I must begin this article by saying that I do not encourage eating snack bars every day for every meal and I do not feel that you should ever choose a bar over eating a homemade meal made from unprocessed foods.
But let’s be real, not everyone has the time to cook at every meal or prep enough snacks for a long day in the middle of the week.
Thanks to science, great marketing, mass production and convenience we now are #blessed to have some awesome “bar” options.
We have access to candy bars, beef bars, protein bars, fiber bars, you name it.
How do we know which snack bars are healthy and which aren’t?
Figuring out what ones to choose is tough; let’s talk about what our options are.
In the evolution of packaged bars, first came the candy bar.
Snicker’s, Butterfingers, Three Musketeers…. these things were miraculously wonderful when they first appeared on supermarket and convenience store shelves.
It didn’t take long for people to realize that unfortunately they couldn’t necessarily eat candy bars every day and maintain their waistline.
But what about the “health” bars today? Can we eat those as much as we want?
Today many “bars” grab our attention because of how they are presented to us.
Many of the “healthy” bars are marketed to the fitness and weight loss industries as “low calorie,” “whole grain,” “healthy” bars for workout fuel, lean mass gains and more.
Some bars do the trick for the aforementioned and others are no different than eating a candy bar.
Most [non-king size] candy bars contain 200 calories and 20 grams of sugar on average.
How is a 200 calorie candy bar different than the 200 calorie “protein” bar?
Let’s talk about it.
It all comes down to the macronutrient ratio the bar gives and how that applies to your macronutrient ratio for the day.
Macronutrients refer to protein, carbs and fat.
Therefore, if a candy bar is 55% fat, 40% carbs and 5% protein, that bar is going to add to overall fat and carb intake for the day immensely.
If you are on a mission to lose fat and/or get leaner then eating a candy bar may not help you achieve the macronutrient ratio you want to hit that day…or it might. It depends.
If you ate all the protein you needed for the day and had more calories left to consume without going over the amount you need to eat, then a candy bar will not break you.
We know that eating enough protein is crucial for maintaining lean muscle mass and/or building it.
Then having a “protein bar” is definitely good for us, right?
If the bar has 10 grams of protein … 10 grams is a significant amount, but how does that relate to nutrients in the bar overall?
If the bar is 100 grams then protein only makes up 10% of the bar.
It is important to be informed about how to read a label in order to see past the marketing filter.
Knowing what amount of macronutrients you seek to hit each day can help you make an informed decision on whether the bar works for you.
I want to share the reasoning behind my top five go-to bars. I eat certain protein/snack bars depending on whether or not it is for a snack, a mini-meal on-the-go, or a bar to fuel pre or post workout.
As I explain my reasoning behind each go-to bar I hope to give examples of how you too, can decide if a snack bar is going to be beneficial or not.
So often we are told bars are good for us just because they taste good, have the word “protein” written on the label, are deemed “whole,” “natural,” “sugar free,” or even better, “guilt-free.”
But what makes a bar guilt-free? Is there such a thing?
See what my favorite bars are and decide whether or not these work for you too, based on your goals.
1) Quest Bars
It’s no secret that I love Quest bars. There are many mornings when I eat two Quest bars at 5 a.m. before I lift.
There are many nights when I eat one as a late night snack.
There are even afternoons on the road when I eat one to keep me fueled until dinner.
I like Quest bars. Period.
I like them because of how they fit my macros.
Around 180-200 calories per bar, each bar gives you at least 20 grams of protein.
When I look at other bar labels and see 150 or 200 calories, I immediately check the protein label to see how much there is.
Knowing that Quest gives me 20 grams of protein per serving I have a hard time eating other bars on days when my calories are not as high.
With Quest bars, knowing I can get 20 grams of protein while consuming only 200 calories, makes me feel ecstatic.
I love the taste along with the feeling of relief knowing I am taking steps to get the protein I need.
In addition, a Quest bar is only slightly more calories than eating a serving of grilled chicken (4 oz at 120-130 calories) which would also give me 20-25 grams of protein. Sometimes finding good chicken on the go isn’t easy nor easy to eat (especially when you are a ketchup fan).
Bottom line: Quest bars give you a lot of bang for your buck. I typically try and get at least 150 grams of protein in a day; and on days when my calorie intake is not as high, getting 150 grams in can be tough. I like these bars so much I joke that I want a “Quest bar cake” for my birthday.
Guilt-Free? Yes. These bars are guilt-free because I *love* the taste and they *only* propel me towards my protein goal for the day. At the same time, there are less than 15 ingredients. The manager at GNC always makes fun of how many I buy. I always tell him, “Unless I begin to gain weight, I am not going to stop. So far, so good!” He always laughs and reassures me I am not the only Quest bar fan.
How it fits my goals: This bar, as noted, gives me a greater amount protein for the total calories compared to other bars with 200 calories. With these bars, hitting my macros is made easy even on the busiest days.
2) Rx Bars
RxBars are one of my new favorite things. I was actually introduced to them at Hardpressed in Chicago in fall of 2013. I liked them a lot. However I was not at Hardpressed often and did not see them anywhere else.
Rx Bars are great because they are very transparent as far as how the bars are made and what they are made out of. Typically bars are made of egg whites, dates and/or figs, and some other type of fruit along with nuts.
They have flavors like Blueberry, Coffee, Apple Cinnamon, and Peanut Butter chocolate.
I like the fact that they have 12 grams of protein.
If I am on the go and want something filling, at around 200 calories these bars seem *large* for that amount of calories, which is always nice.
Bottom line: this is definitely a bar that fills you up. If you are traveling it’s a great snack to have on hand to hold you over. I will have an RxBar with a serving of egg whites or with a whey shaker cup to achieve my protein requirements if I am on the road. If I am at home and getting ample protein is no issue, an Rx bar with coffee and maybe an apple or banana does the trick first thing in the morning.
Guilt-Free? Absolutely. While some RxBars bars have higher amounts of sugar and carbs than Quest bars, I find them to be super energizing as pre-workout snacks. They fill me up but don’t feel heavy in my belly. They also come with generally less fat than other bars on the market. Again, I love that they have so few ingredients.
How it fits my goals: These bars allow me consume some healthy nutrients, stay satiated on rest day mornings or fueled for workouts. The sugar is enough to give me energy but not too much.
3) Kind Bars
Kind Bars are an old time favorite. Recently, Kind had to publicly state that they will cease to call themselves “healthy” because most bars are around 200 calories and contain 15-17 grams of fat.
Some Kind bars have over 15 grams of sugar.
Regardless of the fats, sugars, and minimal protein, I eat these bars when desperate because I enjoy snacking on nuts.
When it comes to snacking on nuts I am guilty of having two handfuls *at least* if I have an entire bag of in front of me. Therefore, grabbing a Kind bar is a great way for me to stay on track with portions and know *exactly* how many calories I am getting.
I started eating Kind bars in the beginning of high school because I loved the few ingredients on the label and low amount of carbs found in the early bars. As time went on and the company grew it because *much* easier to find them.
Now you can find them at any gas station or airport, which is great when you are busy. However, now I find them to be packed with a more ingredients than the bars had in the company’s early years.
Overall, the bars still have ingredients you can pronounce. If I am stuck on the road or in an airport I will always rely on Kind bars because they have fats I would eat if I could only find peanuts or almonds anyway. Even more, they help me control portions better than if I were to grab a large bag of nuts.
Bottom line: these snacks are perfect for someone who wants to snack on nuts but doesn’t trust themselves to not overdo it. In a pickle, I will add some type of lean protein like turkey or egg whites with the bar to get more protein without added fat.
Guilt-Free? Depends on the bar. If you can find one with less than 7 grams of sugar and no added chocolate drizzle, great. Unfortunately, some of the Kind bars have evolved to have much more sugar than the earlier bars. I try to stick with choosing the bars featuring less sugar knowing that I will most likely have fruit later in the day.
How it fits my goals: Kind bars are a thing of nostalgia for me. In my busiest days out of college I would thrive on these knowing how to track the exact calorie count, where to find them and how to pronounce the ingredients. Today I eat them when I haven’t had much fat in a day and want a good portion of wholesome nuts while traveling.
4) Chia Warrior Bars
These little power snacks are an all time favorite! When I am super busy I will eat these 100-110 calorie bars with Quest bar and make it a meal.
The flavors are insanely good and thanks to the main ingredient, chia seeds, I can get all my omega- 3s in!
These bars have under 10 ingredients and are becoming easier and easier to find at most grocery stores and gyms.
Bottom line: It’s nice to get a packaged bar that is around 100 calories. While Quest bars are awesome, I don’t always need 180-200 calories for a snack to tide me over and it’s hard for me to eat *only* half of a Quest bar. Knowing I can open a Chia Warrior bar and eat the entire bar for only 110 calories and feel satisfied is awesome.
Guilt-free? Absolutely. The portion is great for a low calorie, filling snack, the nutrients are beneficial for my body. I love that the flavors are all sweet tasting since I am a sweet toothed chick.
How it fits my goals: This bar gives me 1,100mg omega-3s. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats. I know that most days I consume a lot of omega-6s via tree nuts, but omega-3s aren’t always as easily obtained. Both types of fatty acids are essential because our bodies cannot make them and we must get them from our diet. Thus, eating a Health Warrior chia bar is only going help me give my body the nutrients it needs.
5) Epic Bars
Epic bars are a new interesting concept. Picture pieces of beef jerky pinched and squished together into one bar. The great thing about these bars is portion control.
Bags of beef jerky usually seem like small pouches but if you look closely most bags include three servings of jerky. Therefore a small bag can turn into a 3oo calories snack or more. However, with Epic bars you get the meat without over doing it.
Even better, some Epic bars have dried fruits in them to give more flavor and play on the salty and sweet taste. Pork-Pinapple flavor? Sign me up!
I love that Epic bars do not taste very salty.
Bottom line: I would choose these over beef jerky any day. These bars give you 12-18 grams of protein depending on the bar, they taste amazing–especially if you are not a sweet-toothed person and crave savory foods.
Guilt-Free? Most definitely. These bars have less sodium than a bag of beef jerky. Add a hard boiled egg to these and maybe some kale chips and you’ve found a meal on the go!
How it fits my goals: These bars satisfy me with the protein I need when I am not in the mood for something sweet. It helps me with portion control when I tend to over do it with beef jerky bags.
Life can get super hectic. Conveniently enough we are inundated with snacks and packaged food in America but it is up to us to make the right choice. As long as you know your goal, you can make informed decisions about what type of snack or protein bars will work for you.
Here’s a quick checklist to go over before you choose your snack bar:
- How many calories does it have?
- How many calories do I need to eat today?
- How many grams of protein does the bar have in relationship to the total amount of calories?
- Have I heard of these ingredients before?
- Are there more or less than 20 ingredients?
- How much sodium is in this bar? How much sodium have I had today?
Remember, no food is inherently good or evil, but the amount which you consume plays a role in your physique and overall health.
Some people can eat candy bars strategically in their diet and others gain weight on “protein” bars. The trick is to look at what you’re eating throughout the day and the week and see if the bar can’t fit into your goals.
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