Protein and energy bars are food bars with macro and micro nutrient content that varies significantly. They are very convenient, easy to carry around, consumed as needed and often very tasty.
Their price also vary from cheap energy bars having macronutrient content slightly better than ordinary candy bars to relatively expensive protein bars based on balanced protein blends, slow digesting carbohydrates, healthy fats, various fiber sources and reinforced with vitamins and minerals that can be used as meal replacement bars and that taste as good as candy bars.
Meal replacement bars are more expensive per gram of protein than good Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs), but are much more convenient.
As with many other things in life, there is no simple answer on this question.
Generally, protein bars ARE GOOD for you or any other individual that use them as part of good and well balanced diet.
For those who are on a strict and calorie restricted diet, protein bars are often great solution for a quick meal or a snack, thus avoiding being too hungry and staying away from fast foods. Also, such protein bars are great for fighting cravings for sweets and candies since they often taste as good as candies, but also have great macronutrient profile.
For those who are trying to increase weight, protein and energy bars are great and tasty solutions for increasing daily calories. Such bars can even have more sugar than bars used by people trying to lose some weight, making them somewhat cheaper.
People taking part in long lasting sport events or people who like outdoor activities, can use protein and energy bars as convenient meals and snacks that will make them satiated and provide required nutrients and energy.
Protein and energy bars generally have less protein per 100g of content than MRPs and whey powders, but they are ready-to-eat meals.
Macronutrient content of most popular protein and energy bars is given in the following table. Note: Bars are ordered according to the relative protein content (protein content per 100g of bars) .
|Brand/Flavor||Per Single Bar / Per 100g||Proteins||Main Protein Sources||Total Carbs||Fibers||Sugars||Sugar Alcohol||Total Fats||Calories|
|50g||21g||milk protein isolate, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate||17g||2g||3g||4g||4.5g||180kcal|
|50g||20g||whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate||19g||2g||4g||5g||4g||190kcal|
Chocolate Peanut Butter
|85g||34g||soy protein, whey protein concentrate||31g||<1g||1g||24g||6.5g||302kcal|
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
|50g||20g||whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate||10g||3g||1g||3g||17g||240kcal|
Peanut Butter Chocolate
|40g||15g||soy protein isolate||16g||7g||1g||-||5g||150kcal|
Peanut Butter and Chocolate
|54g||20g||soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate||20g||2g||10g||-||8g||230kcal|
Almond Fudge Brownie
|85g||30g||soy nuts, whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate||27g||4g||8g||13g||13g||350kcal|
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
|60g||21g||whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate||21g||17g||1g||1g||8g||190kcal|
Chef Robert Irvine FortiFX Fit Crunch Meal Replacement Bars - Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
|88g||30g||whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, soy protein isolate||27g||2g||6g||16g||16g||390kcal|
Matrix Pro 32 Vanilla
|80g||26g||milk protein, soy protein and hydrolysed wheat gluten||22g||1g||3g||15g||8g||247kcal|
|90g||30g||soy protein isolate, calcium caseinate, whey protein isolate||34g||<1g||30g||0g||11g||360kcal|
|61g||20g||soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate||27g||4g||12g||0g||5g||210kcal|
|ISS Research OhYeah! Victory Protein Bars
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
|65g||21g||whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate and calcium caseinate||28g||20g||8g||0g||6g||200kcal|
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
|63g||20g||whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate||28g||12g||5g||1g||7g||210kcal|
|80g||25g||soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate||35g||2g||15g||?||8g||300kcal|
Chocolate Peanut Butter
|72g||22g||whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, soy protein isolate||30g||1g||1g||17g||9g||270kcal|
Peanut Butter & Jelly
|85g||25g||whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, milk protein concentrate||33g||2g||5g||?||14g||350kcal|
|22 Days Nutrition Organic Protein Bars
Coconut Chocolate Chip
|70g||20g||organic brown rice protein concentrate||33g||12g||15g||?||12g||290kcal|
Almond Walnut Macadamia
Cookies 'n' Cream Caramel Crisp
|56g||12g||whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, soy protein isolate||30g||0g||20g||0g||9g||250kcal|
Chocolate Caramel Fusion
|55g||10g||whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate and soy protein isolate||30g||3g||15g||0g||9g||230kcal|
Double Chocolate Crisp
|65g||9g||soy protein isolate||42g||5g||21g||0g||5g||250kcal|
|65g||8g||soy protein isolate||45g||3g||25g||0g||3g||240kcal|
|60g||5g||oats, wheat, rice||45g||2g||19g||0g||3.5g||220kcal|
Main protein sources in protein bars are protein types that are often used in other protein supplements. They come with all their pros and cons:
- whey proteins are cheap and are often used as main protein source. They have high BV and their PDCAAS value is 1. However, they are digested rather quickly - speed of digestion is somewhat slowed down by other protein sources and other protein bar ingredients. Food and protein bars based on whey proteins are good for breakfasts (combined with complex carbs and other nutrients that will slow down the whey protein digestion) and as energy bars (most of the carbs are fast digesting simple carbs). Protein bars that combine whey proteins with other protein source like casein, egg albumen, milk protein isolate and similar can provide constant stream of nutrients for longer period of time.
- egg albumen protein isolates are very low on carbs, cholesterol and fats in general. They are not as cheap as whey proteins, but are high quality protein sources and are not digested as quickly as whey proteins, which is good for meal replacement bars.
- milk protein isolate is derived from milk and contains 20% whey and 80% casein. Casein is slowly digested and can keep one satiated for longer period of time. Milk protein isolate is more expensive than ordinary whey and can be often found in more expensive meal replacement protein bars that are great for breakfasts and daily snacks. Such bars often contain less sugar and higher amount of slow digesting carbs, fibers and healthy fats. To improve the taste of such bars and keep calories low, sugar alcohols are used (more on them later).
- casein is rarely added in the form of calcium caseinate or as part of milk protein isolate. It is slowly digested and provides sustained release of amino acids. Some people are intolerant to casein and they should generally avoid protein bars and protein supplements that contain casein and/or milk protein isolate. Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as casein intolerance and if you have issues with lactose, that doesn't meat that you (will) have issues with casein.
- plant based protein sources are derived from hemp, pea, soy, brown rice and similar plants. First of all, if you see soy protein as protein source, be sure that there is 'GMO free' label on the bar - European studies about GMO foods that last longer than three months have shown adverse effects (cancers, allergies etc) of GMO foods on various animals, while most of the US studies last(ed) at most three months. Anyway, plant based protein bars are often suitable for vegans, are often very low on potential allergens and are often gluten free. However, be sure to read the labels regarding content and allergy warnings. Note that plant based proteins have lower BV and PDCAAS.
- BCAAs and glutamine are rarely added to protein and energy bars, but can be very useful. When you find such bar, be sure to read the label very carefully, since manufacturers can add BCAA and glutamine just as marketing trick.
Carbohydrate sources vary from fast, simple carbs to sources of complex carbs like oats and similar.
Simple carbs are used as sweeteners and as quick energy sources in energy gels and energy bars. They are digested rather fast and they can increase blood sugar levels - such increase can cause insulin spikes leading to possible energy bursts and also energy crashes. That is why such energy bars must have sources of complex carbs, in order to prevent such crashes. Energy bars with carbohydrates coming mostly from simple carbs usually have proteins based on various whey proteins and can be used as food bars after workouts instead of Post Workout Meal (PWM) shakes in order to promote recovery and regeneration. Keep in mind that pure whey protein mixed with simple carbs is often cheaper and better solution for PWM shakes. They can be used before and during workouts and sports events to boost energy levels and increase performances.
As medium fast carbohydrate sources, dried fruits are often used. Such fruits also contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibers, while their content of proteins and fats is rather low.
Honey is used as sweetener too, but also as an ingredient that improve taste in general. Amounts of honey (if present at all) are rather low, so any beneficial effect of honey is negligible.
Low sugar protein bars have slow carb sources in the form of whole oats, whole barley and similar grains. They are slowly digested and they don't raise blood sugar levels, at least not much. They also don't provoke insulin spikes. Such bars are great as meal replacement bars for breakfasts and as daily snacks. If their main protein source is milk protein isolate or even casein, and have healthy fats from various nuts, then they can be used even as bed time meal. To keep such bars sweet and tasty with moist sensation when consumed, many manufacturers use sugar alcohols as additional sweeteners.
Sugar alcohols are alcohols prepared from various sugars. Such alcohols contain multiple hydroxyl (OH-) groups (one OH- group is attached to each carbon atom) and are often used as sweeteners. They do not contribute to the formation of tooth cavities since they are not metabolized by oral bacteria.
Many types of sugar alcohols are used as sweeteners in food processing industry and in sport supplements. Their relative sweetness, food energy and sweetness/energy comparison with common sugar (sucrose) is given in the following table:
|Sugar Alcohol||Relative Sweetness to Sucrose||Food Energy (kcal/g)||Sweetness/Energy Ratio to Sucrose|
Explanation: for example, Erythritol has around 81% sweetness of sucrose, but it only has around 0.2 kcal per 1g (sucrose has 4kcal/g).
Little bit of math:
4 kcal/g / 0.2 kcal/g * 0.812 = 15.248
That means that for the same sweetening sensation, one will consume 15 times less energy if erythritol is used instead of ordinary sugar. Great, right?
Well, sugar alcohols have few cons, too. First of all, consumption of sugar alcohols does affect blood sugar levels, although far less than that of sucrose, glucose and other similar sugars.
Sugar alcohols are usually incompletely absorbed into the blood stream from the small intestines and as many partially digested foods may also cause bloating, flatulence and diarrhea when consumed in larger amounts. For example, 50g per day for adults and 25g for children could be considered as daily limit. In protein bars, sugar alcohols are used in much smaller quantities. Also, in bars, they are blended with other foods and laxative effects are negligible. Only very sensitive people can have issues from single protein bar containing, for example, 5-10g of sugar alcohol.
However, if you are not used to these sweeteners, don't start with 5-10 bars per day :)
Common fiber sources in food bars are sources of complex carbs like oats, milled flax seeds, barley, hemp, peanuts, almonds etc.
Also, some manufacturers use psyllium seed husk, isomalto-oligosaccharides, inulins etc to increase fiber content without increasing calories (especially carbs). Such bars are very satiating and beneficial for digestive tract.
Energy bars usually have very low amounts of fibers - these bars are usually formulated for providing quick bursts of energy lasting 60-90 minutes. High protein bars have 3-8g of fibers per bar and sometimes even more - these bars are formulated to keep one satiated for longer period of time and slower digestion is desired - hence more fibers.
Note: if you are not taking enough fibers, don't increase their intake suddenly - do it over period of a week, for example.
Vitamins and minerals are very important for humans and some food bars are reinforced with additional vitamins and minerals. Levels are rarely above 25-50% of daily RDA for 2000kcal diet, except perhaps for vitamin C and other cheap, water soluble vitamins.
Energy bars often have sodium and potassium levels increased in order to replenish these minerals due to excessive sweating during sport and other, physically demanding events. High protein bars often have magnesium and calcium levels increased in order to make them more suitable as meal replacement bars. Iron is rarely added due to intolerances of part of global population to iron supplements.
However, don't relay on protein and energy bars as your main vitamin and mineral source - instead, use these bars as part of well balanced and varied diet.
Protein bars can be of great help in losing unwanted fat and weight. They are not magic supplement, nor such supplement exist. When they are used as part of balanced diet combined with regular exercises, results can be surprising.
Their main purpose is to prevent one in skipping the meals - having regular meals is one of the basis of good and successful diet. However, don't relay too much on protein bars - consume them when there are no other options and always try to eat regular food.
Second purpose of the protein bars is fighting various cravings for sweets during diet. If you are, for example, chocoholic, but you want to lose some weight, talk to your nutritionist and/or coach and tell him/her about your weakness - this way, purchasing high protein, low calorie protein bar coated with dark chocolate will minimize the damage of your cravings in the long run. Often, merely having a protein bar that taste like candy is enough to avoid it eating completely. Also, protein bars can be used as preworkout meal for boosting energy and moral before workouts.
If you need protein bar for weight loss, chose most affordable one with highest protein content and the flavors that you really like. Fighting cravings for chocolate with protein bar that taste like fruit mix, can be counterproductive.
Vegan protein bars are suitable for vegans, vegetarians (including lacto-ovo vegetarians) and generally for people having issues with health issues related to most common food allergies and other digestive problems.
Protein sources in vegan protein bars are derived from plants, mostly yellow pea protein isolate, brown rice protein, hemp protein and similar.
Individually, these proteins are NOT complete proteins and have relatively low Protein Biological Value (Protein BV) and Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), but when combined properly, their BV and PDCAAS increase and they represent a complete protein source.
Hemp protein products are often a good source of digestive fibers and healthy fats, making vegan protein bars a complete meal suitable for breakfasts and daily snacks. Vegan protein bars are also convenient as meals before and after workouts. This way, they increase daily protein intake when proteins are mostly needed, thus enabling stronger and harder workouts and faster recovery and regeneration after workouts.
However, vegan protein powders are cheaper source of vegan protein, so if you are not in a hurry, maybe you should consider powders instead of bars around workouts. Again, real food is a real food.
Note that vegan protein bars are often not as tasty as non-vegan protein bars and are generally more expensive. If they are cheap, read the label carefully before making a purchase.
When compared with proteins derived from milk and eggs, plant proteins often have grainy and sandy texture (and often same taste! :) ) and it takes effort to make great tasting vegan protein bar - hence, they can't be cheap.
If you are vegan, and you don't eat honey, again, read the labels, since some manufacturers use honey to improve taste of their bars.
Special protein bars are protein and energy bars that often lack some food in order to make them suitable for people having certain needs or issues.
Apart from vegan protein bars, there are also dairy free protein bars, peanut free protein bars, gluten free protein bars, sugar free protein bars etc. Their names speak for themselves - for example, peanut free protein bars don't have peanuts or products derived from peanuts (peanut butter for example) and are suitable for people who are allergic to peanuts.
Depending on the bar type, these bars can, but often don't have to be more expensive than other protein and energy bars.
Here are few external links for further reading (not only regarding protein bars!!!). These links open in the new window, so feel free to check them out.
- Protein metabolism in exercising humans with special reference to protein supplementation, Manninen, A.H. (2002), Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kuopio, Finland,
- Sugar Alcohols Fact Sheet - An International Food Information Council publication,
- Guide to Oats, Celiac Support Association,
- The science of muscle hypertrophy: making dietary protein count. PubMed identifier: 21092368.
- Association between protein intake and blood pressure: the INTERMAP Study. PubMed identifier: 16401814.
There are many great resources out there - problem with finding them is that often one doesn't see a tree from the wood :)
Of course, one should choose bars according to one's personal needs and preferences, since there is no 'the best protein bar' or 'the best energy bar'. Try few of them and choose which one suits your current needs.
And don't forget that although protein bars are protein bars, their calories adds up to your daily calorie intake and if you don't need those calories, they are going to be converted to - fats!
Latest protein and energy bars reviews and recommendations:
Pure Protein Bars are food bars very high in protein. They come in two sizes and several flavors. They are very popular protein bars due to high protein content and protein type, acceptable price and great taste. They are suitable for breakfasts, and as daily snacks, and they taste so good that they can be even used to fight sweets cravings during periods of diets :)
Published: December 20, 2019.
Quest Nutrition Quest Bar is very popular protein bar, with several good reasons - it is well balanced food bar, with whey protein as basic protein source, it is very low on carbohydrates, rich in fibers, it comes in many flavors and at acceptable price.
And best of all, it tastes just like candy!
Published: December 3, 2019.
MuscleTech Nitro Tech Crunch Protein Bars are one of the best tasting protein bars on the market, with excellent nutrient content. They come is six different flavors, each one tasting like a candy bar, a guilt-free candy bar.
Pure Protein High Protein Greek Yogurt Bars are tasty food bars with high protein content and acceptable macronutrient content in general. They are very similar to Pure Protein Bars.
Universal Nutrition Hi Protein Bar are good and tasty, high protein bars, suitable as meal replacement bars in many situations. They are relatively low on sugar and calories, especially when comparing with protein content.
Quest Nutrition Quest Cravings are protein bars with excellent taste and decent nutritional profile. They are supposed to help a person on a diet to fight various cravings (for sweets, for example), but they are so good that often one ends eating one of these bars, just because there is one around!
Simply Protein Bars are very popular vegan protein bars. These, low on sugar, food bars come in numerous flavors of acceptable taste and are suitable for diabetics and for people counting every calorie they consume.
ISS Research OhYeah! Protein Bars are well balanced protein bars suitable as meal replacement bars for breakfasts and as daily snacks. They come in two sizes and in many flavors and are for reason one of the most popular protein bars.
Olimp Sport Nutrition Matrix Pro 32 and Twister are balanced protein bars suitable as meal replacement bars. They come in several, great tasting flavors.
PowerBar ProteinPlus Bars are food bars that come in several flavors and sizes and can be used as protein and energy bars. Due to their content, they should be used for boosting energy levels before and during workouts and competitions and after workouts for faster recovery and regeneration. If needed, they can be used even as meal replacement, just be aware of their macronutrient content.
ISS Research OhYeah! Victory Protein Bars are very balanced, high protein, food bars that are gluten free and contain no sugar alcohol. They come as 65g bars in numerous tasty flavors and are suitable as meal replacement bars.
MuslePharm Combat Crunch Bars are high-protein food bars that come in several flavors and, due to their macronutrient content, flavor, acceptable price and other reasons, they are one of the most popular protein bars - globally.
Labrada Cookie Roll Bars are very tasty, high protein food/energy bars. They can be eaten when desired, but when served hot after 10-15 seconds in microwave, they are more candy-like delicacy than healthy, high protein meal.
Labrada Lean Body Bars are ready to eat protein bars suitable for daily snacks and/or quick breakfast. They taste great and are relatively low in sugar and saturated fats.
22 Days Nutrition Organic Protein Bars are protein bars suitable for vegans. They are based on plant protein blend, providing 20g of protein per single 2.6 oz (75g) bar or 5-11g of protein per single 50g bar.
PowerBar Recovery Bar are energy bars that taste great and come in one size and several flavors. What I personally don't like is high carbs:protein ratio, which is too high even for energy/candy bars.
PowerBar Triple Threat Bars are candy bars containing some protein. They taste great, are very affordable and if you like outdoor activities and longer sport events or physical activities, consider these bars as good and very convenient energy sources.
PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars are whole grain food bars that taste great, provide more or less constant energy, but are too low on quality protein and too high on sugars to be excellent meal replacement bars for any occasion. However, these bars are not designed to be meal replacement bars, but energy bars that will provide energy right from the start and provide it for longer period of time.
PowerBar Performance Energy Bars are food bars designed to be consumed prior or during sport event to provide energy burst in tasty and convenient package. Of course, many people consider these bars just a fancy candy bars, but they are not just candy bars. Although they taste like candies.
KIND PLUS Protein Bars are food bars with modest amount of protein, but they contain relatively high amount of healthy fats, good amount of fibers, they are low or free from common allergens and problem causing compounds and they come at affordable price.
Chef Robert Irvine FortiFX Fit Crunch Bars come in two sizes - Snack Bars and Meal Replacement Bars and several flavors. They are candy like tasty, protein bars, but due to relatively fast protein sources, they are not very suitable as meal replacement bars for keeping one satiated for longer period of time. However, they are excellent for breakfasts and daily snacks.
NoGii High Protein Nutritional Bar is medium size protein bar (1.90 oz; 54g) with very balanced nutrient ratio, which comes at very acceptable price and tastes well.
Also, it contains no gluten.
Gatorade Prime Fuel Bars are energy bars with low amounts of protein and fats and higher amount of various carbohydrates, sugars included. It is not suitable as meal replacement bar for breakfast and daily snacks, but it comes very handy for energy boost during prolonged physical activity and athletic events.