Protein bars are a convenient way to get a quick boost of protein on the go, but most products aren’t exactly a taste sensation.
Many protein bars are marketed like candy – with flavours ranging from triple chocolate to birthday cake – but they rarely live up to the hype.
Even the best tasting protein bars can leave a nasty aftertaste, so why do they taste so bad, and what’s your best choice if you’re stuck taking protein in bar form?
Straddling the line between snack and supplement, protein bars are designed to be a convenient source of nutrition and are used by all kinds of people, from busy office workers to bodybuilders.
However, protein bars are basically the fast food of supplements since they lack the nutritional benefits of whole foods and typically contain added fillers and flavourings compared with protein powder.
What’s more, protein bars can vary wildly in nutritional content and taste, and many products are full of artificial flavourings or fillers that will leave a bad taste in your mouth. In this article, we’ll be looking at health benefits and taste to help you choose the best tasting protein bars and get to the bottom of their unsavoury reputation.
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Despite all the marketing hype, there is no such thing as a perfect protein bar, and anyone that says otherwise is trying to sell you something. Because we all have unique nutritional needs and schedules, you should focus on finding the best way to give your body the nutrients it needs in a way that fits into your schedule.
These chocolate and peanut butter flavoured best, tasting protein bars from Pure Protein are low in calories and fat, gluten-free and contain 20g of protein per bar.
However, these bars contain a lot of artificial sweeteners which are high in sugar alcohols that may cause ‘gastrointestinal distress’. In other words, avoid these bars if you have a sensitive stomach, as some of our testers learned too late.
Costco may not be the first place you think to look for protein bars, but these Kirkland Signature bars contain an impressive amount of protein and fibre to support your next workout session.
According to the labels, there are 21g of protein, 15g of fibre and a measly 7g of fat in every 190 calorie bar, making them one of the most nutritious and best-tasting protein bars in their price bracket.
With 190-220 calories and 12-14g of protein per bar from soy protein isolate, Zone Perfect’s bars are available in a huge range of flavours, making them an easy to enjoy protein boost.
We tried the chocolate peanut butter, double dark chocolate and fudge graham, and while the peanut butter bars were a little chewy, the other flavours were great, with only a little of the grainy texture that plagues so many protein bars.
Made from ground nut butter and organic honey, the almond butter Perfect Bar is gluten-free, kosher and has a low glycemic index, making it one of the best tasting protein bars made from non-GMO certified whole foods.
Our taste testers enjoyed the natural flavours and found the high fibre content helped them feel fuller for longer, so these bars could also help you lose weight.
Protein bars get their protein content from natural sources (nuts, seeds or beans) or protein isolates from whey, soy and peas, all of which tend to have distinctive – and often divisive – tastes.
While nuts and seeds can make delicious high-protein snacks like granola, they tend to be lower in protein and more expensive than powdered protein, so most protein bar manufacturers use powdered protein.
Pure protein powder doesn’t taste great, so it is often mixed with artificial flavours and sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame*, which have unpleasant aftertaste.
This means that most protein bars are made of protein powder, artificial flavours, and binding agents like hydrogenated vegetable oils that combine to make a nutritional mess marketed like candy, so even the best tasting protein bars can seem like a disappointment.
Although protein bars are often marketed as a health food, some products are so full of fat, sugar and carbohydrates that they are virtually candy bars. And while the calories in protein bars won’t make you gain weight on their own, many brands contain a lot of calories that can cause weight gain unless you do enough exercise to burn them off.
The practicality of protein bars for fitness enthusiasts and people with busy schedules is impossible to deny, but they should only be used as a supplement, not as food.
While these bars contain protein for building and repairing muscle, they lack the nutrients of whole foods and some of the best tasting protein bars are loaded with sugars and fats, so you should only use them to supplement a healthy lifestyle, even if your goal is gaining weight.
Protein bars can vary greatly in quality, ingredients, and calories, so you should always check the label to see if it’s a healthy snack suited to your nutritional needs. To help you find the right protein bar for your lifestyle and fitness goals, we’ve listed five key factors you should look for when buying best tasting protein bars:
If you’re taking protein bars to improve your workouts, they should be high in easy to digest carbs and protein to give you a quick boost of energy for enhanced workout sessions.
However, you should prioritise the best tasting protein bars with complex carbs or natural protein sources to satisfy your hunger if you eat best tasting protein bars as a snack between meals.
Most protein bars contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners for flavor and quick calories since sugar provides a quick burst of energy that will help you work hard in the gym.
However, refined sugars (especially High-Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS) contribute to weight gain, so try to minimise added sugar in your diet if you’re looking to burn fat and/or lose weight.
Fiber is important for supporting workout recovery and muscle gain, as it helps break down proteins and carbohydrates and makes you feel fuller for longer. Fortunately, many natural sources of fiber (like whole grains, seeds and nuts) taste great, so some of the best tasting protein bars are naturally high in fiber.
A good protein bar should have just enough fat to help you power through your workout (or until your next meal), but not so much that it contributes to weight gain. Look for products with low saturated fat (under 3g per serving) and little to no trans fats for the best results.
While protein isolates are a cheap and easy way to boost your protein intake, whole foods provide much more effective nutrition since they contain additional vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. What’s more, natural foods will almost certainly taste better than processed protein powder, so going au naturel might be the best way to find the best tasting protein bars.
Protein bars can be a great way to boost your protein intake, though many products have more in common with candy bars than high protein meals, so you should always read the label.
The quest to rid these ‘health foods’ from ‘unhealthy’ carbs and sugars means that many modern protein bars are packed with filler and artificial sweeteners, which are often worse than the things they replace in terms of taste, if not health.
When trying to find the best tasting protein bars that are right for your nutritional needs, we always recommend bars with natural, whole-food ingredients, as these provide complex nutrition and will help you feel fuller for longer.
And as with any supplement, you should always use protein bars as part of a balanced diet, such as after an intense workout or between meals, to stop you from snacking on junk food.
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