These days, most of us are juggling so many things that it’s easy to lose track of time and get thrown off your snack schedule. Suddenly your stomach is rumbling and you’re feeling hangry. That’s just one of many times of the day that protein bars come in clutch.
You may already have a go-to brand and flavor, but protein bars aren’t one size fits all. If you’re not looking closely at the label, you might miss out on options that work better for your personal health goals.
“The best protein bars are specific to each individual and their personal preferences and wellness goals,” says Roseanne Schnell C.D.N., nutritionist at The Vitamin Shoppe. “The beauty of having so many choices today is that there is a protein bar out there for everyone.”
The Power of Protein
Just in case you need a reminder that protein does a body good, know this: “A high-protein diet can help you lose weight, gain muscle, improve your body composition and metabolic health,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Karen Cooney, C.N., C.H.H.C.
Even if you fill your plate with protein-packed foods at every meal, supplementing with protein powders and bars has many benefits. “Supplementing with protein can be especially useful for plant-based dieters, athletes, and bodybuilders because high protein intake also helps you build and preserve muscle mass,” Cooney says. “Since eating protein increases the number of calories you burn by boosting your metabolic rate, it can also be helpful for people who want to lose weight.”
Ready to find the best protein bars for your goals? Let The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionists steer you in the right direction.
To Boost Your Plant Protein
Whether you typically rely on animal foods for protein or are a dedicated vegan, anyone can benefit from adding a plant-based protein bar to your snack rotation. “Even if you are not vegan, this helps you get a greater variety of all different kinds of proteins into your diet,” Cooney says.
Plus, since animal protein sources (like chicken, beef, and seafood) can be very acidic, tipping the scales towards more plant-based protein sources can have a balancing effect in the body, she adds.
For those looking to really pack on muscle without the whey, though, both Schnell and Cooney agree that Garden of Life Sport Performance Bar is the bar to try. “It has a great balance of macros, is vegan, gluten- and soy-free, and is low in sugar,” says Cooney. It also packs 20 grams of protein and all of the essential amino acids your body needs.
To Support Skin And Joints
For those who want the added bonus of skin and joint support out of their protein bar, Schnell suggests an option containing collagen.
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. It supports our joints by helping to maintain and cushion our cartilage and plays a role in skin health and structure,” she says. “As we age, we lose collagen, which is why we begin to notice joint issues and sagging and wrinkles in our skin.”
That’s where supplemental collagen comes in. “Studies show that collagen peptides and hydrolyzed collagen (same thing, just different terminology) are available to be absorbed by the body for joint and skin health,” Schnell explains. “They’re also great for athletes, helping with recovery from the strain they put on their joints and connective tissue.”
For Weight Management
If you want to support a healthy weight, your go-to bar should be the fitfactor High Protein Bar, say Schnell and Cooney.
“The fitfactor High Protein Bars are high in protein and fiber, which are both important when it comes to weight loss,” explains Schnell. “Protein helps to boost metabolism and increases levels of satiety hormones, while reducing the hunger hormones. Fiber also helps you stay satiated.”
Plus, this combo keeps your blood sugar stable so you can avoid spikes and drops that contribute to cravings, Cooney adds.
She particularly likes the Cinnamon Roll flavor. “Cinnamon has been shown to improve fasting blood sugar, making it a great addition for people with insulin resistance, diabetes, or pre-diabetes,” she explains.
To Build Muscle
The nutritionists agreed on this one, too: Muscle builders should stock up on BodyTech Elite’s Elite Food Protein Bar. This pick is made with a protein blend that includes milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate, which are highly bioavailable (a.k.a. quickly and easily absorbed) and rich in the essential amino acids—including the branched-chain amino acids—needed for muscle growth and recovery.
Read More: How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle?
“They also include carbohydrates, which are important for muscle building because they provide glycogen for energy so your body doesn’t have to break down muscle for that energy,” Schnell says.
“The 330-calorie bar is great for athletes and bodybuilders that need more sustenance with high-quality ingredients like rolled oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, natural flavors, chia seeds, sea salt, and stevia extract,” Cooney adds.
For Squeaky-Clean Nutrition
If you’re simply looking for a protein bar with minimal, natural ingredients, you’ve got plenty of satisfying options.
Cooney is a fan of the paleo fan-favorite RXBARs. “Just look at the ingredients,” she says. “They’re all-natural, very clean, and nothing I can’t pronounce.” Her favorite is the Chocolate Sea Salt RXBAR, which includes 12 grams of protein and fewer than 10 ingredients.
If you’re looking for a more traditional but clean protein bar, Schnell recommends the plnt brand Organic Protein Bar. These USDA organic bars have no gluten, dairy, or soy and offer 13 grams of healthy fats from almond and cashews.
“The protein mainly comes from pea protein, which is a high-quality plant protein that contains all the essential amino acids, is rich in iron, and easily digested,” she says. Schnell also likes that plnt’s bars are sweetened with Stevia.