Do you feel overwhelmed by how many protein/energy bars there are on the market?! What ingredients you should look for? Which should you try to stay away from? Here are some tips to make your shopping a whole lot easier, along with 10 protein bar options we’d recommend!
Navigating The Nutrition Facts Label
NUTRITION FACTS – This is where macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and their amounts are listed on the back of the label. While all three of these macronutrients are important, the necessary amounts vary from person to person depending on health status, lifestyle, and activity level. Certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are also listed on the food label. If a food contains 10-19% of the daily value of a nutrient, like Vitamin C, it is considered to be a “good source”. If it contains 20% or more, it’s considered an “excellent source”.
Look for bars with at least 10 grams of protein and if you plan to use it as a pre or post-workout snack, at least 20 grams of carbohydrates.
THE INGREDIENT LIST – Before I look at the nutrition facts, I first inspect the ingredients. This will tell you where those grams are coming from. For example, are the grams of sugar coming from whole food sources like dates? Or from refined sugar and corn syrup? And are the fats coming from whole food sources like nuts and seeds? Or hydrogenated oils?
I recommend avoiding bars marketed as being ‘low carb’ or ‘low sugar’ before workouts as they often contain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols (maltitol, erythritol, xylitol), and synthetic fibers that can cause GI issues (bloating, gas, diarrhea) mid-workout. Tolerance level of artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols will vary depending on the athlete.
Ingredients are listed in order by weight. Heavier, denser ingredients will be listed first followed by lighter ingredients. For example, ½ cup of brown rice syrup or honey weighs the same as 2 cups of oats, so even if a product uses more oats than honey, the honey will be listed first due to weight.
Look For Whole Food Ingredients
What’s it mean when I say look for ‘whole food’ ingredients? Here are some examples:
CARBOHYDRATES – Dates, dried unsweetened fruits, whole-grain sources like oats, brown rice
PROTEIN – Pea protein, brown rice protein, eggs/egg whites, lean animal protein sources, whey protein isolate
HEALTHY FATS – Nuts, nut butters (ex: peanut butter, almond butter), seeds, sunflower butter