A smart alternative to unhealthy snacks, protein bars can help keep cravings at bay while supporting your healthy eating plan. They can also be an invaluable way to fuel up during your workout. How do you know which protein bars are merely candy bars parading as health food, and which offer real benefits?
Read on for an overview of what to look for in a protein bar, along with a roundup of our top picks for best protein bars to support your weight loss goals in the year ahead.
Real Health Food or Glorified Candy Bar?
Any brightly colored package can make vague marketing claims about health benefits, but what truly distinguishes healthy protein bars from their less-than-healthy counterparts?
Not surprisingly, the most critical factor in a protein bar is, well, protein. This essential macronutrient helps your body build and repair tissue. It is also a building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Unlike carbs and fats, however, protein isn’t stored in the body, which means it’s extra-important to make sure you’re getting enough. The best protein bars will contain a minimum of five grams of protein.
A healthy protein bar should also have a low sugar content. We recommend sticking with eight grams of sugar or less when choosing a protein bar.
The carb question can be a tricky one, given that carbs are the body’s main fuel source. At the same time, carbs often get a bad rap. Why? Because while complex carbs are crucial to human health, the refined sugars found in simple carbs are “empty calories.” Ultimately, choosing a protein bar with the right amount of carbs may somewhat depend on your goals. If you’re eating a protein bar for weight loss purposes, protein bars with 20 grams or less may be the best choice. If you’re replenishing after a workout, protein bars with between 20 and 30 grams of carbs may be more appropriate.
All protein bars aren’t created equal in terms of calories. In fact, some are actually aimed at weight gain, which can lead to unpleasant surprises for those looking to lose or maintain weight. Experts recommend that women and men look for protein bars with no more than 200 and 300 calories, respectively, to best support their weight loss goals.
We also know that healthy calories trump unhealthy ones. Whenever possible, steer clear of protein bars containing large quantities of artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and trans fats. One rule of thumb is that more ingredients mean more ways to go wrong when it comes to eating right.
3 Protein Bar Picks
1. Pure Protein Chocolate Deluxe
A weakness for chocolate doesn’t have to be the downfall of your diet thanks to this indulgent option. Rich, dark chocolate flavor means that it’s not overly sweet, while 21 grams of high-quality protein, 17 grams of carbs, 3 grams of sugar and 4.5 grams of fat add up to winning nutrition — all at just 180 calories. (Looking for more ways to satisfy your sweet tooth? Download our free ebook of 12 Healthy Dessert Recipes today.)
2. ManBake Protein Apple Pie
Says EatThisNotThat of this diet-friendly treat: “They’re called ‘ManBake,’ but we’ll let you in on a little secret: they’re fit for a queen, too. These hearty bars are chock full of protein and made with yummy, healthful ingredients like chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp. Some of the bars, like Vanilla Latte, even have 50 grams of caffeine in addition to 20 grams of protein to wake you up and power your whole morning, even if you’re the kind of person who always hits snooze.”
3. Quest Nutrition Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Containing 21 grams of protein and just one gram of sugar, these are also loaded with fiber, meaning you’ll stay fuller for longer. They’re also packed with healthy fats, including almonds, cocoa butter, and real chocolate. An added bonus for people with dietary restrictions is that they’re gluten- and soy-free.
One of these best things about these protein bars is that, in addition to helping you lose weight while providing the nutrition your body needs, they’re proof positive that “nutritious” and “delicious” don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms.
You know by now that diet and exercise are partners when it comes to facilitating optimal weight loss. Working out is also vital for supporting your healthy eating efforts. Sign up for a trial pass at Brick Bodies to get started today.