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How to Choose the Right Protein Bar for You

How to Choose the Right Protein Bar for You | Evolution Nutrition | Expert Articles | 2/11/2016

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Whether you refer to them as protein bars, energy bars, nutrition bars snack/meal bars or food bars, these food supplements share one important factor: convenience. Nutrition bars serve a wide variety of purposes for different populations:

  • Pre- or post-workout nutrition for athletes or active individuals
  • Between-meal snack to quickly curb hunger or low blood sugar
  • Increase daily protein or calorie consumption
  • Meal replacement

Additionally, these power-packed food bars have been shown to potentially support weight-loss programs. Several studies have suggested that protein-rich snacking may boost satiety and actually help to facilitate weight loss. In a 2011 longitudinal study, researchers gave 17 men and women with type 2 diabetes moderately high protein snacks in the morning and afternoon (7 to 12 grams of protein) for four weeks, and compared the results with their normal eating habits for four weeks. The subjects who ate the two high-protein snacks lost a modest, but significant amount of weight (1 kg) during the four-week period. Significantly, researchers noted that the subjects' weight reduction occurred without changes in total energy intake.

The nutrition and snack bar industry has seen a dramatic rise in sales in the last five years, and many predict that this market will reach $6.2 billion in sales by 2018.

With so many bars on the market, how do you choose which one is right for you? Here are five key factors to consider when choosing a bar:

  1. Quality of ingredients – The first thing you should look at is the ingredient list. What type of protein, sugars and fat does it contain?
  2. Purpose and application to goals - Will these bars help you meet your goal, such as weight loss/gain, fuel or energy, or improved health? Will the bar replace or supplement a meal (regular meal or pre-/post-workout)?
  3. Brand reputation – Does the brand have a good reputation? Reading online reviews of protein bars can help you identify high-quality brands.
  4. Value for the money – How expensive are the bars? Protein bars typically cost between $1 and $3 each, depending on the quality and brand. Compare ingredients and claims to make sure you don’t sacrifice quality for cost.
  5. Taste and flavor – Does the flavor sound good to you? Obviously you’ll want to choose a good flavor, so you actually want to eat the bars. Take advantage of consumer reviews and ratings, as these can be a great starting point for choosing the best flavors.

Here is a breakdown of some of the top-selling and highly rated protein bars currently on the market (in no particular order):

*NET Carbs = Total Carbs + Fiber + Sugar Alcohols

1. Quest Bars

  • Flavors: 15
  • Bars (60g) contain:
    • Calories: Approximately 190
    • Protein: 21g
    • Carbs: 20 g (3-5g NET Carbs)
    • Fiber: 17g
    • Fat: 6-7g (2-3g saturated fat)
  • Macronutrient sources:
    • Protein source is whey isolate, which contains 90%+ of pure protein and amino acids, and has been shown to allow for higher rates of digestion and absorption.
    • Carbohydrate sources are prebiotic fibers and sugar alcohols.
    • Fat source is primarily from almonds, cocoa butter and palm oil.
  • Quest bars do not contain artificial fillers such as xylitol, glycerine and malitol.
  • Gluten free
  • Cost per bar: $2-$2.50

2. ISS Research Oh Yeah One Bar

  • Flavors: 8
  • Bars (60g) contain:
    • Calories: 210
    • Protein: 21-22g
    • Carbs: 23g (2g NET carbs)
    • Fat: 7-8 g (5g saturated fat)
  • Macronutrient sources:
    • Protein sources are a blend of whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate.
    • Carbohydrate sources are from sugar alcohols and fiber primarily with additional carbs from cocoa powder and fats/oils.
    • Fat sources are primarily from sunflower seed butter and palm kernel oil.
  • Certified Gluten Free
  • Cost per bar: $2-$2.30

3. Pure Protein

  • Flavors: 25
  • Bars (50 g) contain:
  • Calories: 200
  • Protein 21-22g
  • Carbs: 17-20g (8g NET carbs)
  • Fat: 4-5g (2-3g saturated fat)
  • Macronutrient sources:
    • Protein content is a blend of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate.
    • Carbohydrate content is from sugar, milk powders, sugar alcohols and fiber primarily with additional carbs from cocoa powder and fats/oils.
    • Fat content is primarily from nuts, nut oils, palm kernel oil and almond butter.
  • Several gluten-free options available
  • Cost per bar: $1.75-$2

4. Power Crunch

  • Flavors: 7
  • Bars/Wafers (40g) contain:
    • Calories: 200
    • Protein: 13-15g
    • Carbs: 10-12g (4g NET carbs)
    • Fat: 12-13g (6g saturated fat)
  • Nutrition sources:
    • Protein source is a whey protein blend from hydrolyzed whey protein, whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate.
    • Carbohydrates derived from enriched wheat flour, malted barley flour, sugar and cocoa processed with alkali fructose.
    • Fat source is primarily from palm oil.
  • Gluten-free options and flavors available
  • Cost per bar: $1.30-$2

5. Clif Bar Builder’s

  • Flavors: 5 basic flavors and 2 additional Protein Max bar flavors:
    • Calories: 280
    • Protein: 20g mostly from Soy Isolate
    • Carbs: 29-30g (approx. 20g NET Carbs)
    • Fat: 10g (5g saturated fat)
  • Nutrition sources:
    • Protein source is primarily from organic soy concentrate.
    • Carbohydrate primarily from organic sources (Ingredients #2-5 beet juice, organic brown rice syrup and organic dried cane syrup) and advertised as low glycemic.
    • Fat sources from palm kernel oil and nuts.
  • No gluten free options available
  • Cost per bar: $1.75-$2.50