A topic that comes up with most clients is whether protein bars fit into a healthy lifestyle. Like any nutrition topic, there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer but there are some considerations to determine whether a protein bar is appropriate (and which bar to choose!).
As delicious and convenient as most protein bars are, I recommend reserving them as a meal or snack replacement when travelling or "in-a-pinch." Protein bars have saved me from hanger (ie. when hunger turns into hanger) on numerous occasions! Protein bars are a better option that a chocolate bar or fast food stop. A high protein and fibre bar can be a fantastic snack to fend off hunger and prevent over-eating at your next meal. A protein bar makes it into my bag on every road trip, flight, or camping trip.
When selecting a protein bar, I opt for the bars that are high in protein (duh!), low in sugar, and contain fibre. Below is an example I created that compares a Clif bar to a Kirkland protein bar. The Kirkland protein bar makes a better option for travel because it is:
- High in protein (aim for >15g of protein)
- Higher in fibre (aim for >5g of fibre - this bar is very high at 15g)
- Lower in sugar (aim for <8g of sugar)
I would really only recommend the Cliff bar as a quick source of energy (carbs) for someone who is very active. As an example, a client who is going for a long hike and needs light-weight, quick energy or a CrossFit athlete between events at a competition.
Before reaching for a protein bar, consider whether you could make a high protein and fibre meal or snack at home. Whole, unprocessed foods are higher in micronutrients and offer volume to keep you full and satisfied. In the example below, the plate of chicken, berries, and almonds is near equivalent to the Quest bar in terms of calories and macronutrients. However, the “real food” offers more volume (it weighs close to 5x as much as the Quest bar!) and has more micronutrients (including vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron).
If I do opt for a protein bar, I usually pick up the Kirkland protein bars as they are reasonably priced per serving but have a similar nutrition composition to the Quest bar. The Kirkland bars are about $1.25 per bar and most Quest bars are closer to $4. Unfortunately, a labelling error has the Kirkland bars off of the shelves. Hopefully when they return they restock them with some of the flavours that are available in the USA! (See photos below).
Other bars I enjoy include:
- Oatmeal Gold bar in the flavour "Natural" (a bit higher in carb but an awesome post-workout snack as they contain oatmeal! I recommend the "Natural" flavour as the other varieties are quite high in total carbs, fat, and calories. More than most people need for a snack!)
- Grenade Bar in White Chocolate Cookie
- ONE Basix bar (sweetened with Stevia and some find them easier to digest)
- Fit Joy
- Bup! bars
These brands can be found at a local supplement store or the pharmacy section of most grocery stores. Some gas stations (like Coop!) are starting to carry protein bars as well! This is fantastic as an "emergency snack" on a road trip.
- Protein bars can make a convenient snack or meal replacement
- Choose a bar that is high in protein and fibre but lower in sugar
- Consider reserving protein bars for travel or an “emergency snack” as whole foods will offer more volume and micronutrients to your menu