Are protein bars good for you? They’ve certainly become popular as an easy, go-to snack on the way to or from the gym, and for those days when you don’t have time for a meal. They can even be used as an aid to help weight loss. But are protein bars a healthy snack? Does it depend on the brand or flavor you buy? And, are some protein bars an unhealthier choice than a bag of chips or a chocolate bar?
Sometimes called energy bars, protein bars can contain a range of ingredients, from the healthy to the surprisingly unhealthy. While many of the best protein bars are packed with seeds, nuts and whole grains, some can also come loaded with added sugar and sweeteners – often to mask the bitter taste of some of their more healthy ingredients.
When it comes to choosing a healthy protein bar, knowing what ingredients to look for on the packaging, and understanding basic nutritional information, can help you make an informed choice.
This article takes a closer look at protein bars, their nutritional makeup, and what health benefits they provide. It also considers whether protein bars are the healthiest way to get the protein you need.
Are protein bars good for you: Nutrition
When it comes to how 'good' protein bars are for you, it depends on the brand of protein bar and what ingredients go into the bar. Most protein bars contain a good mix of ingredients that provide flavor and texture, such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit. They may also contain whole grains, such as oats. To bind these ingredients together, and improve the overall flavor, they may also contain sugar syrups, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, milk, eggs, or yogurt powder. Vegan brands may choose to use plant-based agents, such as soy or rice.
Given the variety of ingredients, it’s impossible to say whether every protein bar is good for you. But knowing standard nutritional information can help. According to the US Department of Agriculture (opens in new tab), an average 63g protein bar will contain the following nutrition:
|Amount||% Daily value|
|Total lipid (fat)||9 g||14%|
|Fatty acids||3.5 g||18%|
It’s important to note that not all protein bar manufacturers show their ingredients on the packaging. Some use a blend of ingredients that are kept secret from their competitors, so it can be difficult to know exactly what you’re taking into your body. Opting for protein bars that have a full list of ingredients will help you make a more informed choice.
Many protein bars use highly processed forms of protein to load their bars, instead of using less-processed foods. So you may notice ingredients such as whey protein isolates or soy protein isolates. If you want to avoid more refined and processed foods in your diet, you may want to give these a swerve and opt for bars that pack more protein from less-processed sources, such as nuts, grains, and seeds.
- Related: How protein powder is made
What are the potential benefits of protein bars?
You may be wondering if there are any potential benefits to eating a protein bar, and the good news is, there definitely can be. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common.
Many people use protein bars as an aid to achieving weight loss. Protein can help to have a “filling effect” on the body, curbing the urge to snack between meals or eat more than you need to at mealtimes.
A 2019 study (opens in new tab) into 62 overweight women in Korea looked at how having a daily protein bar reduced calorie consumption. Researchers found that, on average, the women reduced their daily calorie intake by up to 39%. They also achieved weight loss and improved their blood cholesterol level.
Protein bars can also be helpful if you need to pack on weight, for example, if you have a thyroid imbalance or find it difficult to make time to have regular meals.
If you need to increase your daily calorie count, a protein bar can give you around 250kcal extra a day – with some providing more. Although eating a protein bar is better than relying on fatty foods and sweet snacks, you should try to aim for regular meals and healthy snacks to pack on the pounds instead. But having a protein bar in your pocket can help it along. Just look for bars that have fewer refined and processed ingredients, artificial sweeteners and additives.
Adding protein to your diet can help you to gain muscle. This is because healthy, high-protein foods can aid muscles in repairing themselves after exercise, stimulating more muscle growth.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in new tab) advises eating up to 3g of protein per kilogram of body weight every day, to optimize muscle growth during high-intensity resistance training. Although it recommends opting for protein-rich whole foods, it also says that the best protein powder and supplements are a convenient and easy way to get more protein into the diet.
Some days you just don’t have time to sit down and eat breakfast. So, grabbing a protein bar before you head out the door can give you the energy you need to start the day. Just be sure not to do it every day.
- Related: Is breakfast important?
Convenient and quick energy boost
If you’re flagging after a gym workout or just need a mid-afternoon pick up, a protein bar can help to give you extra energy, quickly. Although you can get the same effect from a healthy snack, it may not be as portable and easy to eat on the go as a protein bar.
- Related: How does protein give you energy?
Protein bars: Drawbacks and considerations
Although protein bars can be a quick and effective snack to boost your energy levels and protein intake, it’s always better to meet your nutritional needs through a healthy balanced diet, using unprocessed, unrefined ingredients. It’s worth bearing in mind the following points, if you’re thinking of adding protein bars to your diet or increasing what you already eat.
- You can eat too much protein. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. That means the average 200lb man needs around 72g of protein a day. While that seems like a lot of protein bars, consider the other protein within your diet, from sources such as meat, fish, eggs and milk. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (opens in new tab) say that men between the ages of 19 and 59 are already eating too much protein.
- Protein bars can be expensive. If you have a habit of using a protein bar as your go-to gym prep or afternoon snack, the costs will mount up. With the average protein bar being between $1 and $4, you could end up spending more than $100 dollars a month. That’s probably more than your gym membership. Swapping your protein bar for a homemade, high-protein snack a few days a week can save you cash and make sure you’re eating a varied, healthy diet.
- Some protein bars contain so much sugar and refined ingredients, they’re not far off candy bars. Looking at the nutritional information on the back of your preferred bar can help you decide whether it’s right for you, or whether you need to swap brands. Better still, you can make your own protein bars at home, so you know exactly what ingredients have gone into them.
Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., Hoffman, J. R., … Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8 (opens in new tab)
Park, D., Lee, H. J., & Son, S. M. (2019). Effects of Low-Calorie Diet Including High Protein-Low Carbohydrate Protein Bar on Weight Loss and Serum Lipid Indicators in Overweight Women according to Dietary Compliance. Korean Journal of Community Nutrition. The Korean Society of Community Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.5720/kjcn.2019.24.6.485 (opens in new tab)