The Best Protein Bars to Quell Hunger, According to Dietitians and Shape Editors
Protein bars have long been every fitness enthusiast's and snack fiend's best friend. They are available in countless innovative flavors, stifle hunger, and help you meet your #gains goals, thanks to protein's role in muscle building. But sometimes, these friends are actually foes in disguise; A crinkly wrapper can conceal a chalky, bitter bar that's hard enough to break a tooth and will leave your stomach growling in 20 minutes flat.
So how are you supposed to know which protein bars are actually tasty and filling enough to be worth adding to your shopping cart? Look to this all-inclusive guide to find out the qualities to look for in a snack bar and the best protein bars on the market, according to registered dietitians and Shape staff members.
Why Snack On Protein Bars, Anyway?
For starters, eating a protein bar can help you score, well, protein — a necessary macronutrient that helps build and repair cells, tissue, and muscle; ensures proper growth and development; and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. People following a 2,000-calorie diet generally need to score at least 46 grams of protein daily, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and eating a protein bar can help you get one step closer to meeting that goal.
But protein bars do more than just keep your body running smoothly — they can also help you quiet your growling stomach, says Ashley Munro, M.P.H., R.D., a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor in Tucson, Arizona. When choosing a protein bar that also contains a moderate amount of carbohydrates, you'll benefit from immediate and extended satiety. Carbs are digested quickly, raise blood sugar levels in roughly 15 minutes, and release mood-boosting serotonin and satiating hormones, so they turn off your brain's initial "hunger switch," Abby Chan, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist and the co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff in Arizona, previously told Shape. Your body breaks down protein more slowly than it does carbohydrates, so together they create a stable rise in blood sugar (versus a quick spike), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Protein's really helpful at stabilizing blood sugar...[and] having good blood sugar throughout the day helps all of us feel satisfied and sustained," Munro previously told Shape.
Thanks to their on-the-go nature, protein bars also allow you to fill your empty stomach (and keep you from going hangry) whenever, wherever, notes Munro. "Honoring your hunger throughout the day is a lot easier when something's available," she adds. "Hunger strikes when we don't always have [a meal] with us, and in those times, I think protein bars can be really great options because you can honor your hunger and it can be a bridge to mealtime." Translation: By keeping a protein bar on hand, you'll be able to give your body the energizing nutrients it needs, rather than have to ignore your hunger cues until dinner.
How to Find the Best Protein Bar
When choosing a protein bar to add to your snack collection, look for a bar that offers 7 to 20 grams of the macronutrient, which will ensure it actually tides you over until your next meal, says Munro. On the ingredient label, look for quality protein sources that fit your dietary preferences, such as whey or egg if you're an omnivore or pea protein or brown rice protein if you're plant-based, she suggests. (If you're wondering, protein quality reflects how rich the protein source is in the essential amino acids, as well as how easily your body can utilize the protein.) Regardless of the ingredient, "they're all going to give you protein, just in different packages," says Munro. "Some are going to be more available to your body or give you more protein than others, but it's only a snack, and it's hopefully not the only source of protein you're getting that day." (BTW, here's what eating the right amount of protein really looks like.)
You'll also want to select a snack that provides some fiber (about 3 grams), says Munro. The nutrient (which is a type of carb) can't be broken down by the body and, in turn, ups the bar's satisfaction factor, she says. Still, you can have too much of a good thing. "I think it's a little dicey if it's high-fiber, like 10 grams, because there could be added synthetic fibers, like chicory root, which could give you tummy troubles or gas," says Munro.
Of all the guidelines for choosing the best protein bar, however, the most important has nothing to do with nutrition. "Honestly, one of the most important parts is it's gotta taste good," says Munro. "I think that's always important for me, to find those brands where I'm even excited to eat it. I'm not looking in my bag like, 'Ugh, that's all I have?' and dreading it."
One way you can keep your tastebuds excited about your fueling snack? Stock your pantry (and, in some cases, fridge) with a handful of the best protein bars, below, which registered dietitians and Shape editors can't stop raving about.