The TRUTH About Protein Bars: Pros and Cons

Meagan SwansonDiet, Food, Losing Fat, ObesityLeave a Comment

In more recent years, protein bars have been given a bad rap – and for good reason: some bars are pure garbage and certainly fit the mold of a “glorified candy bar”.

BUT (there’s always a but 😉), there is a time and place for protein bars if you know what to look for.

Personally, I’m a HUGE fan of protein bars – I often keep one in my purse in the case I don’t pack enough food for work, I’m running low on energy, I have extra macros to fit in, or I’m going on a road trip/vacation. They’re one of my go-to’s for convenience, and they’re likely one of the first things you’ll see me grab in a gas station (where you’ll also see me reading the nutrition label – more on that below).

When going for a protein bar, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

1) What is the purpose of the bar: snack, pre/post-workout, or meal replacement?

If the bar is meant to be eaten for a snack (and you plan to eat again within an hour or two), stick to either half of a bar OR a full bar with around 150 calories. The Built Bar is one of the most macro-nutrient friendly protein bars I’ve come across to date.

If the bar is being used for pre or post-workout, make sure the dietary fiber is low (as it can leave you feeling a bit full/bloated and makes it harder to absorb nutrients post-workout).

2) Speaking of fiber, pay attention to the fiber content.

The recommended daily fiber intake for women is approximately 25 grams and for men is 35 grams. Dietary fiber helps you feel full longer and helps with digestion considering it can’t be absorbed by the body like other vitamins and minerals (it goes in, it goes out, so to speak).

However, too much fiber can lead to constipation and can interfere with absorption of important minerals and vitamins in other foods.

This is where the term “net carbs” comes into play. A protein bar with 20 grams of carbs including 10 grams of fiber has a “net carb” total of 10 grams, because only 10 grams of those carbohydrates will be absorbed by the body. But that topic is for a different day.

You can find more information about fiber purposes and requirements here.


3) Regarding types of carbohydrates, keep an eye on the sugar content.

THIS is where the bad rap really comes into play. When a bar claims to be a protein bar but contains 15, 20, 30+ grams of sugar, it becomes a candy bar with some protein (for reference, there are 20 grams of sugar in two Reese’s peanut butter cups – eat those instead in this case because they’re DELICIOUS).

Keep in mind, if there’s chocolate, cacao or fruit involved, the sugar count will be higher, and sometimes that’s okay. For example, Larabars are made up of all natural ingredients often including plenty of fruit. The cherry Larabar has 23 grams of sugar, but most of it comes from natural sources (dates and unsweetened cherries).

*The daily recommendations for sugar are 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 37 grams per day for men.*

4) Look at the protein content.

If the bar is truly a protein bar, there should be at least 10 grams of protein. I personally prefer closer to 15-20 grams per bar, but it ultimately depends on your protein goals.

Protein is an essential macro-nutrient, often referred to as the building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.

[Read more on macro-nutrients here.]

Recommendations for protein consumption range from anywhere as low as half of your bodyweight in grams (i.e. a 150 lb person would want to eat at least 75 grams of protein per day) to as high as 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (i.e. a 150 lb person would want to be eating 300 grams of protein per day).

I personally prefer somewhere in the middle, around 1 gram of bodyweight per day especially in a fat-loss phase.

*If your goal is to get protein in, the carb and protein content of the bar should be similar*

5) Pay attention to the carbohydrate content.

Carbohydrates are another essential macro-nutrient that is primarily used for energy. Because carbs are primarily used for energy, it’s important to take into consideration both the time of day that you are eating the bar, along with the activity that follows consumption.

If it’s later in the day, you’ll want the carb content to be a bit on the low side (20 grams or less) considering you won’t be expending a large amount of energy at the end of a given day. Something like a Power Crunch bar may be a good choice.

If you’re eating a bar prior to an intense workout or a long-distance run, it’s a good idea to eat a more carb-heavy bar (that is lower in fiber!) to help keep your energized throughout the duration of your exercise. Something like a Clif Bar is a good choice.

6) Prioritize real food.

This one is important. It is always a better choice to eat whole, natural foods than it is to eat processed foods. I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation, just try not to eat protein bars all day every day, okay? Okay.

Here are some of my FAVORITE, go-to protein bars:

  • Quest: The Smore’s bar has 190 calories with 7 g Fat, 22 g Carbs (14 g Fiber, 1 g Sugar, 4 g Erythritol [a.k.a. sugar]), and 21 g Protein.
  • ONE: The Maple Glazed Donut bar has 220 calories with 8 g Fat, 23 g Carbs (10 g Fiber, 1 g Sugar), and 20 g Protein.
  • Zone Perfect: The Chocolate Mint bar has 210 calories with 7 g Fat, 24 g Carbs (3 g Fiber, 14 g Sugar), and 14 g Protein.
  • Built Bar: The Coconut Chocolate bar has 110 calories with 4 g Fat, 13 g Carbs (6 g Fiber, 4 g Sugar), and 15 g Protein.
  • Clif Bar: The Chocolate Chip bar has 250 calories with 5 g Fat, 45 g Carbs (4 g Fiber, 21 g Sugar), and 9 g Protein.
  • Power Crunch: The French Vanilla Crème bar has 200 calories with 13 g Fat, 8 g Carbs (1 g Fiber, 5 g Sugar), and 14 g Protein.

Note: these are not affiliate links and this post is not sponsored in any way (though I wouldn’t complain! *subtle hints*), I just figured I’d share my favs with you. Enjoy!

Til’ Next Time,

Meagan