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Protein Bar Buyer’s Guide
Qualities of a Good Protein Bar
When making the decision to purchase a protein bar, there are several things that you should look for to make sure that the money you’re spending on them is in fact money well spent. In order to be considered a good protein bar, be on the lookout for these key characteristics:
Make sure that the bar has an adequate amount of protein in it. If it has less than 8 grams of protein in it, then it can’t really be considered a protein bar. This is recommended by registered dietitian Hillary Cecere, RDN of Eat Clean Bro, a meal delivery service.
Optimally, the bar should contain upwards of 15-20 grams of protein for those who are serious about their body composition goals. But 8 grams is the bare minimum that the bar should have. Otherwise it’s just a granola/candy bar at that point.
Not only should the protein bar contain enough protein in terms of the amount, but it also should contain the right protein from the right sources! When I say “right” sources, I’m referring to high quality sources of protein. These include sources such as whey, egg, brown rice, and pea proteins and avoids low quality sources such as soy.
Most of the higher quality protein bars out there on the market use natural sweeteners such as monk fruit, whole fruits, and stevia. They avoid sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and dextrose, a simple sugar that can be considered a filler ingredient. Oftentimes, these ingredients can give people gastrointestinal issues (1).
Make sure that the source of fiber included in the protein bar is of high quality. These include fibers from nuts, seeds, and oats, while avoiding cheap synthetic fibers such as soluble corn fiber and chicory root.
Daily Protein Needs
Protein requirements can differ amongst people according to a variety of factors. These include sex, activity level, and age. We’ll go over them briefly here so that you know exactly how much protein you need in order to reach your goals!
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein, according to the National Academy of Sciences, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This translates to 56 grams of protein per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman in the United States.
Many people don’t think of protein when it comes to weight loss, but it has been shown that increasing one’s protein intake to 30% of one’s calories (which can be simply calculated by multiplying your current calorie intake by 0.075) causes a drastic increase in metabolic rate; helping people to burn 80-100 calories more in contrast to their low-protein diet counterparts (4).
For those who are involved in endurance sports such as running or swimming, then 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram, or 0.5-0.65 grams per pound of body weight is required (5).
Older adults have significantly higher protein requirements than many people think, as they need more protein to offset the devastating effects of osteoporosis and age-related muscle-loss, also known as sarcopenia. This translates to 1-1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.45-0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight (6).
Types of Nutrition Bars Out There
Although not always explicitly stated, there are various types of nutrition bars out there. These can range from protein bars that cater to vegans to ones that can help you tack on some lean muscle. Let’s go over some of them briefly here:
These types of protein bars include non-dairy sources of protein, such as brown rice and pea proteins.
Lean Muscle/Mass Gain Bars
These bars tend to have more carbohydrates than their counterparts and approximately the same amount of protein, perhaps even more (it’s not unusual to see bars that have upwards of 30g of protein per serving.)
However, proper precautions must be taken especially with this type of protein bar. This is because the extra carbohydrates included in these bars can often come from “junk” sources, including dextrose, milk chocolate, among other cheap filler ingredients. Make sure that the extra calories that you’re consuming from these bars come from wholesome, quality ingredients such as oats, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.
These bars often have lower amounts of protein (somewhere between the 8-12 gram range usually) and higher amounts of carbs; sometimes even higher amounts than the ones in lean muscle/mass gain bars.
When looking at the carb sources, it’s important to realize that it’s okay for the bar to have more quickly digesting carbohydrates such as simple sugars. But it’s also important for the bar to have this in combination with those slower digesting carbohydrates that we were discussing earlier, like oats and seeds.
If the bar does contain any substantial amount of fat, it should come from sources that have been shown to provide sustainable amounts of energy, such as from MCT’s (7)
How to Pick the Right Protein Bar for Your Needs
There are so many different protein bars out there, it’s understandable why it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. That’s why it’s very important to determine what your goals are when picking out a protein bar. Are you looking to gain muscle? Increase your energy? Knowing what you’re trying to achieve will help you to pick the protein bar that best suits your needs.
No matter what your reasoning is for choosing a particular type of protein bar, it’s vital to make sure that the sources of fat that are contained in your bar are coming from high-quality sources, such as MCT’s and polyunsaturated fatty acids (8)(9). However, bars that contain a bunch of saturated fat from milk sources and other animal products hints to you that the bar is of lower quality.
There are a vast amount of carbohydrates that companies can choose to put into their protein bars, so it can be tough to decipher which ones suit your goals the best. Make sure to avoid bars with too much added sugar. As a rule of thumb, anything with more than 13 grams of added sugars is too much for one serving.
The best sources of carbs will primarily come from whole grains such as oats and brown rice, as well as plant sources like peas and fruits. It’s okay if the manufacturer uses a small amount of added fructose (fruit sugar) to make the bar taste a bit better, but make sure that it’s towards the second half of the ingredient list. Ingredients included within an ingredients list are listed in order of the amounts that are contained within the product; from most to least. In this way, you’ll know that the majority of the product is not just added sugars.
Ingredients such as maltodextrin, dextrose, and waxy maize indicate red flags and should be avoided if possible. These are very simple, cheap sugars that act as filler content for the bar. It may make the bar taste good, but it’ll do nothing for your health. Those who are looking more into the “energy bar” market is where this rule of thumb varies a bit, as simple sugars are part of what constitutes the energy component of the bar in the first place. But again, it’s important to emphasize here that this should not make up the majority of the carbohydrate sources of the bar. It should contain a mixture of slow- and fast-digesting carbohydrate sources so that you have both quick, but also long-lasting energy throughout the day.
Given that it’s called a protein bar, the protein contained within it should be of high-quality, right? Depending on what you’re goals and dietary preferences are (any vegans here?), the source in which your protein comes from can vary, and that’s okay.
For animal-based proteins, whey protein isolate and egg proteins are best, but milk protein isolate is also acceptable as long as it doesn’t make up the majority of the protein content of the bar. Again, look at the order at which the protein sources are listed in the bar. Oftentimes, you’ll see the phrase “protein blend”, or something similar, followed by the protein sources listed in parentheses.
For plant-based proteins, brown rice and pea proteins are considered king. A combination of these proteins, possibly along with oat and wheat proteins, show great promise in being almost as effective as animal-based proteins (10).
Protein Bars FAQ
These are some of the most commonly asked questions about protein bars.
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Contents of this Article
- Protein Bar Buyer’s Guide
- Daily Protein Needs
- Types of Nutrition Bars Out There
- How to Pick the Right Protein Bar for Your Needs
- Protein Bars FAQ
- What are Protein Bars?
- What are the benefits of Protein Bars?
- What makes a protein bar a “healthy protein bar”?
- Are protein bars actually good for you?
- Are protein bars a meal replacement?
- Can Protein Bars fix a poor diet?
- Are Protein Bars a waste of money?
- When is the best time to eat a protein bar?
- Is it bad to eat protein bars at night?
- Is it OK to eat a Protein Bar every day?
- How many protein bars can/should I eat per day?
- What happens if you eat a lot of protein bars?
- Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t work out?
- Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t diet properly?
- Should I eat Protein Bars on days I don’t work out?
- Should I take a break from Protein Bars?
- Can you eat too many Protein Bars?
- Are Protein Bars safe to eat?
- Are there any side effects of Protein Bars?
- Do Protein Bars cause damage to the kidneys and liver or any other organ?
- Can I take a Protein Bar with other supplements?
- Should I take Protein Bars if I take Protein Powder?
- Are protein bars good for losing weight?
- Can Protein Bars increase testosterone?
- Do Protein Bars help you build muscle?
- Do Protein Bars give you more endurance?
- Do Protein Bars give you energy?
- Can Protein Bars make you stronger?
About the Author
Zachary MacDonald is a fitness professional with a Master’s Degree from The University of Tampa in Exercise & Nutrition Science. He is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), as well as an amateur bodybuilder in the National Physique Committee, the world’s largest amateur organization of bodybuilding! Email Zachary.