We love an on-the-go snack, and it doesn’t get much easier than throwing a protein bar in your bag before heading out the door. In addition to convenience, we want one that actually tastes great (nothing chalky or too-chewy, please) and has an adequate amount of protein. So, we consulted registered dietitians with sports-nutrition expertise to help us identify protein bars that are truly satisfying and supportive of our overall health or workout goals.
What are the benefits of protein bars?
Protein plays an integral role in your body, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD,, author of Planted Performance, tells SELF. It supports your immune system, helps your organs and tissues function properly, and aids in repairing and building muscle. So you want to make sure you’re getting enough protein every day. If you’re not sure what “enough” means for you, the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or .36 grams per pound). That’s the minimum amount you need to avoid a deficiency, but if you’re active, you likely need more in order for your muscles to grow and recover from your workouts—say, between 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or .64 to .91 grams per pound), as SELF reported previously.
There are all kinds of high-protein snacks that you can add to your diet, but protein bars are particularly useful if you’re busy, traveling, or grabbing a quick bite at work, Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition, tells SELF. They can also make it easy to keep your protein intake steady throughout the day, which can further support muscle recovery, she says. Plus, if variety plays an important role in your snacking, you can always find a new flavor of bar to try.
What should you look for in a high-quality protein bar?
Rizzo says a bar should contain at least 10 grams of protein in order to boost your daily intake and keep you satisfied between meals. Jones recommends the same baseline, and adds that highly active people who are working to build muscle—say, by lifting heavy weights or strength training multiple times a week—should look for bars with 15 to 20 grams of protein.
In addition to quantity, you should also check the protein source in your bar of choice. Rizzo says whole-food options like eggs, seeds, and nuts are especially good, but protein isolates or whey protein will do the trick, too.
What should you avoid in protein bars?
Besides any known allergens you’re sensitive to, like eggs or whey (if you have issues with dairy), there aren’t many ingredients you need to flat-out avoid in protein bars. But, there are some you should be aware of before making your picks.
First, sugar alcohols (like xylitol, erythritol, or sorbitol) and other sweetener substitutes (like sucralose or aspartame) may upset your stomach and cause uncomfortable GI symptoms like gas, bloating, or diarrhea. As SELF has previously reported, the degree to which they can irritate your gut varies from person to person, but it’s something to keep in mind.