How to Choose Energy Bars, Gels and Drinks

47 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 out of 5 stars
Variety of energy bars, gels and snacks

Trail mix and gorp are still around, but now there are also lots of high-energy bars, gels and drinks to help get you where you're going. These efficient energy foods are designed to promote and sustain energy and provide you with essential nutrients that may be lost during physical activity. You'll find all the leading brands at REI.


Which types of energy food are right for you?

To decide, consider the following:


1. How Strenuous Is Your Activity?

The harder your body has to work, the more nutrients it loses. REI recommends energy bars, as they have an optimum balance of essential nutrients.


2. How Long Is Your Activity?

The longer your activity, and especially if you can't take a break, we recommend energy gels and/or sport/energy drinks. They're ideal for example, during triathalons, marathons or other long runs, or bike races.


3. How Important Is Convenience?

This will depend on your activity, its duration and your personal preferences. As noted above, runners prefer gels and drinks. For hikers, an energy bar may be just as convenient. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How easily can you carry energy supplements?
  • Are you concerned with weight or space?
  • Do you have time to take breaks and properly digest an energy snack?
  • Are you just looking for a quick refuel or are you replenishing yourself after the activity is completed?


4. Do You Have Special Diet Needs or Restrictions?

For example; are you on a low-fat diet? There is no fat in energy drinks. Do you have a really high metabolism that requires a diet higher in calories? If so, energy bars may be a better alternative for you.


Combining Foods

It's generally fine to combine energy bars, gels and drinks as long as you drink plenty of water to prevent against possible upset stomach and to keep you well hydrated.


Nutritional Contents

Consider the following nutritional information when choosing between bars, gels and sport energy drinks.



Most energy bars, gels and drinks are relatively low in calories.



Most energy foods are relatively low in fats, and there is little or no fat in the energy drinks REI carries.



This is your main energy source, so the higher the level of activity and duration, the more carbohydrates you need.



Great for helping your body rebuild tissues and recover after exercise/activity.



(listed ingredients such as sodium chloride, citrate, selenite, molybdate, benzoate and/or bicarbonate). More commonly known as electrolytes, the above listed ingredients are also essential in metabolizing carbohydrates for the proper functioning of muscles and to help keep you hydrated.



(listed ingredient as monopotassium phosphate, potassium citrate, L-lactate, dipotassium phosphate and/or potassium iodide). Also considered to be components of electrolytes (see sodium, above), the above listed ingredients are equally essential in metabolizing carbohydrates for the proper functioning of muscles and to help keep you hydrated.


Vitamins and Minerals

Your body naturally burns vitamins and minerals through exercise and activity, so the more of these a product has to offer, the better. In general, energy bars have the highest number of vitamins and minerals overall.


Amino Acid Blends

Leucine, valine and isoleucine are often added to gels only and are basically proteins which are broken down and used by the body to help construct muscles and keep them in good shape.


Watch Out for Added Ingredients

If you're caffeine-sensitive, watch out for chocolate and mocha-type flavors in all products. Also, ingredients like guarana, from the herb Guaranis, can contain up to 7% guaranine (just like caffeine), as compared to a cup of coffee which contains 2%.