In a perfect world, we would all take the time to sit down to enjoy home-cooked, nutritious foods for every meal. Busy schedules make that quite a challenge, so grab-and-go eats can sometimes be a necessity. One of the fastest and most popular ways to speed through the dining process is to grab a packaged bar. While protein is certainly a crucial nutrient to stay satiated and energized, most protein bars are basically just candy in disguise.
There are some good choices out there, but most stores devote so much space to these bars that it would take you hours just to read through all of the labels. Things gets even more confusing when you consider how different goals can influence your nutritional needs. Never fear, because we’ve done the hard work for you. We spoke to three leading nutrition experts to help sort through all the options. Whether you’re looking to build some serious muscle or getting ready to run a marathon, one of these five bars is sure to meet your needs.
1. Looking to lose weight: STRONG & KIND Hickory Smoked Almond Protein Bar
When you’re looking to get a bit slimmer, protein bars featuring gooey caramel and chocolate coatings aren’t going to do you any favors. They’re packed with sugar, and will leave your stomach grumbling in an hour or two. “Satiety is key here,” said Dr. David Katz, MD and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “High fiber and high protein is the way to go.” Dr. Katz suggested KIND bars, which are made with nuts, fruits, and seeds. Though he’s now a senior nutrition advisor to the company, the advice still holds up.
In addition to its sweet flavors, KIND has also launched a line of bars for those who prefer something savory. We particularly like the Hickory Smoked Almond Protein Bar. With 10 grams of protein, plenty of healthy fat, and a reasonable amount of sugar, these bars could help you carve off a few pounds.
2. Gearing up for an endurance event: Clif Bar Banana Nut Bread
The war on sugar is gaining momentum, which is generally good news for guys who live an active lifestyle. But the sweet stuff isn’t always bad. “Bars that have a higher carbohydrate count, especially from simple sugars, are often criticized, but they can have a place in the diet,” said Heather Mangieri, RDN and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “These bars work well for men who are active, and on the go, or that are on a long bike ride or hike.”
For a bar that will keep you energized during prolonged exercise, these banana and nut snacks from Clif Bar are a great choice. Just be sure you’re saving these eats for days that are truly active. The rest of the time, Mangieri said to pick a “balanced bar that includes fiber, protein, and healthy fats.”
3. Recovering from a session at the gym: Raw Revolution Cherry Chocolate Chunk
Most gym addicts know about the importance of proper nutrition following a hard workout. Protein bars can be a great way to refuel, as long as you’re getting the balance of nutrients right. “After exhaustive activity, men need a bar that provides a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a bit of healthy fats,” Mangieri said. She recommended picking something with a 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
One of our favorite post-workout bars is this chocolate and cherry combo from Raw Revolution. With a good balance of carbs and protein, plus a decent dose of fiber, it’ll fill you up and help repair your ailing muscles.
4. Backup meal when a meeting runs through your lunch break: Santa Barbara Bar Coconut Almond
In general, Dr. John La Puma, MD, co-founder of ChefMD/Chef Clinic, and author of Refuel: A 24-Day Eating Plan to Shed Fat, Boost Testosterone, and Pump Up Strength and Stamina, said real food should always be your top choice. “Bars are not meals,” he said. “They’re big snacks and back-ups for when your plan goes wrong.” His criteria for picking a suitable bar for an emergency meal include: an ingredient label that lists a raw food first, at least 8 grams of protein, fewer than 10 grams of sugar, and no added sugars or trans fats.
From time to time, Dr. La Puma reaches for Santa Barbara Bar’s coconut and almond snacks. These bars are 190 calories, with just 8 grams of sugar, and provide plenty of healthy fat to keep you full. Dr. La Puma added, “when possible, have a handful of almonds, walnuts, or peanuts and an apple instead. It’s nature’s protein bar.”
5. For those interested in building a lot of muscle: EPIC bar Chicken Sesame BBQ
Despite the constant advice we hear about packing in the protein, a lot of it’s just hype. Dr Katz said, “virtually no one in the U.S. is protein deficient, no matter how good or bad their diet is.” In fact, packaged foods with insanely high levels of protein could be a bad idea. According to Dr. La Puma, “bars that have more than 20 grams of protein are considered part of the performance enhancing supplement regime, which can be dangerous for men when used inappropriately.”
If you’re really looking to add some muscle mass, EPIC bar’s Chicken Sesame BBQ will give you that added boost of protein you want without all the scary fillers.