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If you’re looking to include more protein in your diet, protein bars are an easy and accessible way to get the protein you need while on the go. In the United States, we’re lucky to have a huge selection of products that are satisfying, great-tasting and with quality ingredients. Most brands, even have multiple products available in different flavors and presentation. Protein bars have become a great option for in-between-meals and post-training snacks.
For years, the use of protein bars was only associated with athletes and those looking to gain muscles. Now, is common knowledge that these products can have many benefits for everyone, and with increasingly faster lifestyles, they are without a doubt a very practical option. These products are full of nutrients and can leave you feeling fuller longer, a great way to help curb cravings. If you want to know more about these healthy snacks… Read on!
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 Our Selection: The Best Protein Bars Available on the U.S. Market
- 3 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Protein Bars
- 3.1 What are protein bars exactly?
- 3.2 What are the typical ingredients in a protein bars?
- 3.3 Are all protein bars equally healthy?
- 3.4 What are the differences between protein bars and whey protein supplements in powder form?
- 3.5 Do protein bars actually help increase muscle mass?
- 3.6 Who would benefit from the use of protein bars?
- 3.7 Why are protein bars recommended for weight loss?
- 3.8 What is the recommended daily intake for protein bars?
- 3.9 Can a protein bar replace a main meal?
- 3.10 Can people with diabetes have protein bars?
- 3.11 Who should stay away from consuming protein bars?
- 3.12 What types of protein bars are there?
- 4 Buyer’s Guide
- 5 Summary
- Protein bars are not only loaded with good protein, most of them also have a high content of good carbs and healthy fats. Keep in mind that products with high protein and low sugar content will be the best option.
- Protein bars are made of either animal or plant based protein. Some of the plant based sources of protein are: peas, cashews, help and other seeds. Animal derived protein includes: whey protein, casein, and collagen hydrolysate.
- When protein bars are used as part of a balanced diet and adequate physical training, they can help increase muscle mass.
Our Selection: The Best Protein Bars Available on the U.S. Market
Be aware that a lot of protein bars available in the United States have the nutritional composition of a chocolate bar. You should always make sure the product you choose is a good nutritional supplement. To help you understand the makings of a good protein bar, in this next section we’ve included the 5 best protein bars available to Americans. We have also included a brief description of each one to help you compare their characteristics.
- Best Cookies & Cream Protein Bar
- Best Peanut Butter Protein Bar
- Best Non-GMO Protein Bar
- Best Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Bar
- Best Crispy Protein Bar
Best Cookies & Cream Protein Bar
The crave-able, delicious cookies & cream flavored protein bar by Quest is a high protein, low carb bar that is the perfect pre or post-workout snack to help you get the caloric power you need to support you during your activity. It contains custom-made sugar-free white chocolate bits and cookie chunks throughout the bar for a delectable and satisfying texture. It has 0.74 oz. of protein, 0.14 oz. of net carbs and 0.53 oz. of fiber per bar.
Because it has no added sugar, it is Keto friendly as well as gluten-free. It’s great not only for those involved in the fitness world but for vegans or vegetarians who have trouble getting their full intake of protein per day. It’s also great for an on the go treat for kids during those busy days full of activities when there’s no time to prepare a full meal.
Best Peanut Butter Protein Bar
Every bite of the chunky, peanut butter bar by thinkThin is chock full of wholesome roasted peanuts covered in a delicious chocolate coating for an indulgent taste that satisfies the hunger in a compact, portable form. It contains 0.7 oz. of protein and is the highest protein-content bar, made for consumers seeking a multipurpose nutritional bar that can go from an energy-boosting snack to a meal replacement when paired with fruit.
It has 0 oz. of added sugar with no artificial flavors. It’s great for those on a low GI diet who need to watch their sugar intake. ThinkThin prides themselves in producing high-quality products that are GMO-free and gluten-free and Koshers with no artificial additives. Each box contains 10 Think high protein bars. The inner peanut nugget covered in decadent outer chocolate will make you forget you’re eating something healthy!
Best Non-GMO Protein Bar
The classically crave-able taste of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie comes in an easy to take with you, nourishing bar. Clif Bar has created a delicious chocolate chip energy bar that is made with all organic rolled oats. It will provide nourishment for sustained energy to support you while you move and workout. They have been purposefully crafted to deliver protein, fiber, and carbs to sustain active bodies.
This bar is the perfect energy snack to fuel up with before or during activity. It contains wholesome ingredients like nuts, dried fruit, rolled oats and real chocolate that are all non-GMO. Each bar contains 2.4 oz. of on the go energy that comes with an amazing taste. This is a great snack for both adults and kids with 250 nourishing calories in each bar. Consumers love this taste of this amazing energy bar.
Best Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Bar
If you are looking for a 100% all-natural, no additives and no funny business energy bar, RXBAR has created exactly the bar you’ve been searching for. They are known for making a powerful, energy-packed food product that contains the least amount of ingredients as possible. RXBARs are a whole food high protein bar made of egg whites, dates, nuts and natural ingredients like 100% cacao or blueberries to provide added taste and texture.
This bar contains 0.4 oz. of protein and gluten-free. Reviews have given this product 5 stars saying it is an energy bar of perfection. It is a real food item snack that posts its ingredients right on the front of the packaging. There is no added sugar, no gluten, no soy, no dairy, no GMOs and no B.S. Alongside the 0.4 oz. of egg white protein, this is 0.15 oz. of fiber to make up a total of 200 calories that provide you energy to support you during your workout or during hours out and about.
Best Crispy Protein Bar
This macro-friendly protein bar with the help you fuel your body by providing you with 230-240 nutrient-dense calories. It is made of a premium protein blend that contains 0.7 oz. of protein-packed whey isolate, whey protein concentrate, and milk protein concentrate. Satisfy your sweet tooth while taking in less than 0.15 oz. of sugar. It has a delicious crunchy peanut butter flavor that will satisfy any cravings while keeping your calorie count in check.
This energy bar is conveniently made and packaged for you to take with you anywhere that you go to support you and your health and fitness goals. It has a dense, satisfying rice crispy treat texture with Reese’s peanut butter taste that will make you forget you’re eating a protein bar. Each box comes with 12 protein bars. BSN offers a number of different flavors that let you keep your tastebuds entertained.
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Protein Bars
Knowing all the relevant information regarding these products will help you achieve your desired results. Keep in mind that even if you buy the best protein bar on the market, if you don’t consume it properly or in the right amounts, you’ll be sabotaging your results, and may actually even damage your health. To make sure you can make an informed decision, this next section includes all the relevant information one should know before buying a protein bar.
What are protein bars exactly?
Protein bars are food supplements made to help you increase your protein intake, in both quality and quantity. A good protein bar is made of high biological value protein such as whey protein, milk protein isolates, and concentrates, collagen, soybeans, seeds or peas.
A protein is considered to be of high biological value when it made up of all (or almost all) of the essential amino acids. If any of these amino acids are missing, those proteins cannot be synthesized to repair or build new tissue, this includes muscles.
In short, a good protein bar often combines high-value proteins mixed with other important macronutrients, like good fats, good carbs, and other dietary fibers. These ingredients are combined with other flavourful ingredients to create a tasty and nutritious food supplement.
Keep in mind that the quality and proportion of the sugars and fats, along with the amount of high-value protein in the recipe, will determine the nutritional value of the bar.
What are the typical ingredients in a protein bars?
Sadly, the majority of the protein bars in North America are part of the processed food category. Most of the components in these bars are far from natural. Fortunately, vegan bars are almost always made with 100% organic and whole ingredients.
Generally speaking, protein bars are often made with the following compounds:
- Proteins: A good protein bar will offer a high amount of quality protein. Either vegetable or animal. This ensures an adequate amount of all the amino acids which are essential to the proper functioning of the human body. These include: tryptophan, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, valine and lysine.
- Protein sources: Most of the protein in these bars are: Whey protein, milk protein, calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed collagen, soy protein, pea protein, hemp seed protein, among many others.
- Carbohydrates: In some cases, simple carbs are used to sweeten protein bars. However, in high-quality bars, polyols (sugar alcohols) are utilized. Polyols don’t damage teeth or raise blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.
- Fats: Most of the fat content in protein bars comes from the coating. These are usually made of a combination of oils and white or dark chocolate. Unfortunately, the oils used are generally saturated and hydrogenated fats (trans fats). This is to make them tastier, however, this does huge damage to the nutritional impact of the bar you choose.
- Food fibre: This element is super important to the overall outcome of eating a protein bar. Food fiber is responsible for the satiating qualities of the bar, which means the more fiber, the longer you’ll feel full. Another important function of fiber is that it slows down our bodies ability to absorb sugar, preventing spikes in blood glucose — specifically beneficial to people with diabetes or insulin resistance.
- Flavors and colorings: When speaking of organic or natural protein bars, foods with intense aromas and flavors are used to give taste and improve the smell of the product. Keep an eye out for processed bars, since these often contain an excessive amount of artificial and synthetic additives meant to improve their flavor.
Next, we’ll present you with a visual representation of the ingredients you may find in a protein bar, along with the nutritional value and health benefits:
|Protein||Whey protein, milk protein concentrate (whey + casein), milk protein isolate, calcium caseinate, egg white protein, hydrolyzed collagen, legume protein (peas), whole-grain protein (brown rice), seed protein (amaranth, quinoa, hemp).||Watch out for soy protein! Most soybeans are transgenic and chemical pesticides and fertilizers are used during cultivation.|
|Carbohydrates (sweeteners)||Sucralose, isomaltose, sorbitol, coconut nectar, xylitol, maltitol.||High fructose corn syrup, sucrose (common sugar), glucose.|
|Fats||Coconut oil, olive oil, cocoa butter.||Palm and palm kernel oil. Hydrogenated oils in general.|
|Other ingredients to provide flavor and aroma||Natural apple aroma, natural vanilla, cocoa, bitter chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and essential oils.||Milk chocolate, white chocolate, sweets, jellies, and processed sugars and preservatives.|
Are all protein bars equally healthy?
As with any food product, there are healthy and unhealthy options. Just looking at the table before you can notice that there are also healthy and unhealthy ingredients. At the end of the day, it will be up to each individual to look at the ingredients list of the product they choose and asses the nutritional composition of the food supplement. Always try to make sure the amounts of high-value protein are high and the number of processed fats, sugars, and artificial components is at a minimum.
What are the differences between protein bars and whey protein supplements in powder form?
The main difference between protein bars that contain whey and whey protein supplement powders is that the powder is often purely protein obtained from whey, and the bars generally mix multiple sources of protein (milk, collage, soy, etc.). Nonetheless, both of these products are made to provide us with the essential amino acids our bodies need to synthesize protein and build new muscle.
Because whey protein is digested and assimilated by the body pretty quickly, it is an ideal nutrient to ingest after training. Its fast absorption allows the amino acids in the protein to reach the blood very fast, allowing them to be used right away in the synthesis of new proteins and muscle tissue. This quality has made whey one of the most popular ingredients in protein bars.
Another popular ingredient in protein bars is casein (in the form of calcium caseinate), a slowly digested milk protein. The fact that it’s slowly digested means that it can prevent muscle loss by providing essential amino acids in the medium and long term. Ideally, find a product that includes both whey and casein, this way, you’re sure to have the necessary amino acids at all times.
If you want to understand the difference between protein powder and protein bars, check out the table below:
|Whey protein powder||Protein bar|
|Flavor||May be neutral or strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, etc.||Not available in neutral flavor. The most common flavors are: chocolate, caramel, vanilla and strawberry.|
|Form of consumption||Must be mixed with water, milk or vegetable beverages before consumption.||Ready to consume.|
|Minimum amount of protein per serving||0.74 oz.||0.52 oz.|
|Protein source||Cow’s milk – whey.||Cow’s milk (whey and casein), egg white, collagen, peas, seeds, soybeans.|
|Satiating capabilities||Low, it does not provide high amounts of fibre.||High, provides protein and fibre, both of which are key nutrients that work to increase satiety.|
|Digestion and assimilation of protein (and its amino acids)||Fast||Slow|
Do protein bars actually help increase muscle mass?
Protein bars guarantee that all the amino acids needed to synthesize new proteins and build new muscle are provided to the body and thus, the possibility of maintaining and increasing muscle mass is pretty much guaranteed. Nonetheless, keep in mind that without physical training it is actually impossible to continuously build muscle, even you’re eating protein bars all day every day!
Moreover, you should know that consuming the protein bar at the right time is an important factor that will affect your results. The best time to ingest a protein bar to support building new muscle is roughly 30 to 45 minutes after the end of your training session. It is during this time that the body will utilize the nutrients most efficiently.
During this metabolic window, the proteins in the bars are broken down into amino acids, which go to the muscle tissue to halt the muscle degradation started by physical exertion. During this time, these amino acids are also used to heal and regenerate damaged muscle fibers by synthesizing new muscle proteins. This is when muscle growth happens.
Who would benefit from the use of protein bars?
As mentioned in the previous section, these food supplements can help those following a training routine to gain muscle mass. Moreover, and even though exceeding the recommended daily intake of protein is not recommended, protein bars can also be beneficial to the following people:
- People who want to lose weight: Protein bars have a high satiating capacity, this is thanks to the high amount of protein and food fibers included in them. Moreover, protein bars are often sweet, and a healthier alternative to candy bars, helping you curb cravings.
- The elderly: Oftentimes, seniors may not get all the protein they need from their diet. This may be due to decreased appetite or difficulty chewing meat (one of the main sources of protein in North America). Soft bars are a good alternative for this demographic.
- Individuals who want healthy and nutritious snacks on the go: Protein bars can be stored at room temperature and taken anywhere. For this reason, they have become popular healthy snacks that can be kept on hand.
Why are protein bars recommended for weight loss?
As mentioned before, protein bars can play a big role in a weight loss diet. Their main benefit, aside from providing you with all the protein and fibers you need, is that they help you feel full for longer, allowing you to eat fewer calories throughout the day. Moreover, the majority of the protein bars out there are pretty tasty and can resemble candy bars, helping you curb your sweet cravings.
What is the recommended daily intake for protein bars?
Even though protein needs will greatly vary from person to person depending on their age, sex, physical activity, etc. We can generally agree that you should limit yourself to one protein bar a day (1-2 oz.).
Can a protein bar replace a main meal?
No, in no way can a food supplement replace a main meal, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A balanced and varied diet, rich in fresh and natural foods, is essential for maintaining good health.
Protein bars are meant to compliment your diet, not to substitute entire meals.
Can people with diabetes have protein bars?
This depends on the nutritional composition of the specific protein bar. In the U.S. there is an enormous variety of protein bar brands, with just as many products. It is your responsibility as the consumer to make sure you read the nutritional information thoroughly. Diabetics should look for bars that are high in fiber, low in carbohydrates, and those which contain polyols as sweeteners.
Who should stay away from consuming protein bars?
Even though protein bars don’t usually have negative effects in healthy people, we would recommend not exceeding the RDI. A lot of protein bars in the United States will include disclosures on their labels that say something along these lines: “excessive consumption of protein bars can have a laxative effect.” This is often the result of the sugar alcohols in the recipe.
Moreover, it’s good to keep in mind that too much protein can overload the kidneys and liver. This means that anyone with kidney or liver issues should consult a doctor before taking up protein bars. Last but not least, anyone who suffers from lactose intolerances should opt for vegan products to avoid any negative interaction with proteins derived from milk.
What types of protein bars are there?
If we consider their ingredients, we can separate protein bars into two main categories: plant-based protein bars and those with protein derived from animal products. Animal protein bars use milk proteins (whey and casein), egg white, and collagen as sources of amino acids.
In contrast, there are also many bars which are suitable for vegans, these have proteins derived mainly from legumes, seeds or cereals. Both types of protein bars (as long as they are made with quality ingredients) have the capability of supplying us with all the essential amino acids.
By now you know that it’s not always going to be easy to find a healthy and nutritious protein bar. Despite the fact that they will include protein, often times they also have excess fat and lots of sugar added to boost flavor. To help you find high quality products, we would like to give you one last set of criteria to consider before purchasing one of these food supplements.
In North America, we can find protein bars in all sorts of flavors, the most common ones, however, are chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, caramel or vanilla. Because some bars out there may have artificial and not so yummy flavors, you may have to trie different brands and varieties to find the best protein bar for your taste.
At the end of the day, the nutritional load of the protein bar you choose should be the most important deciding factor. Make sure that the bar you choose has 0.4-0.5 oz. of high biological value protein per serving. Furthermore, look for protein bars that are low in sugar, rich in fiber and that have less than 0.3 oz. of fat per serving. Keep in mind that vegan bars may have a slightly higher fat content. However, this is usually not a big deal since these fats are usually unsaturated, which are much more beneficial to our organisms than saturated fats.
Unfortunately, protein bars often have the presence of allergens, regardless of whether they are animal and plant-based protein bars. The most common allergens found in these food supplements are peanut, soybean, gluten, egg, sesame seeds, and nuts. People suffering from food allergies or intolerances should always read the ingredients label carefully before eating any new products in order to avoid any possible complications.
People who want to eat a diet mostly based on natural and whole foods should opt for vegan bars since these are usually made with 100% organic ingredients — you don’t have to be vegan to benefit from these quality products! Moreover, these will be great alternatives for people who are lactose intolerant.
When consumed post-training, protein bars can encourage new muscle growth and faster muscle recovery. Ingesting these bars will guarantee you have an ample supply of essential amino acids. Furthermore, these food supplements can also be great tools for people wanting to lose weight, since they will help you curb cravings and stay full for longer. However, the opposite can happen if these products are abused or used incorrectly.
When looking for the perfect protein bar for you, be diligent and make sure the product you choose is made with good quality ingredients. A lot of the times you can find products that have more in common with a chocolate bar than a nutritious piece of food. Remember that at the end of the day, it is your responsibility as the consumer to ensure the products you buy offer you a good nutritional value.
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(Featured Image Source: jade-wulfraat-ZNog43hBeE8/ Unsplash.com)