If the thought of eating a birthday-cake-flavored gel during a long workout makes you sick, all hope isn’t lost. Sure, you can break into a bag of chips when you’re craving salt, but potato chips won’t fuel you through an Ironman. Fortunately, there are plenty of brands making fuel options that offer quick-burning carbohydrates without the cloyingly sweet taste. Here are ten options that range from semisweet to totally savory.
Skratch Labs Savory Miso Bar ($2.65)
Savory bars are more common than they used to be, but Skratch Labs sets itself apart from the crowd with one that’s formulated for an athlete’s energy needs: 27 grams of quick-acting carbohydrates, ten grams of fat, and five grams of protein in a 210-calorie serving. Popular meat-based bars have a fat-and-protein-heavy nutritional profile, but Skratch’s oat and tapioca-starch base offers the easy-to-digest calories your body needs midworkout. It’s flavored with miso, sesame seeds, soy sauce, ginger, shiitake-mushroom powder, garlic, and red pepper. All ingredients are vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO.
Muir Energy Sweet Potato Oregano Energy Gel ($2.25)
Muir Energy uses organic dehydrated sweet potato, oregano oil, coconut, and molasses to deliver 120 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates (with just one gram each of fat and protein). It’s designed to taste savory, but expect hints of sweetness from the sweet potato and molasses. Made in small batches in San Diego, you can mix and match with other flavors like blueberry-thyme or sunflower. The flavors are all vegan, gluten-free, and paleo friendly.
Mediterra Kale and Pumpkin Seeds Savory Nutrition Bars ($25 for 12)
With Mediterranean-inspired flavors, like kale and pumpkin seed or bell pepper and green olive, these gluten-free bars might be your new favorite snack. The base is a combination of pea protein and rice flour, and with five grams of fiber, they’re better suited to lower-intensity activities like backpacking or riding (compared to harder-on-the-gut pursuits like trail running). Each 140-calorie bar has nine grams of simple carbohydrates, six grams of protein, and eight grams of fat.
Gu Hoppy Trails Energy Gel ($31 for 24)
Gu’s new beer-inspired gel won’t go down quite as smooth as a cold one after a long ride, but it’s a good middle ground for those who find most gels too sweet. The flavor has a hint of citrus, cut with a little bitterness—something like a nice, light summer Radler. My gel-hating mountain-biker husband snagged one from a friend on a long gravel ride last month and immediately ordered a case.
Clif Mojo Bar Honey SriRocka or Fingerpickin’ BBQ ($14.70 for 12)
If you can’t handle another chocolate-chip or oatmeal-raisin bar, try Clif’s salty-sweet Mojo bars in Honey SriRocka or Fingerpickin’ BBQ. They’re as chewy and easy to digest as the original Clif Bars, but in refreshingly savory flavors. Honey SriRocka adds spice with red pepper and sriracha, and Fingerpickin’ BBQ packs a smoky punch, each clocking in at 210 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates per bar.
Picky Bars Moroccan Your World ($27.50 for ten)
Take a break from generic chocolate, vanilla, or fruity flavors with the Moroccan Your World bar. A blend of dates, pistachios, turmeric, and ginger give it a mild sweet-and-savory flavor profile. Sensitive stomachs may appreciate the ginger, which can help alleviate digestive issues, and the small, chewy bar packs 180 calories, including 24 grams of carbohydrates, into just a few bites.
Earth’s Best Organic Sweet Potato, Garbanzo, Barley Baby Food ($20 for 12)
Pouches of baby food are an endurance athlete’s best friend. They’re made out of real food, available in hundreds of flavors, and typically cheaper than products marketed as performance fuel. Earth’s Best offers 70 calories of pureed sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, and barley in an easy-slurp pouch that can fit in a jersey pocket. They’re ideal if you’re trying to eat more whole foods but still want something that will be easy on your gut while training.
Thunderbird Real Food Bar Hazelnut Coffee Maca ($31 for 15)
These hazelnut-coffee bars from Thunderbird have an ideal nutritional profile for long adventures like hiking or backpacking, each with 220 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of fat, and four grams of protein. Dates add the slightest sweetness, while cacao nibs, coffee beans, sea salt, and hazelnut round out the nutty, nicely bitter flavor. They’re also vegan and paleo-friendly.
Tailwind Nutrition Naked Unflavored Endurance Fuel ($25 per 30-Serving Container)
Like Gu’s Hoppy Trails, Tailwind’s unflavored drink mix isn’t quite savory (there aren’t really savory sports drinks on the market, unless you want to fill your hydration bladder with V8 and hope for the best). That said, it’s nowhere near as sweet as similarly calorically dense drinks. The unflavored powder provides 100 calories per scoop of efficient, fast-burning carbohydrates.
Do It Yourself
The easiest, cheapest way to enjoy a savory snack on the go? Make your own. You only need two ingredients for a quick and easy ride food: sticky rice and a drizzle of soy sauce, packed into bar shapes and wrapped in parchment. If you want to get a little fancier, chef Biju Thomas and sports-nutrition expert Allen Lim have an entire cookbook of simple recipes that use basic ingredients like rice and eggs to hit the right nutritional notes with a wide variety of flavor profiles.