Full Guide: Picking the Perfect Protein Bar

Lately I’ve bee noticing one recurring theme pop up on my Facebook feed. 

It’s not single teenage moms talking about how strong, and independent they are, and how having their baby was the best thing to happen to them….. and then they follow it up with a post “anyone babysitting” each Friday night.

No.

I’m talking about my food friend Steve posting protein bars up on his Facebook Page.

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Who am I? I am Adam Foster, a bodybuilder who is passionate about food, and protein bars have a special place in my heart.

So why has Steve been eating protein bars? Well if you’re reading this, you probably follow him on Facebook… so you’ll already know. But, incase you don’t he’s looking to increase his number of protein feedings each day to maximise protein synthesis (MPS).

Wanna know why? This study goes into how multiple protein feedings can help maximise protein synthesis (aiding muscle growth).

Protein bars are such an easy way to do this. Open a wrapper. Eat it. Some of them taste pretty damn good too…. but be careful, some taste like ass.

Steve showed a picture of a protein bar I have reviewed. I am referring to my review of protein chox from Myprotein.

I’ve tried more than a few protein bars in my time…. and I consider myself quite clued up on knowing whats good, and what’s not.

There are a lot of misconceptions and confusion around protein bars.

Some people think it’s a free for all, and you can eat as many as you want because it has “protein” in the title… it must be healthy, right!?

That just isn’t the case.

Many protein bars are nothing more than glorified candy bars, with a higher protein content (some poor quality protein bars don’t even have a high amount of protein in!). There is nothing wrong with that. Some of these protein bars (I’m looking at you oh yeah bars) taste absolutely awesome! But they aren’t exactly what you’d consider ‘macrofriendly’. — They contain just as much sugar, carbs and fats as regular chocolate bars – but quite often people don’t realise this.

So, I got in touch with Steve, to ask if I could put my 2 cents on his blog about being mindful when buying protein bars, and what to look for.

Here we go!


1) Why Are You Eating Protein Bars?

Protein bars are designed; not as a weight loss bar or as a meal replacement bar. But, simply as a food item that contains protein. They quite often taste like chocolate bars, just with an additional amount of protein.

Before buying protein bars, or including them into your diet, ask yourself – why are you eating protein bars?

If you think it’s because they’re healthier than chocolate bars, or contain fewer calories than chocolate bars, then you’ll want to continue reading this article.

In my opinion you should eat protein bars because:

  • You want an easy way to include more protein into your diet
  • You like the taste of them

That’s it.

If you don’t like the taste of a protein bar, but are eating it because ‘it’s better than a snickers’, then you need to re-think your actions.


2) Check The Total Calorie Count

As I’ve mentioned quite often people will substitute a protein bar in favour of a regular chocolate bar. They think having ‘protein’ in the name makes it healthy.

A snickers bar is “naughty” but an oh yeah caramel bar is ok?

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CHECK THE CALORIES.

You might be shocked to discover that the protein bars you’re eating ‘to be good on your diet’ contain just as many – if not more – calories than regular chocolate bars.

A standard snicker bar contains the following;

  • 229 kcals
  • 11g fat
  • 30g carbs
  • 22g sugar
  • 3.2g protein

A chocolate caramel Oh Yeah Bar contains the following:

  • 380 kcals
  • 19g fat
  • 31g carbs
  • 8g sugar
  • 15g sugar alcohol
  • 26g protein

Total calorie content in the protein bar is far higher,  plus it contains more carbs and fats.

If you were to swap your daily snicker bar for this, you would actually be consuming 151kcals extra every day. Over the course of a month, this could be about a 1lb weight gain, based on calorie count alone.

So if you’re dieting to lose weight, contest prep, or are simply looking for an easy way to add more protein into your diet, then you’re going to get a whole more bunch of calories with this kind of protein bar, as opposed to eating your regular chocolate bar.

What should you do?

Check the labels! If you’re a regular chocolate bar eater, looking to substitute to a protein bar (and are wanting to lose weight) then ideally your protein bar should contain fewer total calories than what you’re eating now.

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If you want to add a high calorie protein bar into your diet, then make some room elsewhere, so it can fit into your macros. Want to learn more about macros and how many total calories you need then read this article.


3) Check The Protein Content

This also extends to checking the protein to carbs and fat ratio. If your protein bar contains less than 20g of protein, but 15g of fat or more, and more than 30g of carbs…. you’re buying a very expensive chocolate bar.

I aim to make sure whichever protein bar I’m eating has a minimum of 20g of protein, just so I know it’s a ‘quality bar’. Of course serving sizes differ, some companies sell ‘bite size’ bars – so the protein content in one of these is going to be smaller.

If however the carb content is over double what the protein is, then its a sign of a poor bar (at least in my opinion).– Why? Because you can basically go and buy some cereal bars, or breakfast biscuit bars that contain high amounts of carbs, and only a few grams of protein – would you consider adding them into your diet?

Note from Steve: I will add to this that if you’re eating a protein bar for the same reasons as me (to increase your servings of protein in the day to maximise MPS) then you want at minimum 20g, because anything less has insufficient quantities of leucine to get the effect you’re after.


4) Check for Sugar Alcohols

Ok – you’ve found a protein bar that is low in carbs, great! But before you get excited…. take a look at how many sugar alcohols it contains.

What are sugar alcohols? This is a type of carbohydrate that do not raise blood sugar levels*, and as such, does not have to be listed as regular carb content. — However some people can react badly to sugar alcohols. Symptoms can include cramping, bloating, wind, and an upset stomach.

They’re not “bad” but it’s just something to be mindful of.

Note from Steve: *I made a video A LONG time ago covering this, and it actually hold true to today so bear with my younger self and watch below.


5) Check The Ingredients

Some protein bars contain very few ingredients, which is good, for example Quest bars. However, others (think more of the chocolate based bars) contain a ton of ingredients.; from sweeteners to stabilizers, and anything in-between.

If you’re the type of person who avoids ‘junk food’ because of the ‘nasty’ additives and ingredients, then you need to read the ingredients list on protein bars to.

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Note from Steve: Remember guys although total macronutrients consumed are the key to body composition we must also take into account our food quality, in that if we’re not getting sufficient wholesome, non-processed foods in our diet we’re not going to be as healthy as we should or could be. Always refer back to the 80/20 rule, 80% of your diet should come from minimally processed foods i.e. not a shed load of protein bars.


6) Check The Price

I’m a cheap skate.

I think most bodybuilders are.

We need to consume so much food, we save any pennies we can. From buying in bulk, to buying online, a few pence saved here and there adds up to a lot when you’re eating as much as a bodybuilder does.

Most protein bars, especially those in high street stores are way overpriced. I’ll occasionally splash out on what I like to call ‘gourmet’ protein bars (things like oh yeah bars) but this is a rare occasion. Other than that, I begrudge paying more than £2 for a single bar. I’ve seen protein bars in Holland & Barretts for over £4. — What the hell!

What I like to do with protein bars is this:

  1. Buy a single bar to try it from a store, then if I love it.
  2. I’ll then buy a box of them online, because bulk buying is always cheaper.

If I ‘like it’ I’ll usually wait till a sale or clearance is on that particular brand, and then I’ll buy a box.

There’s so much competition in the supplements industry, just one glance across a Tesco shelf will show dozens of bars to pick from – never mind the dozens more you’ll find in specialist supplement retailers and online.


What Protein Bar Will You Buy?

This isn’t a post to scare you away from protein bars.

In all honesty – I think they’re great.

Here are just a few reasons why I think this:

  • They’re a tasty treat that provide extra protein
  • They’re portable (you can chuck one in your pocket or bag)
  • They’re super convenient, you don’t need water or a shaker, just open the pack and eat it
  • They’re quite satiating as you’re chewing and eating, unlike a protein shake that you just drink
  • They keep for a long time

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From my experiences, what do I recommend?

  • Dynabars from Protein Dynamix are a great lion bar substitute.
  • Quest bars are hailed online for being high in fibre, fairly low in fat and carbs, tasting good, and being available in loads of flavours. They’re probably my “go to” protein bar.
  • There are many other bars like this now including my bar zero (myprotein), victory bars  (Oh Yeah)– all fibre based bars (as opposed to chocolate)
  • Maxinutrition blueberry smoothie bars are hnnngggg. Forget the added protein, I’d eat these for the flavour alone.
  • Grenade carb killa bars seem to be all the rage at the moment. I think they’re “ok” but nothing spectacular.
  • For pure filthy taste and a high protein content, then Oh Yeah is the king…. they just contain a ton of carbs and fats to. Not ideal for dieting.

Ultimately if you’re looking for a bar that fills the above requirements and hits your preferences. 

What I like will differ to what Steve likes. What he likes will differ to what you like.

That being said, just keep an eye out on what people are posting about different bars. You’ll find some are universally hated (reflex bars) and others are loved by almost everyone (quest bars).

All you can do is try them, decide if you like them, and then fit them into your macros.


WHAT NEXT?

Do you need any help with the above? Do you have any questions you need answering?

Join my free facebook group or add me on snapchat (revivestronger) and ask your question there, I will respond asap. Or if you’re after more guidance on supplements you can get a Sports Supplement Ebook that you can download for free here.

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One more thing…

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