It is not uncommon for hikers and other fitness enthusiasts to substitute a protein bar for a meal. After all, it is more convenient, allows you to control your calorie intake, and provides enough nutrition in certain conditions, such as during high-altitude hikes. While, yes, the best protein bars are designed to be a substitute for meals in a pinch, they do not come without a few caveats.
The average protein bar has about 330 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat. A 3-ounce chicken breast, 3/4 cup of mixed vegetables, a medium-sized apple, and a glass of homemade cashew milk can provide up to 425 calories, 43 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat. This healthy alternative is also likely to contain higher amounts of nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium.
While protein bars are full of vitamins and minerals, this does not mean that they should always be used as a substitute for natural, whole foods. The best protein bars out there might contain whole food ingredients, but these are often classified as “dietary supplements,” which is why the FDA or USDA does not regulate them.
For example, the bars would not contain the phytonutrients found in plant foods that are essential for immune functions and fighting disease in the body. They also do not contain the mixture of amino acids that help with muscle development and repair, especially after strenuous activities.
The sugar in a protein bar, depending on the formulation, may be equivalent to that of a slice of cake. Any bars that contain corn syrup, sugar, sucrose, and other sweeteners may introduce quite a bit of sugar into your body. The resulting spike in blood sugar levels might give you an energy boost for a short while, but the resulting crash might ruin your body’s management of its daily energy.
As mentioned before, it is only best to replace whole meals with protein bars when necessary. If you expect to miss a meal or need to eat one on the go, a protein bar will do in a pinch, as long as it is the right one. It is also viable as a weight loss option for many individuals, as it can be used to control the intake of various nutrients.
That being said, if you are looking for a good source of protein, whole foods like lentils, chickpeas, and even broccoli are fantastic sources that you can consider.
If you absolutely need to replace one of your meals with a bar, make sure to buy and eat only the best protein bars. Protein bars that are close to 500 grams made from a high-quality plant-based protein source will be an excellent option for you.
Are you eating these bars for weight loss purposes? Then go for bars with no more than 230 calories, 10–15 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat. It should also have at least 3 grams of fiber.
However, if you’re looking for the best protein bars on the market, take our quiz to find out which bar is right for you!
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