A better energy bar? Meats, cacao, crickets, oh my!

Energy bars aren’t what they used to be. Answering the consumer call for whole-food, protein-packed nutrition, these pocket-sized snacks are packing a bigger punch than ever before, and many of them are based in nuts, seeds, ancient grains, meat—even insects.

For example, the ProBar’s Base bar is made with 20 grams of protein, and the company’s core values are a wish fulfilled: “Looking for a protein bar that resembles nature rather than a science experiment?”

Yes, we are.

Here are some other energy bars we found and tasted:

Pushing the bar boundary the farthest is the cricket flour-based Chapul, the first insect-based bar in the U.S. While crickets don’t top the American menu right now, just wait. An inclination for insects—already a protein staple in other parts of the world—is on its way. Who says that “sustainable edible” won’t work here? After all, you can’t actually see embedded crickets. They’re all ground up to powder form and masked by trendy tastes such as dark chocolate, coffee, cayenne chili, coconut, and ginger. Yum? You decide.

Pleasing Paleos are some new meat bars like the Epic bar and Omnibar. We tried a few of Omnibar’s creations and felt like existing jerky eaters could easily make the transition to these smooth-textured beef bars, as long as they kept an open mind about new savory flavors, ranging from mango curry to chipotle barbeque. (The roasted peanut or cranberry rosemary versions may make for an easier transition.) Comparatively, the Epic bar has a more stringy-chunky texture that takes some getting used to, but the bison bacon cranberry flavor—who doesn’t love bacon?—deserves props, as does the brand’s use of only grass-fed meat (bison, turkey, beef, lamb). Plus for those with nut sensitivities, these meat bars make for an awesome alternative.

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Whole food Omnibar boasts two single servings in one package. Image courtesy of Omnibar

While these bars may be a bit tough on the stomach and taste buds immediately following a ride or run, the meat bars—some of which come two per pack—could be a healthy treat to savor later, right about when your appetite returns and you’re ravenous, yet still within that 90-minute recovery window when protein is key. Camping is another activity that fits nicely with the meat bar trend. There’s fire. There’s meat. It’s a cave-man thing.

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Thunderbird Energetica’s focus is in on whole food, vegan-based nutrition for its energy bars. Photo courtesy of Thunderbird Energetica

While carnivores have new bar options, so do veggies. An expanding repertoire of bars based on nuts, seeds, and ancient grains are also coming of age. Gather bars are another interesting niche nutrient-dense product. Founded by endurance athletes, Thunderbird Energetica (the maker of the raw, vegan Gather), was built around making a no-bonk natural bar with ingredients you could actually pronounce and energy sources that could meet extreme energy demands. Bars mix almonds, buckwheat groats, carrots, cashews, cacao nips, dates, Goji berries, hemp seeds, maca root, and more natural powerhouses. While some are on the dry side, one may quickly overlook the texture for benefits: The palm-sized protein packets come in real-food combos touted to help with a variety physical concerns, from inflammation, to fertility, to a rocking beach bod.

So whether you go for ancient grains, major meat, or even insects, there’s probably something worth savoring in the latest evolution of power bars. Now get after it.

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