This review and taste panel was done completely independently with no sponsorship from any brand of protein bar.
If there’s one question I hear most often from clients, family, friends, or anyone else I may cross paths with, it’s what I think about protein and energy bars. As a Dietitian, Personal Trainer, and active gal myself I definitely recognize the necessity of protein bars for some of us, as well as the challenge we can face when trying to actually choose the right one.
But, fear no more! I’ve put in the hard work (with plenty of help from my taste panel participants!) to compare dozens of protein and energy bars to determine which ones are worth your hard earned cash. Read on to find the nutrition breakdown, cost comparison, and most importantly: What the taste panelists thought about each bar!
All of the bars I used in my review have been separated into 4 categories: Classic High Protein Bars, Plant-Based Protein Bars, Low-Carb Bars, and last but certainly not least – the Whole Foods Bars. I used these categories so it would be easy to compare different products depending on the type of bar you’re looking for. It also made it easier to compare flavour since bars in the same category often contain similar ingredients. In my research for this article I also found that many bars in the same category sell for about the same price too.
The bars were purchased from a variety of stores around Winnipeg (including grocery stores, drug stores, supplement stores, and gas stations), so the prices you encounter may vary slightly, but no matter where you shop you should be able to find some good options from these lists!
So, let’s dive in!
Group 1: The Best Classic High Protein/Meal Replacement Bar
A little background info: These bars are typically the most predominant on the protein bar shelf. They’re the “original” protein bars, and are generally meant to be used as a meal replacement or supplement for very active people who need a lot of on-the-go calories. They’re easy to find at almost any gas station, drug store, or grocery store. They can be a little on the pricey side, but if you compare the cost (and nutrition) to a fast food meal, I think they’re a decent option.
Here are the contenders:
As you can see, many of these bars have a lot of calories, fat, and protein packed into them. Since fat, carbs, and protein all contain calories, the ones that are highest in protein tend to be higher in overall calories as well. Whey or Soy protein on it’s own doesn’t taste great, so manufacturers often need to add plenty of tasty fat and sugar to cover up the “protein” taste. Depending on your personal nutrition plan some of these might be too high in calories, but if you really love the taste of a certain bar, just eat half as your serving and save the rest for another day!
I would also encourage anyone to exercise a bit of caution with the bars that use sugar alcohols as a sweetener. These substances can cause considerable gastrointestinal upset in some people (even in relatively small amounts). If you find you often get an upset stomach, abdominal craps, gas, bloating, or diarrhea after eating protein bars it may be due to the sugar alcohols- choose ones with natural sweeteners instead!
But most importantly, how did they taste?
Here are the notes from the taste panel we conducted…
Oh Yeah! (By Integrated Sports Sciences). This one was sort of like an Oh-Henry Bar in texture. Didn’t taste amazing though considering it’s 380cals. We found it overall a little bland. I’d probably just eat a real chocolate bar before I’d spend money on this one.
Presidents Choice Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar. Overall this bar was very chalky in texture, and quite bland. We didn’t detect much peanut butter or chocolate flavour in this one, and the outer coating of chocolate is so thin you can almost see right through it. If it was significantly cheaper than the other bars in this category I would probably have given it a better score, but since it’s about the same cost I wouldn’t recommend it.
Snickers Protein Bar (by Mars Canada). The guys on my taste panel were very excited for this one, and it was pretty impressive. The taste was very very similar to a snickers bar. Not bad in terms of calories either, so overall it is a pretty good choice. This bar was from a supplement store though so it’s not as easy to find as some of the ones that are carried at grocery or drug stores.
Clif Whey Protein Bar (by Clif Bar & Company). This bar actually had a very different texture from the others in this group. It wasn’t the creamy nougat-like texture that most whey or soy protein bars have, it was more of a crispy-rice type bar. It had a little less protein than some of the other bars in this category but we all thought the flavour was pretty good. Clif bars generally don’t disappoint and they have a wide variety of products for almost any nutrition plan or situation!
PrOATein Premium Nutritional Bar (by Hygiea). I had pretty high hopes for this bar (because how do you go wrong with oats and chocolate?!) and it was only one of two nut-free options I could find out of all the bars we tried. Unfortunately the taste and texture were both pretty awful. I was expecting a no-bake cookie type product, but it was dry, crumbly, and had almost no flavour at all. If you really needed a nut-free option and were in a pinch it would suffice, but you can also easily make a much better nut-free whey protein bar at home.
Gronk Signature Protein Candy Bar (by Muscle Tech). This bar was interesting because right on the package it advertises itself as a protein candy bar. So a bit of a mash-up between a protein bar and a chocolate bar (kind of like the Snickers too). Taste-wise it was really good actually, everyone in the taste panel gave it high scores on flavour and texture. In my opinion it was the only bar in this category that really had any legitimate chocolate flavor. Most just have an outer coating that tastes nothing like real chocolate. Nutritionally speaking it had no more sugar than any of the other bars we tried so they just seem to have nailed it on the recipe here.
Clif Builder’s Protein Bar (by Clif Bar & Company). I was interested in how the Clif Bar would stand up to the others in this category, since it’s one of the most well-known brands on the market. We used the plain chocolate flavour in the taste panel, but my usual Clif choice is the chocolate peanut butter. Overall the taste of this one was only ok (honestly the other flavours from the Clif Builder Bar line are better). We all agreed we would buy this one in the future, but the taste didn’t get it into our top 3.
Combat Crunch (by Muscle Pharm). A few of the taste-testers really liked this one and ranked it #1 in the category. The texture was quite nice and a little different than what you expect from these bars. Taste-wise I personally thought it was a little on the bland side, but overall this one scored well.
FitJoy Protein Bar (by NutraBolt). This bar definitely disappointed during the taste panel. The flavor was very bland, texture was quite dry, kind of like an over-baked brownie. 8 grams of fat seems like it should be enough to create a chewier, moister product but apparently not! Definitely wouldn’t buy this one.
So, which bars ranked the best in this category? Because there are so many bars that fit into this category we left it to a top 3…
- Snickers Protein Bar
- Gronk Protein Bar
- Combat Crunch Bar
Dietitian top pick? I’d have to give it to the Snickers protein bar. It definitely had one of the best flavors in this category, AND had the lowest calories (without sacrificing a lot of protein) compared to the others in the top 3. It also uses only real sugars as sweeteners in the bar, as opposed to the sugar alcohols that may cause tummy troubles in some folks.
Group 2: Best Whole Foods Bar
A little background info:
What these bars all have in common is that they’re created with primarily simple, recognizable ingredients. With no artificial sweeteners or lists of fake ingredients meant to mimic the flavour or texture of real food. Since Dietitians are all about promoting whole foods way of eating, these types of bars are definitely what I like to bring on a long hike or if I know I’ll need an on-the-go snack. Many of the bars we taste-tested are free of some common allergens as well so if you need to avoid specific food ingredients these bars are often a good bet.
The challenge however is balancing taste, texture, and nutrition in a bar where you can’t simply swap out some of the carbs for artificial sweeteners and get a more appealing macro distribution. These bars overall tend to be a little lower in protein as well compared to the previous category because they don’t contain added whey or soy isolates (which is why I refer to them more as energy bars vs protein bars) But, my taste panel and I were up for the challenge of finding out which ones are worth a purchase!
Here are the contenders:
Overall the nutrition facts between bars are fairly comparable. Because most have to use nuts as their protein source, the fat content is also high, leading to many of these bars being almost equivalent in calories to the high protein bars from the previous category, but in a much smaller portion size.
and here’s what our taste panel had to say!
LaraBar Fruit and Nut Energy Bar (by Small Planet Foods Inc.). I’ve had quite a number of different Larabars over the years, and unfortunately the particular flavor we used during the taste panel wasn’t one of better ones. The ingredient list is unbelievably short, and overall the panel thought that the bar definitely tastes like peanuts and dates (if you’re into that sort of thing), but not the best texture (and a little oily!). I’d definitely recommend giving Larabars a change, but you might have to try a few to find the flavour you like best.
Clif Energy Bar (by Clif Bar& Company). This bar scored quite high by my taste panel. Everyone really liked the real peanut butter flavour and the texture of the bar. It has a nice creamy peanut butter filling and definitely feels like a treat compared to some of the other bars. The chocolate flavour in the outer part of the bar wasn’t as chocolaty as we would have liked, but overall the bar was enjoyable.
Kashi Joy Energy Nut Bar (by Kashi Company). This bar was a bit more hit and miss with the taste panel depending on personal food preferences! Overall it was very nutty and had a nice grainy texture with lots of little chunks of nuts (WARNING: contains raisins for anyone who hates raisins out there). The flavour according to the package of this bar was Espresso. We couldn’t really discern any strong coffee flavour, but I did find it a bit bitter. It might have also had some spices like cinnamon and nutmeg perhaps. One person commented it was kind of like trail mix made into a bar. Not bad, and one of the lower-priced bars as well.
Bounce Peanut Protein Energy Ball (by Bounce Foods). For a bar that has the 1st ingredients as peanut this taste NOTHING like peanuts. It was actually really surprising how bad it was. The texture was very chewy (almost marshmallow-like) and just bland. We all gave it a terrible score.
GORP Bar (by GORP). This bar gets bonus points for being made locally right here in Manitoba! All of the taste panelists really enjoyed the texture. It’s soft and granola=bar like, but with some crispy bits in there to keep it interesting. The flavour also scored well as the bar we tasted had a little cinnamon flavour to it so it was definitely more flavourful and enjoyable to eat compared to some of the others. The macronutrients are also very balanced and are made with whole grains for a nice 6 gram serving of fibre. Overall I definitely recommend GORP bars, and the best part is you’re supporting a local business with your purchase!
Go Macro Bar (by GoMacro Inc.). Go Macro is another company with a wide variety of flavours and products for every nutrition situation you may find yourself in. The bar I chose for this review was the peanut butter chocolate chip one (because overall I was trying to compare similar flavours and ingredients), but there are some other flavours (like the Cherry Berry bar) that I absolutely love. One of my taste testers really liked this one, and the flavour is definitely peanut-buttery with the little chocolate chip pieces (quite enjoyable!). A nice, simple bar that packs a lot of energy in- perfect for long hikes or days when you need an on-the-go, filling breakfast!
And the Winners are…
The taste panelists chose the GORP Bar and the Cliff Bar as their top two choices based on taste. Everyone liked the texture of both bars equally and said they would purchase either one in the future. For my Dietitian Top Pick I’d really give it to all of the bars in this category. The all have similar nutrient profiles and really it’s just about which one you like the best!
I do want to give the Go Marco bar an honourable mention as well though, because this company does make a number of different bars that are free of many common food allergens. Definitely worth taking a look at if you have dietary restrictions!
Group 3: Best Plant-Based Bar
A little background info…
With the rise in popularity of vegan and plant based diets, more an more athletes of all levels are looking for ways to get enough protein in their diets, without needing to consume whey protein. Many food companies have responded by using alternatives such as soy (which is almost equal in it’s protein content and quality to whey protein), or blends of various plant proteins such as pea, nut, or brown rice. The protein content can vary depending on the ingredients used. My brave taste panelists were ready to take on the the challenge of figuring out which plant-based bar takes the cake!
Here are the contenders:
And here’s what our taste panel had to say!
Vega Sport Bar (by Sequel Naturals). This bar was a big hit with the coconut fans in the room. The texture is pretty nice too, everyone agreed they enjoyed it. However, if you don’t like coconut (like one panelist in particular) this is not the bar for you. “It tastes like dirt” was quoted from this taster.
Fermented Vegan Proteins + (by Genuine Health). This bar ranked surprisingly good flavor-wise. The name was a bit of a turnoff for the tasters (the fermented idea sounded strange to them), but after trying it most agreed that it was decent. Had a good smooth texture and little chocolate chunks.
Simply Protein Bar (by Wellness Foods inc). The calorie content of this bar is much lower than the others in the group, and it shows. Unfortunately though in the interest of creating a low-cal bar with no added sugars, Wellness Foods has created a completely flavourless product. The texture ranked fine amongst the taste testers, but zero taste whatsoever. No one would rush to purchase this one again even despite the “better” nutrition profile. Fail.
Power Bar Plant Based (by Post Holdings). This bar was a little different texture-wise than the others in the panel. It was more of a granola bar type bar, very chunky. Everyone liked the texture of the bar, but some of the tasters overall found it a little bland.
SunRype Okanagan Energy (by SunRype Products ltd). This bar was very similar in taste and texture to the Vega chocolate coconut bar. A little lower in calories, protein, etc but the price is also a lot lower so if you’re a coconut fan and wanted something a little smaller for a snack bar this is a great option.
And the Winner is…
The group was pretty split on which bar they liked the taste of the most, depending on preferences (like being a coconut fan). When it came to the texture of the bars it was a similar split, with some of the group preferring a chunkier bar or a more smooth consistency. Since calorie for calorie most of these bars are fairly similar in nutrition profile and price, it really comes down to personal preference and which one you enjoy. But, the Simply Protein bar was no one’s favourite in any category though, so it gets last place.
Dietitian Top Pick: Fermented Vegan Protein wins by a hair in my books. The nutrition profile of all these bars is so similar really they are all great options. However, the Fermented Protein Bar has the highest protein content, while being one of the lowest in sugar. And it scored well in the taste test.
Group 4: Best Low-Carb Bar
A little background info…
We can’t discuss protein bars without giving the low-carb category it’s due. These types of protein bars have been popular with many different high-protein diet programs over the years, because they contain a hight ratio of protein to carbs. What’s important to remember when looking at the labels for these bars, is that net carbs is calculated by taking the total carbohydrates and subtracting the fibre content. My criteria for a low-carb bar was one that contains 10 grams of net carbs or less. Many companies are able to achieve a high protein to carb ratio by adding supplemental fibre to their bars or using artificial sweeteners/sugar alcohols to replace some of the sugar. Same as with the classic high protein bars however, those sugar alcohols can have some unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects, so be cautious if you’re trying these bars for the first time. They also tend to be on the pricier side, so I probably wouldn’t include them regularly in my meal plans.
To be honest, this is a category of bars I typically don’t prefer taste-wise either. So I left it up to my taste panel to rate the bars and tell me their thoughts!
Here are the contenders:
What did our taste panel have to say?
Oh Yeah! One Bar (by Integrated Sports Sciences). This bar got poor points for flavour. All we were able to taste is the whey protein with a very small amount of peanut butter flavour. The texture was very very chewy, so if you want to practice eating slower, this bar will take your forever to eat! This line of bars has some other interesting flavours available so a different one might a bit better tasting.
Quest Bar (by Quest Nutrition). Similar in texture to the One Bar, but with a bit more of a chocolate flavour. The taste panel agreed it sort of reminded them of a tootsie roll. Might be helpful to satisfy a chocolate craving, but overall the taste was a little lacking.
FitMiss Delight Baked High Protein Bar (by Muscle Pharm): Unfortunately this bar didn’t get any points for flavour or texture. The taste panelists felt that it tasted almost stale, was quite dry and very bland. It really wasn’t good at all, but at a significantly lower cost than the other bars maybe it’s a “you get what you pay for” kinda thing
And the Winner is…
For best flavor AND texture, the panel was unanimous that the Quest Bar beat out the other contenders. The One Bar was a fairly close second, and we all agreed that the FitMiss bar was no good at all. Nutritionally the Quest and One bars are both suuuuper comparable as well, so they both get my Dietitian Top Pick stamp.
So, the bottom line is protein bars come in all different shapes and sizes, and with a huge variety of ingredients depending on who you are and what nutrition situation you may find yourself in. Within each category most of the bars are similar enough that really any bar would do, as long as you like the flavour of it and the cost won’t break the bank. Research has shown that taste, cost, and convenience are some of the top reasons why we choose the foods we do, so actually liking the bars you’re eating is a pretty important factor.
One final tip: I do think it’s good to try some different options available at places you normally shop so if you do need a quick on the go snack or meal replacement, you know which bars you enjoy and fit your personal nutrition need.
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About the Author: Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer who specializes in helping athletes reach their peak potential with nutrition.