Energy bars have their place in workout/health routines. That is, if you’re training for a marathon or something else equally intensive for more than an hour at a time. Here are some dietician-guided tips for getting the right nutrition to fuel your level of activity.

Energy bars and other energy products including chews, gels and sports drinks are marketed to people with an “active lifestyle.” Are they worth the hype?

They can be beneficial to certain people. Energy gels and chews are a quick way to get energy, calories, carbohydrates and in some cases, electrolytes. They contain things like glucose or fructose and other high-glycemic sources of carbohydrates. Those high-glycemic foods result in a quick blood glucose response. They’re great for fueling during strenuous exercise.

Sick? You've got our 24-hour guarantee.

Start here

Glucose? People with sedentary lifestyles don’t need any more of that, right?

Correct. So, those energy bars would be specific to someone exercising for more than an hour at a time and really training for an endurance sport – a 5K, half-marathon or marathon.

Are energy products all the same?

Chews and gels function very similarly. They contain those quick carbs we talked about. Bars are not recommended for during exercise; they’re more appropriate for before or after. They typically contain more fiber and more protein, so they’re not as easy to digest during exercise and can cause GI upset.

Some of these products are pricy. I’ve heard of people substituting something cheaper – grape jelly, a Pop-Tart or Skittles – as an energy boost.

Elite athletes may be successful with substituting those quick carbohydrates. If runners and triathletes want to try it – whether it’s a chew, a gel or a jellybean – they should try that during training so they know what’s going to work well on race day.

Most people aren’t training for hours. For the average person who exercises for 30 to 45 minutes, how should they fuel a workout?

The average adult is probably working out at a moderate to low intensity, which doesn't require fuel during that activity. For those people, it’s appropriate to consume a meal three to four hours before exercise.

The meal should contain complex carbohydrates such as beans or sweet potatoes, protein and nonstarchy vegetables like salad greens, peppers, onions, things along those lines.

If you’re doing a low-intensity exercise for 45 minutes to an hour, research shows that having a snack with protein and a carb before that workout can be helpful. That could be as simple as a piece of peanut butter toast.

For people who work out in the mornings, should they do that on an empty stomach?

There is research that supports fasted, or empty-stomach, exercise. And there’s research to support having nutrition, as well. Go with whatever you’re comfortable with.

What are some other energy-boosting foods for those of us who aren’t elite athletes?

Higher-quality foods sustain us longer than quick carbohydrates. Something highly processed, like the Pop-Tarts you mentioned, we burn through so quickly. We end up hungry again soon after and reach for Red Bull or something like that.

Choosing high-quality foods like lean proteins, a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can really improve overall energy levels.