Let’s face it: we all want to eat healthy foods, but sometimes it’s hard to find time to purchase and prepare balanced meals every day. It’s also hard to know how much protein, fat, vitamins, carbs, etc. we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So while sticking to whole, natural foods is ideal, sometimes we simply have to resort to a quick and easy form of nutrition. Enter, the protein bar. Protein bars are widely available in supermarkets and health food stores and come in an array of tasty-sounding flavors, making it easy to resort to when cooking just isn’t an option. They can be a great post-workout snack since they’re quick and convenient and can be tucked into your gym bag when you’re on the go. However, if you don’t know which one is right for you, you could be doing major damage to your diet. Some protein bars are nothing more than glorified candy bars, containing just as much (or more!) sugar and saturated fat. So how do you know which one to choose? There is a lot of online debate over which bars are worth your while and which ones aren’t, so I’ve conducted a little research of my own and come up with a handy guide to choosing the right protein bar for you based on your gender and personal fitness goals…
So you’re in the nutrition aisle…now what? The first thing you want to assess are your personal needs. The recommended daily value for protein is 50g, which is a good number to strive for unless you are highly active or weight training with the purpose of muscle-building. Consider how much additional protein you typically eat in a day, and find a bar that fits in with your daily intake. You will also want to consider the type of protein in the bar. Most protein bars are made up of soy (plant) protein and whey (animal) protein. While both provide benefits, if your goal is to establish lean muscle, you want to go with a bar offering whey protein.
Another thing you want to consider when choosing a protein bar are its calories, carbs, and sugars. Obviously, if you’re looking to lose weight, you will want to choose a bar with a lower calorie content. Women in general will want to pay attention to the calories as well, as many protein bars are designed for men and thus have way more calories and carbs than a woman’s body needs. However, you do still want a protein bar that includes carbohydrates. Carbs are vital for supplying our bodies with energy as well as helping our bodies to properly use the protein. Again consider the other sources of carbs you are eating daily, and find a bar with the right amount.
*Additional Note: If using a protein bar as a meal replacement, you will want one that offers a bit more calories, carbohydrates, and protein. If using as a post-workout snack, you may want to downsize.
I’m still not sure quite where to start…To better help you navigate the rows of shiny packaging emblazoned with pictures of cookies, chocolate bars, and whatever other baked goods these bars supposedly taste like, we’ve compiled a list of our best and worst picks for protein bars for both men and women.
For the women:
- Luna Protein: I love the Luna protein bars for several reasons. They clock in at less than 200 calories and provide a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin D and calcium, all which are essential to women’s health. Bonus: they taste pretty good too!
- Pure Protein: Pure protein bars are 180 calories, but provide a whopping 20g of protein with 4.5g of fat and 17g of carbs, making them the perfect post-workout snack. And with flavors like “Chocolate Deluxe” and “Smores,” they’re more of a delight than a diet.
- 2:1 Protein: These are a little harder to find than the above brands, but you can order them on their website. The bars offer a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs, and are available in 20-30g (protein) depending on your needs. With only 250 calories per serving, these bars are definitely worth a taste.
- Clif: Clif bars are great…if you’re a high-endurance athlete. Most of us don’t really need 40+ grams of carbs and 22g of sugar to get through a typical workout. Opt instead for the Luna bar; they’re made by the same company but with the average person in mind.
- Quest: Okay, so I’ll give points to the Quest bar for its excellent nutritional value and short list of ingredients. However, this one makes our “worst” list because quite frankly, the taste is awful. I’d compare the texture to something like a glue stick, and no matter what flavor you get, it tastes like cardboard. I guess one bonus would be that my jaw got a workout just trying to chew through the thing.
- Pro Bar Superfood Slam: These bars may be all natural, but they don’t provide enough protein or fiber to justify the 350 calories and 46g of carbs they pack in. For that, I’d rather just have a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger.
And for the men:
- Detour: Voted “Best Protein Bar” by Mens Health Magazine, Detour bars are packed with 30g of muscle-building whey protein. At just over 300 calories, they are also a good source of carbs, and are pretty light on the sugar. These bars get our “firefighter stamp of approval” for both taste and nutritional value.
- Supreme Protein: These bars were ranked “best” by Muscle & Fitness Magazine, due to a high level of consumer popularity. Available in two variations; one with 15g and one with 30g of whey protein, these bars also provide amino acids which help your body to break down and use the protein efficiently.
- Met-RX: This one is highly debated, but the reason I chose it was that not only does it offer 32g of protein (a blend of both soy and whey), but it also provides vitamins such as vitamin B, which helps replenish nutritional stores and energy post-workout.
- Muscle Brownie: While these are really tasty, you might as well just have the real thing. These brownies offer the same calorie count as our “best” picks, yet only 20g of protein, and a whopping 24g of sugar.
- PowerBar Protein Plus: These bars aren’t that bad, but there are simply better bars out there for men. At 210 calories and 20g of protein, you might need two of these to just replenish after a hard workout. Why not just grab a bar that packs enough of the good stuff?
*Ultimately, I can’t really tell you exactly which protein bar you should choose, because the right one for me may not be the right one for you. Use this as a guide, but do your research and pick the protein bar that fits in with your level of activity and dietary needs.