A few years ago, I wrote a post about what I felt constituted a good protein bar. The criteria that the protein bar needed to meet was:
A – Had to be gluten-free
B – Had to have enough protein to be considered a protein bar – at least 20 grams of protein
C – Be free from artificial sweeteners and excessive sugar alcohols (which can cause a laxative effect)
D – Had to have more protein than sugar (not carbs)
E – The protein had to come from a high quality protein source – no soy protein.
At the time, I also had that it be casein free, but have since wavered on that point.
With that said, at the time, there was only one protein bar that met those criterion, Rise’s Almond Honey Protein bar. Over the past few years, other protein bars have come out that I’ve recommended to clients depending on their goals and today I will be listing 7 of those bars.
First, a number of disclaimers:
1 – A lot of these protein bars are not easy to find in your local stores. Specialized health food stores and Amazon sell them, but Amazon usually sells them at a high price for a protein bar ($3-$4 per bar).
If you live in Hoboken though, all of them can be found at Basic Foods (off of 2nd and Washington), except for Rise protein bar.
2 – Food should be your first go-to source for eating. These should be used as a crutch when needed and not as a substitute for food (this note is really for me).
3 – Some of these bars tend to have a lot of calories and really need to be included into your overall caloric intake. They are not “free foods.”
4 – Some of these bars are better for putting on muscle. Others are better at helping you to lose weight. Not all bars are good at every goal and will be discussed for some common uses at the end.
Lastly, these are the only protein bars I would personally eat. Those Gatorade ones, Protein Plus, Kind bars with added protein, MetRx, etc that you might find at your local gas-mart aren’t even options in my book. You can obviously eat them, but I don’t know much about them so I won’t discuss them.
With those disclaimers out of the way, I’ll give a quick synopsis of how I judge these bars:
A – Protein Quality. Does it have at least 20 grams of protein and if so, is the protein easily digestible
B – Amount of carbs and sugars. If the bar has 20 grams of protein but 35+ grams of carbs, most of which are sugar, that’s not a protein bar, that’s a candy bar with protein added in.
C – Quality and “naturalness” of ingredients. If there are processed fats, sugars, artificial sweeteners or the like, they should be factored into the overall score of the bar.
D – Palatability. Do they taste good and are easy to chew and eat.
The Protein Bars Ranked
1 – Organic Food Bar – Goji Berry Protein
This bar wins among all of the bars. It has 7 all-natural ingredients The carbs come from tapioca starch, has 22 grams of protein and only 6 grams of sugar. It has more potassium than sodium, which is rare for protein bars and is soft and chewy. It has no artificial sweeteners, sugar or sugar alcohols. The only thing they use to sweeten the bar is stevia, which is a natural sweetener and not bad in small amounts.
Overall, the protein bar quality itself is high, but the bar itself can taste quite bland (but not bad tasting) and it has a lot of fat (16 grams per bar) which isn’t necessarily bad, but is not great if you’re trying to lose fat.
Overall Score: A-
2 – Rise Almond Honey Protein Bars
This bar only has 3 ingredients – Whey Protein Isolate (best form of whey protein), honey and almonds. If you took one serving of each of those three things (a scoop of protein, a tablespoon of honey and a serving of almonds), you would have the same fat, sugar and protein content. For me, this is a great protein bar, but the consistency has not been there.
I’ve ordered some boxes and they’ve been rock hard and eating them becomes a test in jaw strength. Other times, they’re soft and chewy. The only other downside is that they can be greasy, but from a natural and overall quality stand-point, they are some of the best.
Overall Score: A-
3 – Gourmet Cheesecake Natural Protein Bar
This protein bar has 20 grams of protein, only 7 grams of sugar, 6 grams of fat and only 190 calories. It’s has slightly more potassium than sodium, which is low and I don’t mind the taste. Again, the taste isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s alright.
The biggest issues I have with these bars is that they can get very hard – like chewing on rubber and they have dried me out more than any of the other bars. For fat loss, these are probably the best (lowest in calories compared to total protein), but just be sure to drink a lot of water.
Overall Score: B+
4 – 22 Days Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar (Vegan)
This protein bar has a few more ingredients, but most of the ingredients are organic and is well formulated for a vegan protein bar. This bar has 20 grams of protein, 12 grams of sugar, but 34 total grams of carbs and no sodium.
I like these bars and used to eat them religiously, but are not good bars for losing fat. Also, on a personal note, these bothered my teeth more than any of the other protein bars (could be from the non-sprouted brown rice protein, but that’s speculation). Overall, the taste is alright, and it doesn’t become like a rock (which is good), but I wouldn’t say it was “delicious.”
Overall Score: B
From here on out, it’s harder to judge because they all of some strengths, but some glaring weaknesses.
5 – Quest Protein Bar
These bars are by far the best tasting bars, but I don’t know how they do it. They all have some amount of sugar alcohols, but it’s usually a small amount of erythritol, which is basically calorie-free and bypasses a lot of the issues sugar alcohols usually have (laxative effects and gas). Most have a low amount of sugar, and some are made without sucralose (but usually have more erythritol if that’s the case). Beyond the sucralose and erythritol, a lot of the carbs come from a prebiotic fiber, which should be good for you, but some flavors can be relatively high in sodium.
Overall, I think these are the best bars when you’re trying to lose weight, are the easiest of the 5 thus far to find (GNC’s sell them) and taste the best. With that said, they tend to be very sweet are the only bars that have caused a decrease in performance in the gym…granted, I was eating about 4 per day, but that’s besides the point.
Overall Score: B
6 – Epic Bars
These are meat bars through and through. The uncured bacon is only 15 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat and that’s it.
No carbs, no nothing. But it’s hard for me to justify recommending people eat bacon since the meat still produces more nitrates, despite none being added.
The bison is my favorite one, but only has 11 grams of protein and has 12 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbs. The turkey one has probably the best profile from a caloric stand-point, without it being bacon and has 14 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat and 9 grams of carbs.
With that said, the texture is off-putting to some people but they have improved the packaging so it doesn’t dry out as much as it used to. None of them have at least 20 grams of protein in them and I have some trepidation about recommending bars of preserved meats. These work better as a meal replacement if you have 2 of them, but then you’re spending $6+ on two small protein bars.
Overall Score: B –
7 – Vega Protein Bar
If 22 Days does vegan protein bars right, Vega does them ehh. These “protein bars” have only 15 grams of protein, but more importantly, have 5 sources of sugar that total 19 grams of sugar. Their saving grace is that they don’t taste bad (they shouldn’t with that much sugar) and have a sprouted brown rice protein (my issue with the 22 day protein bar). Therefore, as a post workout protein bar, they may work for people trying to put on muscle, but are not recommended for those trying to lose fat.
Overall Score: C
Best Uses for the Protein Bars
Best Meal Replacement Bars (in order and if ate with a plain non-fat Greek Yogurt):
Organic Food Bar, Goji Berry Protein Bar
Rise Almond Honey Protein Bar
22 Days Protein Bars
Two Epic Protein Bars (One bison, one turkey)
Best Bars for Fat Loss (in order):
Gourmet Cheesecake Natural Protein Bar
Quest Protein Bar
Epic Turkey Bars
Best Bars to help build muscle (added after a meal):
Gourmet Cheesecake Natural Protein Bar
Vega Protein Bar
Overall, as I stated earlier, these bars should only be used as a substitute when you need to (not want to) and different bars are better or worse for certain ends. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.