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Do you know what's in your energy bar?

Choosing the wrong packaged meal can ruin your workout and your waistline.

All hail the energy bar — the seemingly sinless, slip-into-your-bag nutritional savior. The right bars can increase energy, fuel a workout and help muscles recover more efficiently. The only problem? The wrong ones are so loaded with excess calories and sugar, they’re basically supped-up candy bars. "As a rule, look for a bar between 100 and 200 calories that has 10 grams of protein to keep you full for two or three hours," says Georgie Fear, RD, of Precision Nutrition. For Fear's top picks for any bar-worthy situation, click through the slideshow above.

Want more pre and post-workout snack ideas? Check out our chart.

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  • Best for Breakfast

    Best for Breakfast

    A dose of fiber in the morning is ideal, says Fear. If you can't get it from a bowl of oatmeal, reach for a high-fiber Gnu bar. It packs nearly half a day’s worth of soluble and insoluble fiber (12 grams) to keep you fuller longer, aid digestion and stabilize your blood sugar to maintain energy levels. Pair one with a piece of fruit for a more well-rounded meal, and down a big glass of water to help your body absorb the bar’s nutrients. (available at gnufoods.com)

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  • Best for Lunch

    Best for Lunch

    On busy days when you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, grab a bar with more calories, healthy fat (the unsaturated kind) and at least 15 grams protein to keep you satisfied for hours. Clif Builders Bars contain about 290 calories and 20 grams of filling protein — more than a chicken breast! Still hungry? Have a piece of fresh fruit or a veggie as a side. (available at clifbarstore.com)

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  • Best Pre-Workout

    Best Pre-Workout

    If you’re noshing immediately before exercise, choose a smaller bar at around 100 calories that won’t sit like a brick in your stomach, says Fear. (Or just eat half of a larger bar right before your session and the other half immediately after.) That’s enough to keep you from getting hungry during your sweat session, but light enough so you have room for a post-workout meal to speed recovery. Try the Luna Mini Lemon Zest or Pria Bar Mint Chocolate Cookie. (available at lunabar.com and powerbar.com)

     

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  • Best Post-Workout

    Best Post-Workout

    Apres-exercise, choose a bar with the right combination of carbohydrates and protein to help muscles recover. Eating two hours after working out also helps your body restore its glycogen stores, so you can go hard again the next day. After cardio, shoot for a 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein, such as an original Clif bar. After a strength session, look for a 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein like a Balance Bar or a Luna Bar. (available at clifbarstore.com and shopbalance.com)

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  • Best Afternoon Snack

    Best Afternoon Snack

    When you hit the 3pm wall and can barely keep your eyes open, reach for a bar that’s lower in sugar and high in protein to prevent a sugar spike and subsequent crash like the Sweet and Salty Chocolate Almond Balance Bar Bare. A new study suggests that protein provides a better energy boost than carbs since it stimulates brain cells to keep you awake and tells the body to torch calories. (available at balance.com)

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  • Best for Travel

    Best for Travel

    Kind bars are made from just a few whole ingredients like dried fruit and nuts. The fiber and fat content will keep you full for long stretches, and they don’t have coatings that can melt and make a mess. The fiber-rich bars may also ward off irregularity and keep your stomach settled — a common traveler’s complaint. (available at kindsnacks.com)

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