Engineered Sports Foods


Nancy Clark, MS, RD, an internationally known sports nutritionist and nutrition author, is a registered dietitian (RD). Nancy has a successful private practice located at Healthworks Fitness Center ( ), the premier fitness facility in Chestnut Hill, MA (617-383-6100). She offers nutrition consultations to competitive athletes, teaching them how to enhance energy, optimize performance and manage weight.

Her clients include many collegiate, elite and Olympic athletes from a variety of sports. Previously, she was Director of Nutrition Services at Sports Medicine Associates in Brookline, MA.

Nancy is a regular contributor and member of the Advisory Panel

Download PDF Version of Article

Engineered Sports Foods: A Primer

Remember water, bananas and defizzed Coke—the original sports fuels? Maybe not. They’ve been buried by a multitude of engineered sports foods and fluids created by the $2+ billion sports fuel industry! Since the 1970’s, when Gatorade was introduced, this business has mushroomed and continues to expand. PowerBar’s debut in the 1980’s and GU’s debut in the 1990’s bolstered the commercial sports food scene. Since then, a multitude of companies have jumped on the bandwagon to create niche fuels that appeal to a variety of athletes. There’s a product for every dietary need—gluten-free, vegan, kosher, lactose-free, fructose-free …the list goes on.

If you have ever felt confused by the plethora of commercial sports fuels from which to choose, you are not alone. Runners, cyclists and other athletes inevitably ask me “What’s the best energy bar? gel? sports drink?” I only wish I had the right answer! The best choice for one person may be lackluster for another. You simply need to experiment to determine which products are best for your body.

In general, commercial sports foods tend to be more about convenience than necessity. They can make fueling easier, and offer more benefits than you’d get from just plain water. If you are on a budget, take note: A daily quart of sports drink @$1.59 adds up to more than $570 a year. An equal number of calories from diluted, defizzed Coke might cost only 40¢ a day,$150 a year. (OK, add a pinch of salt, if desired…)

Certainly, there is a time and place for engineered sports fuels, particularly if you are a high-level endurance athlete who exercises intensely. But throughout the day, you should maintain a foundation of wholesome foods in the midst of the engineered choices. That is, you need not drink a sports drink at lunch, nor eat Jelly Belly Sports Beans for an afternoon snack. Be sure you add a few apple cores and banana peels to the litter from engineered sports food wrappers!

Below is a comprehensive (but unlikely complete) list of various types of assorted sports fuels and foods. Perhaps it 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…


*With sodium (and perhaps other electrolytes):

  • Gatorade, Edge Energy, Hydro-Boom!, GU2O, CytoMax, Clif Shot Electrolyte, Motor Tabs

*All natural without dye/food coloring:

  • First Endurance EFS, Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink, Hammer Nutrition HEED, Recharge

*Extra sodium (Good idea 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

*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

*Sports drinks for dieters (i.e., lower calorie):

  • PowerAde Option, Ultima Replenisher, Xtra LowOz, Propel, Nuun


(Test with these during training. They can taste very sweet and are common contributors to diarrhea)

  • Gu, Carb-BOOM!, Clif Shot, Honey Stinger (all natural)

*Extra sodium:

  • PowerBar Gel, Crank Sports e-Gel

*Added protein:

  • Accel Gel, Endless edge, Hammer Gel

*Added caffeine:

  • GU Espresso Love, Clif Shot Mocha, Cola and 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)


  • Jelly Belly Sports Beans (a jelly bean with sodium). Clif Shot Bloks (a soft gummi candy in a block), Sharkies (organic fruit chew), SPIZ (“liquid food”)

RECOVERY DRINKS: (Carbs with a little protein)

  • Amino Vital, First Endurance E3, EAS Endurathon, Perpetuem, PowerBar Recovery Drinks, Recoverite, Go Energy Drink, Endurox R4, Gatorade Nutrition Shake, Hormel´s Great Shake, GNC’s Distance, Clif Shot Recovery Drink. First Endurance Ultragen

ENERGY DRINKS: (Concentrated sugar, often with added caffeine):

  • Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster, Rebound-fx, Full Throttle

ENERGY BARS: (should be eaten for extra energy, not for a meal replacement):

*All natural/organic ((have no added vitamins or minerals):

  • Clif Bar, Peak Energy, Perfect 10, Clif Nectar, Clif Mojo, Lara Bar, Optimum, TrailMix HoneyBar, Odwalla Bar, PowerBar Nut Naturals, Honey Stinger Bars, Kashi Bars

*Granola-type bars:

  • PowerBar Harvest, Nature Valley Granola Bar, Quaker Chewy Bars, Nutri-Grain Bar, Fig Newtons

Women´s bars (fewer calories; soy, calcium, iron and folic acid):

  • PowerBar Pria, Amino Vital Fit, Luna Bar, Balance Oasis
    40-30-30 Bars: Balance Bar, ZonePerfect


  • Pure Fit, Lara Bar, Extend Bar


  • Clif Nectar, Pure Fit, Perfect 10, Lara Bar, Clif Builder’s Bar
  • *Gluten-free:
  • Perfect 10, Elev8Me, Hammer Bar, Clif Nectar, EnvirKids Rice Cereal Bar; Omega Smart Bars, Odwalla Bar, Clif Builder’s Bar , Extend Bar


  • JayBar


  • Pure Fit, Lara Bar, Hammer Bar, Vega Whole Food Raw Energy Bar, Clif Builder’s Bar, Perfect 10

*Low fiber:

  • Balance Bar

*Bars with caffeine:

  • Peak Energy Plus

*Vitamin & protein-pumped candy bar:

  • Marathon Bar; Detour Bar

*Recovery bar (4:1 carb:pro ratio):

  • PowerBar Performance

PROTEIN BARS: (Your choice of soy, whey, egg, or blended protein source):

  • PowerBar ProteinPlus, EAS Myoplex Delux, High 5 Protein Bar, Maximuscle Promax Meal, USN Pure Protein, Atkins Advantage, Tri-O-Plex, Clif Builder’s Bar, Detour Bar, Honey Stinger Protein Bar

MEAL REPLACMENT BARS: (offers 10-15 g protein, fiber, some fat, vitamins, minerals-but not really enough calories for a whole meal):

  • Kashi Go Lean Bar , Balance Satisfaction, MetRx Mr. Big, MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal