We’ll keep adding more energy bar options as we test them.
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