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Commercial Sports Foods: Clearing Up the Confusion

What contains what?


Have you have ever wondered which is the best sports drink, energy bar, or gel? The answer is the best choice is the product that pleases your young athlete's taste buds and settles well in their stomach. Your child, tween or teen simply needs to experiment to determine which products (if any) work best for them.

A multitude of businesses have jumped on the bandwagon to create sports foods that appeal to a variety of athletes, including those with special diets (such as gluten-free or vegan) to athletes who are just plain hungry and want a "healthier" cookie (most energy bars!). While busy athletes enjoy the ease of using pre-wrapped sports foods, these commercial products tend to be more about convenience than necessity. Certainly, there is a time and place for these products, but "real" food (such as raisins, gummi bears, chocolate milk) can do the same job at a lower price. And please don't underestimate the power of peanut butter, bananas, and honey!

Below is an extensive (but incomplete) list of various types of sports fuels. Perhaps the information will help you untangle the jungle of choices. Don't be swayed by a product's name; it might be more powerful than the sports food itself!

Sports Drinks

  • With sodium (and perhaps other electrolytes): Gatorade, PowerAde, Edge Energy, Hydro-Boom!, GU2O, CytoMax, Infinit, Vitalyte
  • All natural, without dye/food coloring: Carb BOOM! Electrolyte Drink, First Endurance EFS, HEED, Clif Quench, Recharge, Coconut Water
  • Extra sodium (if you plan to exercise for >2 hours in the heat): Gatorade Endurance, PowerBar Endurance, E-Fuel, First Endurance EFS, Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink, E-Load, Hydro Pro Cooler, Motor Tabs, GU Brew Electrolyte, Infinit, UCAN, Powerbar Ironman Perform
  • Added "buffers": Cytomax, Perpetuem, Revenge Sport
  • Extra carbs: Perpetuem, Carbo-Pro
  • Added protein (may reduce post-exercise muscle soreness): Amino Vital, Perpetuem, Accelerade, Revenge Pro, UCAN
  • Sports drinks for dieters (i.e., lower calorie): Gatorade G2, PowerAde Zero, Ultima Replenisher, Propel, Nuun, Nathan Catalyst, Elixir


  • Regular: Gu, Carb-BOOM!, Clif Shot, Honey Stinger ((Test these during training; they often contribute to diarrhea)
  • Extra sodium: PowerBar Gel, Crank Sports e-Gel, EFS Liquid Shot, Gu Roctane
  • Added protein: Accel Gel, Hammer Gel, EFS Liquid Shot, Gu Roctane, Endless edge
  • Added caffeine: GU (most flavors), Rocktane (most flavors), Clif Shot Gel (Mocha, Double Espresso, Chocolate Cherry, Citrus, Strawberry); Carb-BOOM Chocolate Cherry, Hammer Gel Espresso, PowerBar Gel (Double Latte, Tangerine, Chocolate, Green Apple and Strawberry-banana); Honey Stinger Ginsting and Strawberry
  • Added extras: EAS Energy Gel (taurine)

Sports snacks for endurance exercise

  • Regular Jelly Belly Sports Beans, Gu Chomps, Clif Shot Bloks, Carb BOOM! Energy Chews, Sharkies, SPIZ, FRS Healthy Energy Chews
  • Electrolytes (to add to beverages): Suceed! S Caps, Salt Stick, Endurolytes (Hammer Nutrition), Thermolytes, LavaSalts
  • Recovery Drinks (Carbs with a little protein): Amino Vital, First Endurance Ultragen, EAS Endurathon, Perpetuem, PowerBar Recovery Drinks, Recoverite, Endurox R4, Gatorade Recover, Gatorade Nutrition Shake, Hormel's Great Shake, GNC's Distance, Clif Shot Recovery Drink, First Endurance Ultragen, Gu Brew Recovery

Energy bars (for extra energy, not a meal replacement):

  • All natural/organic (have no added vitamins or minerals): Clif Nectar, Clif Mojo, Lara Bar, Optimum, Honey Bar, Odwalla Bar, PowerBar Nut Naturals, KIND Bars, Zing Bars, NRG-Bar, Honey Stinger Bars, Kashi Bars, Peak Energy, Perfect 10, Gnu Bar, Raw Revolution Bar, Olympic Granola Bar, Pure Bar, Pro bar, Sun Valley Bar, Bonk Breaker Energy Bar
  • Caffeine-containing bar: Peak Energy Plus
  • Dairy-free: Clif Nectar, Clif Builder's, Olympic Granola, Pure, Bonk Breaker Energy Bar, Gnu Bar, Fit, Perfect 10, Larabar, AllerEnergy Bar, Soy Rocks Bar
  • Grocery store options: Nature Valley Granola Bar, Nutri-Grain Bar, Quaker Chewy Bars, Fig Newtons
  • Fructose-free: JayBar
  • Gluten-free: Perfect 10, Hammer Bar, EnvirKids Rice Cereal Bar; Omega Smart Bars, Extend Bar Delight, Zing Bar, BoraBora Bar, Wings of Nature Bar, Elev8Me. Wheat-free but may not be gluten free (due to cross-contamination with wheat products in the manufacturing plant): Larabar, Odwalla Bar, Clif Nectar, Clif Builder, Bonk Breaker
  • Kosher: Pure Fit, Larabar, Extend Bar, Balance Bar, HoneyBar
  • Meal replacement bar (with 10-15 g protein): Kashi Go Lean Bar, MetRx Mr. Big, MetRx Big 100 Colossal, Balance Satisfaction
  • Nut-free: AllerEnergy Bars, Metaballs
  • Peanut-free: Soy Rocks, AllerEnergy bar, Larabar
  • Protein bars (soy, whey, egg, or blended protein source): PowerBar ProteinPlus, EAS Myoplex Delux, High 5 Protein Bar, Maximuscle Promax Meal, Tri-O-Plex, Clif Builder's Bar, Detour Bar, Honey Stinger Protein Bar, Pure Protein
  • Raw food: Raw Revolution, Pure Bar
  • Recovery bar (4:1 carb:pro ratio): PowerBar Performance
  • Soy-free: Larabar, Perfect 10, Clif Nectar, KIND Bar, Bumble, Gnu Bar, Raw Bar, Zing Bar, NRG-Bar, AllerEnergy Bar
  • Vegan: Pure Fit Bar, Larabar, Hammer Bar, Clif Builder's Bar, Pro Bar, Vega Whole Food Raw Energy Bar, Perfect 10, Soy Rocks Bar
  • Vitamin+protein-filled candy bar: Marathon Bar, Detour Bar
  • Women's bars (fewer calories; soy, calcium, iron, folic acid): PowerBar Pria, Amino Vital Fit, Luna Bar, Balance Oasis 40-30-30 Bars: Balance Bar, ZonePerfect

If you intend to purchase energy bars instead of more bananas and chocolate (soy) milk, consider supporting entrepreneurs who have developed yummy products: www.NRG-Bar.com, www.zingbar.com, www.SunValleyBar.com, and www.OlympicGranola.com. A dad (with 8 kids!), triathlete, and three dietitians will appreciate your support!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners, and soccer players are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. See also www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com.