Navigating the World of Protein Bars: Which is Best for You?
Protein bars are everywhere now: there are hundreds of brands and flavors, something for everyone’s taste. I don’t like to rely on protein bars, but with a busy training and work schedule, they definitely come in handy. But with so many out there, how do you know which to choose?
When choosing a protein bar, you first need to answer some questions: Is the bar going to be a general snack, pre- or post- workout snack, or addition to a meal? I suggest using bars as a meal replacement only once-in-awhile, for example if I have a really crazy day with just no time to eat a real lunch. However, I don’t suggest to ever rely on a bar as a meal replacement regularly.
-What are your training goals?
-What is the bar being consumed for: general snack, pre- or post-workout snack, addition to a meal, etc.?
When answering these two questions, it is important to be able to distinguish between different kinds of protein bars. The term “protein bar” is often used loosely, so what you think may be a “protein bar”, may actually not be. There are actually a few different kinds of bars: protein bars, carb/energy bars, and cereal bars. (There are also specified “meal replacement” bars made by dieting companies, but I’m not going to focus on those here.) How are you supposed to know the difference? Look at the Nutrition Label.
So when looking at the nutrition information of a bar, focus on 4 components to determine what kind of bar it actually is: calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
Protein bar: protein bars are ideal for post-workout fuel, and can also be used for additions to meals or added snacks. They are high in protein, moderate to low in carbohydrates, and moderate in fats. Grams of each macronutrient will vary depending on the calories in the bar and the brand.
Energy bar: If you ever see the term “energy bar”, think carbohydrates. Energy bars are better for pre-workout fuel, where the goal is to consume higher amounts of carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of fats and protein.
Cereal bar: I think of a cereal bar to be more of a carbohydrate and (sometimes) fiber bar, low in protein and often high in sugar and fat: basically another name for a granola bar. Like any bar, there are better and worse options. Cereal bars seem to be making an entrance into the fitness world, but I haven’t come across many yet.
Regardless of what “type” of bar you choose and what it is “meant” for, the most important thing is for you to be able to do, is look at the nutrition label and decide if it’s a good fit for your nutritional goals. I eat different bars depending on what my macros look like, how long my workout was, how much time I have to pack (or not pack) my lunch, etc. Above all else, I want my clients to be able to look at a product, look past the pretty packaging, and be educated enough where they can look at the nutrition label decide if the product is actually a good choice for them or not.
Things to be wary of:
Keep an eye on portion size: some bars, “cookies”, or “brownies” may actually contain two servings in one package. Additionally, look at sugar and fiber. It is fine and expected for a bar to have some sugar, especially if it is an energy bar. But there should also be adequate amounts of fiber, protein, and fat to even it out. As a rule of thumb. sugar should never exceed any of the macronutrients as an ingredient.
Sometimes a bar with extremely low or 0g of sugars may be appealing, but be mindful of where the sweetness is coming from. If consumed in high amounts, sugar alcohols (a commonly used alternative sweetener in bars) can cause GI distress, so just be aware of how much is present. Some people may be bothered by them, and some people may not. If you’re just having one bar here and there, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are having more than one bar in a day, or have a conditions such as ibs, be wary.
In conclusion, I think bars can be a great supplement to any healthy eating pattern – however it is 1) important to be able to look at a nutrition label and understand what’s going on so that you are making the best possible choice, and 2) not rely on bars for macronutrients. Like I said, they can be a great supplement to any eating pattern, but should not be the primary make-up.
So now to the fun part! Ryan and I basically got to taste test every bar (not every bar, but a solid percentage) sold at the Nutrition Shoppe! Here are the ones we tried:
The Complete Cookie (chocolate chip, funfetti, oatmeal cookie), Power Crunch (protein bar), Power Crunch (energy bar), FitJoy (birthday cake and iced brownie), FitCrunch (peanut butter, baked cookies, and funfetti), Quest (cookies and cream, cookie dough, smores), ON Cake Bites (birthday cake), Quest Hero (vanilla caramel), ONE (cookie dough and birthday cake), ThinkThin Protein (white chocolate), ThinkThin Protein & Fiber (cupcake batter), Garden of Life Organic Plant-Based Protein Bar (chocolate fudge), RXBAR (chocolate chip, dark chocolate sea salt, coconut) CLIFF (chocolate chip, peanut butter crunch, white chocolate macadamia).
Bars we liked the most (taste & texture): Power Crunch protein bar, Power Crunch energy bar, The Complete Cookie funfetti, CLIFF, FitCrunch, Quest, ONE, ThinkThin protein, RXBAR.
Bars we liked the least (taste & texture): FitJoy brownie & birthday cake, The Complete Cookie chocolate chip, ON Cake Bites, ThinkThin protein & fiber, Garden of Life Organic Plant-Based Protein Bar.
So there you have our taste opinions! There are SO many bars out there – we probably only skimmed the surface with the 20 or so that we tried. What are your favorites?! Not sure if the bars you choose are the right ones to fit in with your goals? Shoot me a message and I”ll do some digging for you!