Protein Bars: Hot or Not?

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In the words of my coach, “You might as well just have a pizza”, but how good or bad are protein bars actually? That’s one of the most frequent questions I get from clients and friends as their mid-day hunger sets in and their eyes turn to store and gas station shelves for a quick meal.

I decided to take the challenge head on and buy up every brand my local Walgreens had to offer to taste test and compare the nutritional data. To keep things on a level playing field, I bought only bars with peanuts or peanut butter flavoring (they could have chocolate too) and I broke off just one bite so that I could evaluate only the initial taste and my initial reaction.

Here are the bars I had the chance to pick up:

Protein Bars

  1. Clif Energy Bar: Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch
    Fat: 7g
    Sodium: 200mg
    Sugar: 21g
    Carbs: 41g
    Protein: 10g
    Calories: 250

Thoughts: Tastes a little like horse hay (if you’ve ever spent time around a barn you’ve gotten a whiff of this) and it doesn’t have any real peanut butter taste. I do like that the bar is soft and it’s made up of real ingredients like oats and chocolate chips, dates, and cane syrup.

  1. Clif Builder’s Bar: Chocolate Peanut Butter
    Fat: 10g
    Sodium: 270mg
    Sugar: 21g
    Carbs: 29g
    Protein: 20g
    Calories: 280

Thoughts: Tastes sweet and has a crunchy texture although there is zero peanut butter taste that makes up this bar. A chocolate coating covers the entire thing and the downside is that it melts to your fingers – the plus side is you get to lick it off J It is nice that this Clif Bar carries more protein in it with just a few more calories and less carbs.

  1. Hasselbeck’s NoGii Super Protein Bar: Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Crisp
    Fat: 14g
    Sodium: 380 mg
    Sugar: 22g
    Carbs: 38g
    Protein: 30g
    Calories: 390

Thoughts: There are pluses and negatives for this bar for sure. Great that it has a lot of protein – but so much sodium, fat and calories! It was very sweet and the caramel taste was very prevalent while the peanut butter was undetectable. It was also nice that even with all the protein there wasn’t that normally chalky taste.

  1. Luna Bar: Nutz Over Chocolate
    Fat: 6g
    Sodium: 190 mg
    Sugar: 10g
    Carbs: 25g
    Protein: 9g
    Calories: 180

Thoughts: Okay – lots of good in this bar! Low sugar, fat, sodium – all positives! Only 9 grams of protein, wish that was bumped up to at least the 14g range but overall it tasted great and it had a good blend of oats and chocolate. I did find it funny on their packaging they said 70% organic…. Well then it’s not organic!!!

  1. One Perfect Nutrition Bar: Chocolate Peanut Butter
    Fat: 7g
    Sodium: 270 mg
    Sugar: 15g
    Carbs: 24g
    Protein: 14g
    Calories: 210

Thoughts: I wanted to like this bar because it was low in fat – but it just isn’t a good bar. It was so dry and chalky tasting. There was a hint of peanut butter, which was the first I had tasted, and it was kind of sweet – but it failed pretty badly in the execution of overall taste. This just isn’t a good bar.

  1. Pure Protein Bar: Chocolate Peanut Butter
    Fat: 6g
    Sodium: 200 mg
    Sugar: 2g
    Carbs: 16g
    Protein: 20g
    Calories: 200

Thoughts: From a nutritional data stand point – this is the best bar I have come across in my hunt at Walgreens. 2 grams of sugar – which is essentially unheard of and there are 20 grams of protein with minimal carbs and fats. Have we found the solution to on the road protein options!? It was SUPER SOFT and the chocolate protein didn’t melt on your hand – bonus! Here are the negatives…. It did have a medicinal vitamin taste and there was absolutely no hint of peanut butter in the bar and there seems to be a lot of ingredients that make up the bar – most of which I’m not sure are necessarily whole ingredients.

  1. Met-Rx Protein Plus Protein Bar: Creamy Peanut Butter Crisp
    Fat: 10g
    Sodium: 500mg
    Sugar: 3g
    Carbs: 33g
    Protein: 30g
    Calories: 310

Thoughts: On the surface – this meets the standards for a low sugar high protein bar, similar to protein powder. On the flipside, the Met-RX bar is packed with high sodium and a bland vitamin taste with no trace of the peanut butter that they market on their packaging… If you’re not looking for taste and you don’t care that you’re not eating whole foods this could be an option. For me though… on to the next.

  1. Zone Perfect: Sweet & Salty Cashew Pretzel
    Fat: 7g
    Sodium: 300mg
    Sugar: 14g
    Carbs: 23g
    Protein: 10g
    Calories: 200

Thoughts: So – ignoring ANY nutritional content in this bar – the flavor is awesome. It tastes literally like caramel salted popcorn. Very good. Still high in sugar for me comparatively for how much protein is in here – I would still rather have a nice protein shake on the go.

  1. PowerBar Protein Plus Bar: Chocolate Peanut Butter
    Fat: 6g
    Sodium: 200mg
    Sugar: 12g
    Carbs: 25g
    Protein: 20g
    Calories: 210

Thoughts: Pretty decent tasting bar, really soft and chocolaty – although doesn’t taste like peanut butter in the least. I like that it’s pretty low in calories and high in protein – still a little high in sugar – meh… decent taste though.

  1. PowerBar Performance Energy Bar: Peanut Butter
    Fat: 4g
    Sodium: 200mg
    Sugar: 25g
    Carbs: 44g
    Protein: 9g
    Calories: 240

Thoughts: So this is the performance energy bar – I’m assuming that’s why this has so much sugar? It has to be right? Otherwise – this bar would be crap seeing that this has such little protein and a high carb/sugar ratio. The highlight is this is the ONLY bar that actually tastes like peanut butter. It is chewy, sticky, and tastes like honey so it scores high in the taste category.

Protein BoardAfter 10 tastings and a tummy ache later – I am less than impressed and even more convinced that most of these are just crap. I would MUCH rather make my own bars like these from He and She Eat Clean. 

By just first glance the MAJOR problem with the majority of these bars are the high sugar content. In fact, the World Health Organization just halved the recommended sugar intake to 25 grams in TOTAL for the whole day. Five out of the 10 bars are above 20 grams of sugar – meaning – you blow all your sugar on one crappy tasting bar that isn’t even whole food (meaning food that has been refined as little as possible – think foods from the ground and from animals).

So – what should you do if you’re short on time and need to get some protein? Here are some great ideas:

  1. Hardboiled eggs – pack them or stop at a nearby Starbucks – they always have them in the cooler section.
  2. Protein powder! They usually have minimal carbs, sugar, etc if you get the right blend. 1 scoop also packs a powerful punch of around 25 grams.
  3. Almonds! 1 oz has 6 grams. That might not be a lot for a bodybuilder but for the average person if you pair that with a hardboiled egg you are likely getting close to your goals without shoveling sugar down your face.
  4. Edamame – yep! 1 cup has 17 grams of protein… who knew these little beans were more than just cute social appetizers?

There you go! While my views may be a little more extreme than the everyday Joe, I think we should all strive for a little more real and whole food and a little less processed monster mash.

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