- Protein bars are considered a workout staple because they have a high protein content, which is essential to building muscle mass.
- But they can also be packed with sugar and artificial ingredients.
- We tested 12 different protein bars available at a local CVS and ranked them based on nutritional content, taste, and cost.
After sampling 12 different protein bars, the only place I don’t feel like going is the gym.
Protein bars are designed to be high-energy snacks that contain a large concentration of protein, a macronutrient that helps to build muscle mass and repair wounds or damaged tissues. Some contain around 20 grams of protein in a bar. To put that into context, a large egg has around seven grams of protein in it.
There’s a big market for protein bars in the US, and other snack companies are wising up to this. In October 2017, Kellogg’s bought the maker of RXBAR protein bars for $US600 million in an attempt to cash in on healthier food trends.
But these “healthy” snacks can also be stuffed with sugar, artificial ingredients, and calories, making them about as healthy as a candy bar.
We decided we’d had enough of being fooled and headed to our local CVS store to sample all of the protein bar brands on offer. We’ve put together a ranking based on taste, nutritional content, and price. Find out which bar won, below:
12. Questbar, double chocolate chunk, $US2.99
Sugar: Less than 1g
Review:On first glance, this bar looks great – the packaging seems authoritative and low-key, the kind that makes you trust it instantly. It’s very high in protein, low in sugar, and has a decent calorie content. But this is actually a great example of why you shouldn’t get suckered in by first impressions, because it does not taste good.
In fact, it has the same consistency as soil.
11. Think Thin, cookies and cream, $US2.29
Review:I’m instantly sceptical when I see it says 0 grams of sugar in bold on the front of the wrapper. My first thought is, if there isn’t sugar in it, they’re probably replacing it with something much worse.
Sugar is replaced with 20g of sugar alcohols. The offender here is Maltitol – it’s 90% as sweet as sugar, but it can claim to be sugar-free despite replicating some of the harmful effects of sugar and causing spikes in blood sugar.
The bar is high in protein but has a bitter aftertaste.
10. Balance, cookie dough, $US1.99
Review: This bar is stuffed full of artificial ingredients and sugar, which makes it seem like there’s no real advantage to eating it over a chocolate bar. Its redeeming feature is that the protein content is pretty high, and it’s affordably priced.
9. Luna, berry greek yogurt, $US2.19
Review: This bar has a lot of added flavoring and ingredients in its yogurt coating. It tastes sweeter than a candy bar, but this sweetness successfully disguises the chalky taste of the filling.
The protein in the bar comes from its soy protein isolate ingredient, which is a heavily processed version of soy.
8. Clif bar, crunchy peanut butter, $US1.99
Review: This bar has a lot fewer ingredients and they are mostly organic, which is reassuring. But hidden amongst this is soy protein isolate, a heavily processed format of soy.
It looks a lot like a pancake, but the dusty aftertaste reminds you that it definitely isn’t.
7. Clif Builder’s Protein, crunchy peanut butter, $US2.99
Review: With almost double the amount of protein (though it is soy protein isolate), fewer carbs, and a similar amount of calories and sugar content, this is definitely a step up from Clif’s energy bar.
That said, the sugar content is high compared to other bars, and the taste is definitely stronger (and not in a good way).
6. Lärabar, chocolate chip cookie dough, $US1.99
Review: Lärabar is somewhere between a protein bar and an energy bar, which means it has a lower concentration of protein than the other brands.
For this reason, we ranked it a bit further down the list.
But based on taste, ingredients, and cost only, it was a winner. The bar has it made with reassuringly few ingredients: cashews, dates, chocolate chips, and sea salt.
5. Simply Protein, cinnamon pecan, $US2.49
Review: First warning, if you don’t like cinnamon, don’t opt for this flavour, as it’s overwhelming.Second warning, if you’re doing a marathon or anything more vigorous than a brisk walk, this may not be the energy-boosting bar you’re after, and that’s simply based on its weight.
This flimsy bar feels very underwhelming. It’s more like a Rice Krispies Treat than a weighty protein bar. However, it does have a good protein content and is low in calories and sugar. Overall, the taste and weight of it is too off-putting to make it a winner.
4. PROBAR, peanut butter chocolate chip, $US3.99
Review: This bar was the most expensive snack in the running, but it didn’t live up to the price in its protein content, despite being denser in weight.
On taste alone, it was one of our favourites, plus you can see the ingredients, such as flax seeds, almonds, and peanuts in the bar, so it does feel more natural. But with such high sugar content, it’s hard to justify.
3. Vega, chocolate peanut butter, $US2.57
Review: This bar was the closest thing so far to Reese’s Pieces, but with a less overpowering taste of peanut. I’d go so far as to say, it’s actually better than Reese’s.
It prides itself on having “real plant-based food ingredients,” which is stamped on the front in garish green letters. The protein in the bar comes from plant-based proteins.
2. GoMacro, banana and almond butter, $US3.69
Review: This bar is about as easy to tear as rubber, which is an instant turn-off. However, it does taste good and is made with natural and vegan ingredients.
The sugar content is pretty high, but it doesn’t taste unpleasantly sweet. The sugar is derived from brown rice syrup, which sounds healthy but is no better than any other refined sugar.
THE WINNER: RXBAR chocolate chip, $US3.29
Review: RXBAR was our overall winner. While it was one of the more expensive bars, its ingredients and taste made it a clear leader.
This brand markets itself as having no added flavours and “No B.S.” In this chocolate-chip bar, there are three egg whites, six almonds, four cashews, and two dates, and a few chocolate drops. Everything comes from natural ingredients.
Don’t be put off by its Italian leather-like finish – it does taste good, and the sugar content is reasonable.
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