Protein bars are often confused with candy bars. In fact, some supposed “protein bars” have more sugar than a Snickers bar.
Good protein bars are healthy and are a perfect way to:
- Replace a snack and eat between meal replacement shakes
- Protein supplement after your workout, a healthy way to build muscle.
How to pick a healthy protein bar?
There are so many protein bars available on the market today. In order to find a healthy bar, we have to know what really makes a protein bar healthy.
I’ve defined a set of rules, like I’ve done previously for the meal replacement shakes.
The 7 most important features of a healthy protein bar
1 – High quality protein (minimum 5 grams)
Protein helps you feel full for longer and reduces cravings.
2 – Low sugar (8 grams or less)
The lower the sugar content, the better. If you’ve been following my site, you’ll know how I’ve been replacing added sugar and fighting sugar cravings with healthier alternatives.
3 – Low carbs (20 grams or less and containing at least 3 grams of fiber)
Low carb bars are ideal for weight loss purposes. Higher carbohydrate bars are ideal for after exercise and for athletes. Protein bars for after workouts should have between 20 grams and 30 grams of carbs.
4 – Low Calorie (Women 140 up to 200 calories. Men between 170 to 300 calories)
When replacing a snack, low calorie bars are recommended.
For after a workout, bars for women should be at least 300 calories and for men from 300 to 380 calories.
5 – No artificial sweeteners and no sugar alcohols
Artificial Sweeteners are not considered a healthy option by a lot of studies. Sugar Alcohols may result, for some people, in bloating, diarrhea or stomach discomfort and can cause sugar cravings.
6 – Contain healthy fats and be low in saturated fats (3 grams or less) with no trans fats
Healthy fats play an important role on your body. Low saturated fats are ok, but trans fats should be avoided.
7 – The fewer ingredients the better.
A good protein bar doesn’t need to contain lots of exotic ingredients. In fact, the best ones tend to have the shortest ingredient lists.
Would you like to know more in detail ? Read my “How to Pick a Healthy Protein Bar” article.
The Best Protein Bars
Knowing the seven most important features a healthy bar must have, here are my personal recommendations.
Ideal Bar Snack Replacement Chocolate Peanut Butter by IdealShape
Packed with 10 grams of high quality protein, only 7 grams of sugar, and a total of 140 calories, this is my personal recommendation for a protein bar for weight loss, especially for women.
It’s a low carb bar with only 19 grams of total carbs. It contains 5 grams of dietary fiber, which makes you feel fuller for longer, keeps your digestive system healthy, and reduces bloating.
No artificial sweeteners and no sugar alcohols.
Sweetened with Slendesta (a natural hunger blocker extracted from potato, lear more on my post “What is Slendesta”), making it tasty and satisfying.
Keeps you full for at least two hours. Don’t forget to drink a glass of water after you eat the bar to activate the hunger blocker.
Low fat with only 3.5 grams of total fat. Contains no cholesterol, and no trans fats.
This bar tastes very good, especially if you are a chocolate lover like me. I also recommend the strawberry yogurt flavor if chocolate is not your thing.
Since taste is very subjective I’ve searched other customer reviews and most customers are very happy with the taste. In fact, the taste is considered by many as one of the greatest things about this bar since a lot of the others don’t have such a good taste.
Compared to the other two protein bars on this list, this is the most expensive ($2.43 each bar). Although, considering the ingredients and the great taste, it’s really worth the extra money you’ve got to spend.
Slendesta is the best feature of IdealBar. It’s a natural sweetener and hunger blocker making this bar tasty and satisfying. You will feel full for two hours after eating.
It’s low in sugar and, after my 20 no sugar days, I only buy low or no-sugar products (my 20 no-sugar days story here). It’s dense, but not too difficult to eat
The taste of protein bars, like meal replacement shakes, may not be very pleasant the first time you try them but IdealBar tastes very good. If it’s your first time buying protein bars, this is your best option.
If you are looking to lose weight by replacing unhealthy snacks, this protein bar is my best recommendation. It’s perfect for midday cravings or as a meal delayer.
If you don’t like chocolate, I recommend you Strawberry Yogurt flavor. It’s also available Cinnamon Caramel Crunch.
Available at Amazon.com.
Quest Nutrition Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Contains 21 grams of high quality milk and whey protein and only 1 gram of sugar.
With a total of 190 calories and 21 grams of carbs, this is moderate carbohydrate bar and is my recommendation for after a workout.
High in dietary fiber, 17 grams per bar, it makes you feel full for a long period of time.
Sweetened with erythritol, stevia and sucralose. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, but Quest bars only contain one gram so it should not upset your stomach.
Contains healthy fats from real chocolate, cocoa butter, and almonds.
It’s gluten and soy free.
Not as tasty as IdealBar, although you’ll soon get used to the flavor. If it’s your first time buying protein bars, I would recommend you to try IdealBar first (my first recommendation), as the taste is better.
The bar costs $2.04 while IdealBar costs $2.43. It’s cheaper but, in my opinion, the extra 39 cents is worth it because of the superior taste of IdealBar.
21 grams of high quality protein and 20 grams of carbs makes this protein bar the best candidate for after your workout. The 17 grams of dietary fiber will definitely help you to feel full for a couple of hours.
I love the fact that’s very low in sugar, containing only one gram.
The healthy fats from real almonds and cocoa butter are also a very good feature.
Although it contains only very small quantities, the one gram of sugar alcohol may upset your stomach if you are very sensitive to this ingredient.
It’s suitable for people who are allergic to gluten.
The taste is not as good as IdealBar and it helps if you put it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds before eating to soften it up.
If you’re looking for an after workout bar, this is your best choice.
However, if you’re worried about the taste, I recommend you to try IdealBar.
Quest Nutrition Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is available on Amazon.com.
Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe
This protein bar contains 21 grams of high quality protein (milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate).
At only 3 grams of sugar, it’s a low sugar bar. Total of 180 calories, making this protein bar suitable for both men and women.
With 17 grams of carbs, it’s a good snack replacement but not the best bar for after workout.
No trans fat and only 4.5 grams of fat.
Contains four grams of sugar alcohol, so it may irritate your stomach.
It’s gluten free.
It has a flavor of dark chocolate so it’s not sweet. Like the Quest Nutrition bar, you’ll need to get used to the taste. It tastes pretty good chopped up and mixed with a natural yogurt! If you’re looking for more “friendly” taste, IdealBar is a better option.
Costing $1.16, this is the cheapest bar of the three. If you are looking for a cheaper protein bar, this is your best option.
The best feature of this protein bar is the price, only $1.16.
It’s low sugar and low carbs, making it a good replacement snack bar.
Some people get an upset stomach from sugar alcohol, and as this bar contains four grams, you need to consider this is you have a sensitive stomach.
Suitable for people with gluten allergy.
Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe is available on Amazon.com.
The Best Taste, Ingredients and Price.
When comparing the three best protein bars available on the market, it comes down to three things: Taste, Ingredients, and Price
In terms of taste, IdealBar is our winner. It has the better “friendly” taste and it’s the perfect bar for those trying protein bars for the first time.
Quest Nutrition and Pure Protein are recommended for those used to the flavor of protein bars.
The natural hunger blocker Slendesta used in IdealBar does an amazing job to make you feel satisfied for two hours. I started using protein bars to reduce cravings between meals so this, for me, is the winning ingredient.
Quest Nutrition Chocolate contains real almonds, the best protein quality and it’s gluten and soy free.
Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe is the lowest in carbs but contains sugar alcohols which, for some people, may upset the stomach.
Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe is the cheapest but, in term of overall price and considering the taste and ingredients, IdealBar is my winner.
Which Bar is the Best for You?
Are you looking for a protein bar to use for replacing a snack ? Is it your first time using protein bars? If so, IdealBar (available on IdealBar official site) is my personal recommendation.
Are you looking for an after workout bar ? Are you used to the flavor of protein bars? In this case, Quest Nutrition Chocolate (available at Amazon.com) is my recommendation.
Are you looking for a cheaper protein bar ? My recommendation if you are looking for the best value is the Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe bar, available on Amazon.com.
Questions and Answers
- Why are there specific protein bars for women?
Answer: Protein bars made specifically for women tend to be smaller than those made for men. Most men are more interested in things like building muscle, whereas women are usually more interested in losing or controlling their weight. A protein bar sold for women will invariably contain less carbs and fewer calories. You can think of protein bars for women as being “diet friendly” whereas bars for men are aimed at muscle building and post-exercise recovery.
- What is the difference between a weight loss protein bar and a post-workout protein bar?
Answer: When you buy a protein bar, it’s important to understand that not all bars are the same and, while they are all high in protein, some contain more carbs and calories than others.
As a snack, and during weight loss, you should look for bars that contain very low levels of carbs and virtually no sugar. Carbs and sugar can interfere with fat loss and contain unwanted calories.
In contrast, after exercise, your body is much better able to make use of the carbs you eat and they will, in fact, help speed up recovery and muscle growth. For that reason, post-exercise protein bars usually contain more carbs and more calories in general.
So, to summarize, for a diet-friendly snack, choose low carb protein bars, but for better post-exercise recovery, choose a bar that contains carbs and protein in similar amounts.
- Are homemade protein bars better than commercial protein bars?
Answer: I like store bought and homemade protein bars. They are both convenient ways to have a healthy snack between meals when you are too busy to make something to eat – such as when you are at work. Commercial bars can be expensive, and some contain ingredients that are not so healthy such as sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, whereas homemade bars tend to be more natural, but require time and energy to make.
Which is better? That really depends on your personal circumstances and preferences. If you want an instant snack and aren’t worried about spending $3 on a protein bar, commercial products are fine. But if you want more control over the ingredients, would like to save some money, and have the time to make your own, homemade bars are a better option.
For more on this subject, please check out my article Homemade vs. store bought protein bars.
- Do you have recipes for protein bars?
Answer: I really like homemade protein bars; it’s like having a cookie, only healthier! I often have one as an afternoon snack with a coffee, or for breakfast when I need to eat something on the go. I’ve made lots of homemade protein bars. Some of them have been delicious, others have been horrible! After a lot of research, trial, and error, I have gathered all my favorite homemade protein bar recipes together, and am happy to share them with the readers of Days to Fitness. Check out my recipe collection on the Homemade protein bar page.
- Can I replace a meal with a protein bar?
Answer: Protein bars and meal replacement shakes contain similar amounts of calories and nutrients. This means that, yes, you could replace a meal with a bar instead of a shake. Just make sure that the bar you choose is a low carb diet-type bar, and not one designed for eating after exercise that contains more carbs and calories than you need.
For more on losing weight with protein bars, check out my article How protein bars help me to lose weight.
- Are protein bars good for you?
Answer: Assuming you choose good quality protein bars, and the bar is right for your needs, protein bars are fairly healthy. It’s important to remember that even the best protein bars are still a type of processed food, so while a couple of protein bars a week is no real problem, several bars a day is not recommended.
If you anticipate eating several bars per day, I think the best thing to do is make your own so that the ingredients are more natural. But, if you only have a couple of bars a week, good commercial bars are fine.
Discover How to choose healthy protein bars in this article.
- What is the difference between protein and energy bars?
Answer: Protein bars and energy bars look and even taste similar, but they are very different. A protein bar, as the name suggests, contains mostly protein plus, in some instances, some carbs as well. They make good between-meal snacks during a weight loss diet, and the ones with carbs are ideal for after exercise to speed up recovery and muscle growth.
In contrast, energy bars are mostly carbohydrate, and many contain a lot of sugar too. This means they give you lots of energy in a hurry, such as during exercise. They are not very good for use during a diet because all that sugar and carbs can interfere with fat loss.
So, to summarize: Protein bars are good for weight loss and the ones that contain some carbs too make an ideal post-exercise snack.
Energy bars are all about carbs and sugar and, are best kept for during exercise, but not if you want to burn fat when you work out.
- Can I combine my meal replacement shake with protein bars?
Answer: If you build your diet around meal replacement shakes AND protein bars, I don’t think you will be eating enough real food to be healthy. Sure, protein bars and meal replacement shakes are convenient and are fairly nutritionally complete, but they don’t contain all the nutrients you’ll find in real food. They are supplements which means that they should be added to a healthy diet, and are not a replacement for eating correctly.
If you have the occasional super-busy day where cooking and eating “real” food is impractical, I suppose it will be okay to combine meal replacement shakes and protein bars. But, the majority of the time, I think one or the other will be best.
- Why are protein bars made of protein?
Answer: Protein is one of the three food groups; carbohydrate and fat being the other two. Most snack foods contain carbs and fat – they are really easy to obtain. Just go to the store and buy a candy bar! Protein is harder to get. Protein foods include things like chicken, fish, eggs, and meat, and they are not readily available in a convenient form.
Protein bars make protein snacks portable and more readily available. This is good news because, of the three nutrients, protein is the most important for fat loss. Check out these seven facts for more details about protein bars.
- The protein bar I have is high in carbs. Is this a good bar for weight loss?
Answer: High carb protein bars are best for use after exercise to speed up recovery. The combination of protein, carbs, and calories gives your muscles what they need to recover and grow. Unfortunately, while that’s good after exercise, it’s not so good if you are trying to lose weight.
Carbs are not bad for you, but they can interfere with fat loss. Your body uses carbs for energy but, if you are mostly sedentary, carbs consumed at this time will be converted to and stored as fat.
The best protein bar for fat loss is one that contains very few carbs and next to no sugar. For more on protein bars and weight loss, please read How protein bars help me lose weight.
- Why some protein bars are high in carbs?
Answer: Protein bars that are high in carbs are mainly designed for use after exercise. The combination of protein, carbs, and calories help restore lost energy to kick start the recovery process.
When you exercise, you take a lot out of your muscles, and the sooner you replace those depleted resources, the sooner you’ll be able to exercise again. This is especially true after intense exercise like lifting weights.
If, however, you are more interested in weight loss, you’ll get much better results from a low carb, low sugar protein bar.