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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:

Protein Amount

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.

Protein Source

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.

Natural Sweeteners

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).

Fiber Source

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!

Sedentary Individuals

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.

Muscle Gain

For those who are looking to gain muscle, this amount increases to approximately 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.7-1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. (2)(3).

Weight Loss

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).

Endurance Athletes

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

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:

Vegan Bars

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.

Energy Bars

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.

Fat Sources

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.

Carb Sources/Content

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.

Protein Sources

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.

What are Protein Bars?

What are Protein Bars?

Protein bars are a simple and convenient way to get in the protein and nutrients you need without having to get out all the pots and pans associated with whipping up both a delicious and healthy meal.

What are the benefits of Protein Bars?

What are the benefits of Protein Bars?

There are several benefits to eating protein bars, including:

  • Helping you reach your protein requirements throughout the day
  • Making it easier to reach your daily allowances of certain nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Allows you to reach your health, wellness, and fitness goals while living an “on-the-go” lifestyle.
What makes a protein bar a “healthy protein bar”?

What makes a protein bar a “healthy protein bar”?

This is somewhat of a difficult question to answer; particularly because everyone defines the word “healthy” in a slightly different way. However, I’ll try to clarify this question as best as I can.

First, it’s key to make sure that the bar that you’re eating does not simply contain a bunch of filler ingredients. What I mean by “filler” ingredients is that it’s filled with “junk”, for lack of a better term, that is inserted in there to simply make it seem like there’s a lot of good stuff in there, when in reality they just inserted a bunch of healthy-sounding ingredients they make it sound like a better product than it actually is. These include ingredients such as dextrose and maltose, which are types of simple sugars, as well as an absurd amount of soluble corn fiber, which is a cheap type of fiber, that when used in high amounts, can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Look for protein bars that primarily contain ingredients that you would eat on a normal basis, such as oats, peanut butter, and almonds. You know, foods that you can ACTUALLY recognize! See our Qualities of a Good Protein Bar section for more details!

Are protein bars actually good for you?

Are protein bars actually good for you?

As addressed in the previous question, this highly depends on what’s in the protein bar itself. The term “protein bar” isn’t regulated by the FDA. Therefore, the ingredients that are contained within them are not standardized; including how much of each ingredient is contained within the bar. So it’s difficult to address this question on a broad spectrum. Because of this, it’s important to recognize what is in the bar that you’re choosing to purchase. In this way, you’ll be able to determine if that specific protein bar is good for you.

Are protein bars a meal replacement?

Are protein bars a meal replacement?

Some can be deemed a meal replacement, while some wouldn’t really be ideal. Although the term “meal replacement” doesn’t have a formal definition, I believe that most people would consider it to have approximately the same amount of calories and nutrient profile of a small to moderately sized healthy, wholesome meal. So if we just throw some ballpark numbers out there as points of reference, if the bar is around 300-500 calories, has ~20+ grams of protein, less than 13 grams of added sugars, and at least 3-5 grams of fiber, than the bar could probably be constituted as a meal replacement. If the bar happens to fall short of these requirements, however, then you’re probably better off looking elsewhere for your meal replacement needs.

Can Protein Bars fix a poor diet?

Can Protein Bars fix a poor diet?

Just like with the addition of any supplement (although protein bars are technically considered a food item, but that’s beyond the point), nothing can make up for the lack of a good, solid diet. There is no quick fix, end of story.

Are Protein Bars a waste of money?

Are Protein Bars a waste of money?

One could say that some protein bars are certainly a waste of your money. Again, these bars are ones that are filled with those “junk” ingredients we were talking about earlier, like all those added sugars and other synthetic ingredients that you simply don’t need. You’re much better off spending your money on bars that actually suit your specific health and fitness goals which contain natural, wholesome ingredients.

So can some bars be a waste of money? Yes, of course. But that’s what we’re here to help you do; decipher between the garbage and the gold!

When is the best time to eat a protein bar?

When is the best time to eat a protein bar?

This is different for everybody, depending on various factors such as what your personal work schedule looks like, as well as when your mealtimes are throughout the day. Some people like to use these as meal replacements for their busy lifestyles, while others like to pair them with a piece of fruit for breakfast to get in some added protein in the morning. No matter when you prefer to eat a protein bar, as long as it helps you to reach your goals and it fits within your lifestyle, then the time of day in which you eat it is irrelevant.

Is it bad to eat protein bars at night?

Is it bad to eat protein bars at night?

Eating a protein bar at night is the same as eating any other food at night. It doesn’t matter, unless for example it gives you stomach problems and you wake up with a stomach ache in the morning. But as far as body composition effects go, eating a protein bar at night as opposed to the morning or afternoon won’t make a world of difference. So go ahead, indulge in that delicious protein bar as your pre-bedtime snack!

Is it OK to eat a Protein Bar every day?

Is it OK to eat a Protein Bar every day?

As long as it’s not taking away from your normal, healthy diet and you’re using it as a supplement to a healthy diet, then yes, eating a protein bar every day should be just fine.

How many protein bars can/should I eat per day?

How many protein bars can/should I eat per day?

Although there is no set limit, I would advise not to eat more than one per day. This is because you should view a protein bar as a supplement. It should make up a small part of your diet in order to help you reach your goals, but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet. When that happens, it starts to take away from the healthy foods that you’d normally eat throughout the day if you didn’t have the protein bars, which may create nutritional gaps in your diet.

What happens if you eat a lot of protein bars?

What happens if you eat a lot of protein bars?

While this does depend on the protein bar itself, most people will find that if they eat a lot of protein bars, they will get some sort of gastrointestinal upset due to the preservatives and other ingredients that give the bar its taste and long shelf-life. So as I addressed in the previous question, I would advise against eating more than one protein bar per day.

Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t work out?

Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t work out?

Protein bars are considered food, so you don’t necessarily have to work out to get the benefits that added protein and micronutrients provide.

Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t diet properly?

Should I eat Protein Bars if I don’t diet properly?

Again, as stated earlier, implementing protein bars into your diet does NOT give you an excuse to have a poor diet. Protein bars can help to augment the positive effects of proper dieting, but it will do absolutely nothing to mitigate the negative effects of a poor diet.

Should I eat Protein Bars on days I don’t work out?

Should I eat Protein Bars on days I don’t work out?

Eating protein bars on days you don’t work out is just fine. Protein bars are a part of your diet, not your training protocol.

Should I take a break from Protein Bars?

Should I take a break from Protein Bars?

It may benefit you to take a break from protein bars in order to see if you can address gaps in your diet first. Also, it may benefit you to take a break from your current protein bar in order to try a different brand of protein bar to see if that better suits your needs. But in terms of pure physiological effects on your body, as long as the protein bar hasn’t been giving you issues, there’s no physical need to take a break from protein bars.

Can you eat too many Protein Bars?

Can you eat too many Protein Bars?

Yes, you absolutely can eat too many protein bars, just like you can overeat any food. Too much protein in one sitting can cause gastrointestinal upset (SOURCE), as well as the preservatives that are commonly used in protein bars. Also, eating too many protein bars takes away from the quality of your diet overall, as it takes away from other healthy foods that you’d normally be eating.

Are Protein Bars safe to eat?

Are Protein Bars safe to eat?

Protein bars are a food product, so they are safe to eat for the general public. However, if you do happen to have concerns regarding whether a protein bar is safe for you personally, consult your physician.

Are there any side effects of Protein Bars?

Are there any side effects of Protein Bars?

Since protein bars are a food product, they don’t often contain side effects for most people. However, there are particular ingredients in specific protein bars that may or may not agree with you from a digestive perspective. The information included throughout this guide will help you to determine which protein bar is right for you.

Do Protein Bars cause damage to the kidneys and liver or any other organ?

Do Protein Bars cause damage to the kidneys and liver or any other organ?

No, there is absolutely no reason for a protein bar to damage any of your organs.

Can I take a Protein Bar with other supplements?

Can I take a Protein Bar with other supplements?

Yes, of course!

Should I take Protein Bars if I take Protein Powder?

Should I take Protein Bars if I take Protein Powder?

Adding another supplemental protein source to your diet begs the question of “Is your diet in check?” While there are exceptions of course, most of the time, if you feel you need multiple protein supplements just to reach your protein requirements for the day, there are adjustments that could be made in your diet first before adding another source of protein supplementation into the mix.

Are protein bars good for losing weight?

Are protein bars good for losing weight?

Protein bars can be good for losing weight as many of them have not only a high amount of protein, but also added fiber to aid in that feeling of fullness and satisfaction.

Can Protein Bars increase testosterone?

Can Protein Bars increase testosterone?

This is very unlikely, as there are no hormonal agents in protein bars that would help accomplish this.

Do Protein Bars help you build muscle?

Do Protein Bars help you build muscle?

If including protein bars in your diet helps you to reach your protein requirements for the day, then the answer to this question would be yes. However, this is no magical, direct method in which protein bars illicit a muscle-building response in the body, if that’s what you’re asking.

Do Protein Bars give you more endurance?

Do Protein Bars give you more endurance?

No, as there are no commonly-included ingredients in protein bars that have been shown to do this.

Do Protein Bars give you energy?

Do Protein Bars give you energy?

This depends on the ingredients included in the protein bar, but the short answer to this question is yes, they certainly can as long as they include the “right” ingredients.

For example, oats have been long touted to provide long-term sustained energy, as they are a form of low-GI (glycemic index) carbohydrate, which raises blood sugar more steadily and for a longer period of time in contrast to a simple sugar such as sucrose (table sugar), which causes a rapid rise-and-fall of blood glucose, causing what’s commonly known as a “crash”.

Can Protein Bars make you stronger?

Can Protein Bars make you stronger?

Again, if including protein bars in your diet plan helps you to reach your protein requirements for the day, then sure, they can make you stronger in an indirect fashion. But just as with the question regarding muscle gain, protein bars do not contain any sort of special ability to increase your strength all on their own.


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