The number of protein bars on the market is incredible. They’ve become as prolific as candy bars, and in some health food stores there is often an entire shelf dedicated to them. Each bar proclaims they contain the purest protein in the highest levels, the most superfoods, and the most vitamins. They market themselves as exactly what you need for an energy boost pre-workout, or the nutrients you require for post-workout recovery.
The marketing is overwhelming and definitely confusing; but are protein bars actually healthy for you? Are they necessities to physical activity?
The truth of the matter is that many, many protein bars are worse for you than eating a candy bar. They are chock full of sugars, mystery ingredients, and fats that aren’t necessarily required for your pre- or post-workout regimes. Although many bars may look healthy, the real information is included in their ingredient list and in their nutrition facts found on their labels. If you turn a bar over and really take a look, you’ll find out everything you need to know.
What Are They Hiding?
First, protein bars have a very bad habit of containing extremely high amounts of sugar. Partially, this is because some companies feel they need to mask the flavor of their ingredients (like soy protein) which may not always taste great. If you look at the labels, some bars contain upwards of 30 grams of sugar! This is even more than a chocolate bar!
Secondly, how much protein does it contain? A good bar needs to have upwards of at least 10, and upwards of 20 grams of protein to make it worthwhile according to fitness experts. If the protein snack is being used as a meal replacement, higher protein levels are really important. In one study, the more protein consumed, the fuller participants felt and the longer they stayed satiated.
Thirdly, how many ingredients does it have? Just like other foods, the more unpronounceable ingredients there are, the increased likelihood that the bar is completely processed and unhealthy. Look for ingredients you can pronounce, and that you know. Whole foods are at the most basic level of exactly what your body needs to energize and to recover throughout your workout.
How To Find a Good Protein Bar
One factor in determining a good protein bar, is choosing the primary protein. If you are vegan or vegetarian, it goes without saying to inspect the label to ensure it is not derived from animal proteins. Some suggestions are soy, rice, pea and hemp protein sources. The most complex plant based proteins are soy and hemp, which contain the eight essential amino acids needed for muscle mass.
While it is true that many bars you’ll find will contain soy protein, and it’s also true that soy is a great option for vegetarian or lactose intolerant individuals, the general consensus is that soy is cheap, and not a great fit for many people. Soybeans are one of the most genetically modified plants on earth, and as such you will be hard pressed to find a non-GMO soy protein bar. The taste can also offend people. Seeing soy on the label can be a good indication that the bar contains low quality, cheap ingredients and that soy was added to simply boost the protein level. If you are vegan, vegetarian or lactose intolerant, try finding plant based alternatives to soy.
For protein sources outside of plant based ones, the most common are whey protein (derived from milk), casein protein (also a milk product), and egg-white proteins. They all have their individual benefits, but nowadays milk based proteins dominate the market. Egg white proteins are more expensive, but are cholesterol free, low in fats and carbs. Both whey and casein proteins are derived from milk, and are one of the best tasting sources on the market.
Whey protein can be processed almost immediately by the digestive tract, and therefore is a good instant source of protein. Casein on the other hand is absorbed much more slowly into the system. Keep in mind that while browsing the various protein bar labels, you may not see casein protein appear, instead you’ll likely see it called calcium caseinat.
Other ingredients to look out for are healthy fats, such as those from coconut butter which contain medium chain fatty acids. Another added bonus is looking for bars that are specifically high in fiber, look for at least 3 grams.
3 Healthy Protein Bar Suggestions
With all the garbage currently out there in the protein bar market, finding a few protein bars that are chock full of all the right ingredients while being high in protein is essential. Look for over 20 grams of soy free protein (if possible), under 13 grams of sugar, and a short list of other whole food ingredients. Healthy fats, and fibers are an added bonus!
This delicious 100 calorie protein bar is plant based, has only real ingredients, including chia seeds, oats and quinoa.
This superfood snack provides natural fiber, omega-3s, protein, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
It is 100% vegan, Kosher Certified, no gluten, no soy, no dairy, and non GMO.
3 grams of protein, 5 grams of sugar, 100 calories, 7 grams fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 1100mg of Omega-3s.
We also love their Vegan Superfood Protein Peanut Butter Bar which has 10g of protein and 7g of fiber.
Another plant based winner. Only four ingredients! And you’ll recognize all of them: sunflower butter, coconut nectar, pea protein, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. It is Paleo friendly, free of soy and gluten. Perfect option to fuel your body after a workout or as an afternoon snack.
Sunflower and Cinnamon flavor is delicious but they have other options as well.
15 grams of protein, 12 grams of sugar, 80 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber.
Top points for high plant based protein! It is gluten free and packed with great ingredients like chia seeds, flax seeds and cacao. Simply perfect and super delicious protein bar that will ensure you are ready for wherever life throws at you.
20 grams of protein, 15 grams of sugar, 290 calories, 10 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber.