I’ve always preferred chowing down on real ingredients to fuel my multisport endeavors—especially on long easy training days where my stomach is permitted to do its job correctly. If I could, I’d stop for pizza (haven’t we all at one time or another?), but my normal routes don’t usually include long lunch stops.

Don’t get me wrong—we love our gels, pills, and powders around here as much as the next person. On the last few miles of a long bike leg, when I down my favorite gel flavor (espresso), I pretend I’m having an afternoon coffee break and relaxing with a friend or a good magazine. It helps me re-start the mental engines and get through the last grueling miles.

But for the times in between, or the days at the office when I don’t have time to grab the really good stuff, these four innovative energy bars make fuel taste like it should: like food.

Pro Bar
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Warning: these bars pack a heavy-duty punch

Canadian National Triathlon Team coach Patrick Kelly introduced me to these bars in Maui while I was there writing a story on Olympic-hopeful Paula Findlay. Kelly saved LAVA photographer Donald Miralle and I from an afternoon bonk by offering us each one of these bars. Art Eggertsen, a natural food chef and snowboard fanatic living in Utah, created these bars in the late 90s to be a meal replacement while he was on the slopes. And he wasn’t kidding: the bars average out at about 390 calories each. When we received our samples, someone in the office joked that we could build a house out of them. Made from whole, raw foods, these bars are not only 100 percent vegan, but you can actually see the wholesome ingredients in them. 

The bars come in too many flavors to list (Cran-Lemon Twister, Koka Moka, and Whole Berry Blast are three of our favorites), as well as four Sweet & Savory varieties. Try a 12 for $29.99 deal here, or look for them at Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe, REI, EMS, and local coffee, bike and outdoor shops. LAVA readers can get 40% off by visiting www.theprobar.com/shop and entering the code EVENTS2011.

Bumble Bars
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Bumble Bars come in 12 different flavors

These chewy, slightly sticky bars are packed full of seeds, brown rice syrup, and the good fats your body craves. At around 200 calories each, they’re not as calorie-dense, and not as filling as the Pro Bars. Our favorites include Cherry Chocolate, Chai with Almonds, and Awesome Apricot.

The only issue with these bars is that they might get a little soft in the pocket of a jersey, in which case, we’d recommend rolling them up in a ball, cookie-dough style. Try a variety pack, or watch for them at your favorite natural foods store.

Pro Bar Fruition
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A spread of Fruition flavors

Pro Bar’s latest addition to its family of bars is a fruit-based snack with only 160 calories. It’s exactly like what I sometimes whip up in my own kitchen: a combination of pureed dates, oats, chia seeds, and cashews in 6 different flavors. Each bar provides two servings of fruit, four grams of fiber, and only two grams of fat. Available in Lemon, Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry, Peach, and Cran-Raspberry, there’s enough variety to keep things interesting Monday through Friday.

Breeze Bars
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Fresh from Boulder, these bars deliver a solid crunch

We’ve featured the Breeze Bars story here before, but couldn’t do a round-up like this without including Breeze Brown’s dig-your-teeth in crunchy bars. At 320 calories each, these provide just enough sustenance to get you through an early-morning 30 mile bike ride, or to hold you over until dinner after your lunch run. Fortified with flax, honey, and almonds, you don’t have to feel guilty about pairing this with a latte and pretending it’s a cookie.