The Best Protein Bar for You
Scour the internet for the best protein bar, and you’re bound to end up with millions of results and still not much guidance. The supplement industry is confusing, and when you narrow it down to certain categories, like protein snacks or the best protein bar, it tends to get even more confusing. Why is that?
Well, not only is the supplement industry confusing by nature, but there are also a million and one options that all might be the best. It all depends on what they’re being used for. Gone are the days of nasty, preservative-packed protein snacks at every turn. Today, there are plenty of high-quality options from which to choose. Though, that’s not to say that the gross options aren’t still out there.
The key is to select the best protein bar for you and your specific goals. For example, the best protein bar for someone trying to gain weight is very different from the best protein bar for someone trying to lose weight. So, let’s break it down by the best protein bar for each fitness goal.
Why Use Protein Bars?
Protein snacks like protein bars are a great, decently healthy way to satisfy your hunger, but they’re also good for meeting your protein requirements throughout the day. So, whether you’re looking to gain or lose weight, most fitness goals can benefit from increasing your protein intake.
Protein plays such a significant role in meeting goals because it helps you maintain, protect, and grow muscles. Maintaining and even growing muscles is beneficial to all fitness goals because:
- more muscle means a faster metabolism, great for weight loss
- more muscle means weight gain is mostly from muscles
- increased muscle mass means increased strength and endurance
What do the Experts Say?
As you can see, protein is an essential part of your diet every day, and increasing your protein to increase your muscle mass can benefit you no matter what your goal is.
So, in general, experts agree that increasing your protein (if you’re not already eating enough to support your current activity level) can help you feel better and meet your goals.
How you meet those goals is up to you. However, the consensus is to do it through whole foods if at all possible. You’ll find this advice across the board, whether you’re talking to nutritional supplement experts or registered dieticians.
The difference is that medical doctors and registered dieticians are typically way heavier on the side of “just eat more chicken!” Experts within the supplement industry realize that most people need to spread their protein intake out over the day. Using things like protein snacks, protein supplements, and protein bars helps to fill the gap between the protein they’re getting from their whole foods and their protein goal.
Turning to these protein snacks and functional foods is perfectly acceptable to make your life easier.
Protein Snacks that Might be a Better Option
Suppose you can meet your protein requirements by adding one or two protein snacks per day; more power to you! Here are some ideas for some convenient protein snacks that are not protein supplements or protein bars.
Approximate Protein Content
½ c tuna salad and cucumbers
2 hard-boiled eggs and ¼ c cheese cubes
2 oz lunchmeat and 1 stick of string cheese
Celery and 2 tbsp peanut butter
Peanut butter smoothie with milk or milk alternative (2 tbsp and 8 oz)
½ c roasted chickpeas
1 c Greek yogurt
1 c cottage cheese
General Rules for Selecting the Best Protein Bar for You
Even if they’re adding a protein snack or two to their day, most people are still going to fall short of their protein requirements. In that case, it’s time to determine the best protein bar for you.
While selecting the best protein bar depends on you and your specific goals, you can apply some general rules to ensure you’re really selecting the best protein bar. They are:
- 10 grams of protein or more
- less than 10 grams of added sugar
- a reasonable amount of sodium
- whole foods near the top of the ingredients list
- no artificial flavours or colours
In addition to these general tips, you will, of course, want to consider any personal dietary restrictions such as:
- lactose intolerance
- gluten sensitives
People who follow a plant-based or mostly plant-based lifestyle will want to avoid animal product ingredients, while others with allergies or intolerances will need to look for those ingredients on the label.
Beyond applying these rules and then your individual considerations, let’s explore the best protein bars for specific goals.
The Best Protein Bar for Weight Loss
When considering the best protein bar for weight loss, we recommend something with a low calorie count and a considerable protein content. This means limiting carbohydrates and fats to reduce excess calories as much as possible.
We need a protein bar with low calories because losing weight ultimately comes down to consuming fewer calories than you’re burning on any given day. While we still want to watch that protein number and reduce the added sugar, calories were the primary consideration.
With that being said, the best protein bar for weight loss is the Built Bar by Built Brands.
The Built Bar contains just 130 calories and has 17 grams of protein. This information applies to the following flavours:
- double chocolate
- cookies ‘n cream
- salted caramel
- mint brownie
- cherry barcia
Beyond the calorie and protein count, the protein snacks contain just 4 grams of added sugar and have mostly whole-food ingredients on the labels. The one thing that stands out is that these protein snacks do contain sugar alcohols. While these are not nearly as controversial as artificial sweeteners, they can cause digestive upset in some people when consumed in large quantities.
The Best Protein Bar for Gaining Weight
Next, for those of us looking to gain weight (and assuming that weight is mostly from muscle), the best protein bar should have a significant serving of calories and a heavy dose of protein.
It probably makes sense that if losing weight comes down to a caloric deficit, the opposite is true for gaining weight. To gain weight, you must eat more calories than your body can burn in a day. To maximize muscle gain, you want to ensure you’re hitting your protein goals and applying significant time to putting your muscles to work.
So, the best protein bar for gaining weight is the Protein 32 bar by BioX. The Protein 32 bar contains a hefty 320 calories and 32 grams of protein. In addition, it also has 10 grams of fat and 36 grams of carbohydrates to pack on the nutrition to help meet your caloric and protein goals.
Another benefit of the Protein 32 bar is the 10 grams of fibre to help keep you regular, as one big roadblock to increasing calorie intake is ensuring you’re consuming enough fibre to prevent digestive upset.
The nutrition information here is similar for all three flavours. They are:
- fudge brownie
- cookies and cream
- peanut crunch
As with the Built Bar mentioned above, these protein bars do contain sugar alcohols, but that contributes to the low sugar content—each bar has just 1 gram.
The Best Protein Bar for Vegans
Vegans and vegetarians might struggle to hit their protein goals as well as their overall calorie goals. Plant-based diets are typically very micronutrient-dense but not very calorie-dense.
So, for this bar, we need something that has plenty of protein and plenty of calories, but not necessarily as much as someone trying to gain weight or replace a meal.
That’s why the best protein bar for vegans and vegetarians is the Protein Bar by Vega.
This bar, available in salted caramel or chocolate peanut butter, is certified vegan, which is obviously the most important factor here. In addition, it’s got a nice serving of 290 calories and 20 grams of protein.
In addition, it’s got 4 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fibre. This bar does come in a little over our sugar preference with 16 grams of sugar. However, Vega opted for nutritional sweeteners like cane sugar, tapioca syrup, agave, and molasses to sweeten instead of sugar alcohols. Some people will call that a win; it’s a personal preference.
The Best Protein Bar for the Keto Diet
The keto diet offers a particularly hard challenge to overcome when considering a protein bar. By nature, protein bars are very high in carbohydrates. Typically, when we use more whole-food ingredients, things like oats and flours, they raise that carb content.
The keto diet is an extremely strict low-carb diet, and at the same time, places a heavy emphasis on fats. This presents a problem for the average protein bar.
Fortunately, there is a keto-friendly protein snack available. It’s the Keto Wow Snack Bar by ANS Performance.
The protein snack bar is available in the following flavours:
- triple chocolate cake
- peanut butter chocolate
- lemon strawberry cheesecakes
- mint chocolate chunk
- salted caramel chocolate
- maple glazed walnut
All of the flavour options have roughly the same nutritional information, containing about 180 calories and a nice 9-gram serving of fats. In addition, they have just 4 grams of net carbs and 1 gram of sugar. At 8 grams of protein, they’re slightly below what we recommend for protein bars, but we need to make an exception given the specific keto rules.
The Best Protein Bar for Replacing a Meal
There are specific needs for people looking to use protein bars to replace a whole meal. While some people replacing meals might be looking to keep calorie content as low as possible in an effort to lose weight, that’s not our recommendation.
We always recommend using a well-rounded functional food, protein snack, or protein bar to replace meals. This means calories come from protein, carbs, and fats, similar to that of a whole-food meal.
For those reasons, the best meal replacement protein bar is the Mammoth Protein Bar by Mammoth.
As with other Mammoth products, these are mammoths of the protein bar world. Each bar contains roughly 320 calories, and while this might seem extreme for a protein bar when you consider the average meal, we’re still looking at a lower-calorie option.
Those calories come from 12 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fats, and 25 grams of protein. That’s what we call well-rounded. These bars do contain sugar alcohols, but just 4 grams of sugar. These Mammoth Protein Bars are available in chocolate caramel crunch or chocolate peanut butter crunch. The crunchiness of the bar adds a nice satiation factor for a meal replacement, leaving you feeling full and satisfied.
The Best Protein Bar for Whole-Food Diets
People who are very concerned with processed foods will want to stick with a protein snack that contains only ingredients from whole-food sources. This is a unique challenge in the protein bar space, as most foods in packages need to have a relatively long shelf-life.
The best protein bar for people who want as close to whole food as possible is the Plant-Based Protein Bar by SinFit Nutrition.
These protein snacks contain only the following ingredients (depending on flavour):
- roasted almonds
- pea protein isolate
- brown rice syrup
- dark chocolate
- soy lecithin
- natural flavours
The majority of these ingredients are probably things you have on your pantry shelf.
These bars are also vegan- and vegetarian-friendly and come in:
- almond chocolate
- cinnamon cashew
- white chocolate cranberry
The protein snack contains roughly 280 calories, 14 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, and 15 grams of protein. As with the Vega protein bar, these fall over our sugar threshold at 18 grams of added sugar. This is high, but again, when we’re avoiding sugar alcohols, it becomes hard to keep the sugar content as low as is preferable.
The bottom line is that protein bars can be an excellent way to increase your protein intake and hit those fitness goals. The question of the best protein bar for you comes down to evaluating your goals and then selecting a protein snack that fits.