Protein Bars – The Good, The Bad, & The Tasty

I remember biting into my first protein bar. It was chocolaty, sugary, and… What’s that?? “Healthy?!” I was hooked. Okay, so maybe I don’t remember the exact first time, but I do remember having a major teenage addiction to the convenience of grabbing a sweet Balance or Clif bar when hunger stroke. What I didn’t realize was, although it was healthier than reaching for a candy bar, it was by no means a viable meal replacement.

Emily Freeman Fitness Blog

Okay, so here’s the scoop. There is a time and place for protein or energy bars and there’s also certain criteria for finding one beneficial for your goals. I’m breaking down the good, the bad, and the tasty for picking the best protein bars.

1. Keep sugar in check.

Many protein bars can be loaded with refined sugars and added sweeteners. Make sure your bar has 10  grams or less sugar. Unless you’re training for a marathon (or any other grueling athletic event), your body does not need more added sugars than this. Some of these bars literally have the same amount of sugar as a Snickers! You will also want to make sure the sugar comes from all-natural sources like dried fruit, fruit extract, Stevia, honey, or maple syrup. The major no nos? Refined cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

2. Protein does a body (and booty) good!

Make sure there is enough protein in your bar to keep you satiated and help build and repair strong, curvaceous muscles you’re working so hard to sculpt! I like my bars to have at least 15 grams of protein. The best way to gauge the proper macronutrients is to look at the fat, protein, and carbohydrates as a whole. I prefer bars with somewhere around 30-40% of calories from protein, 30-40% of calories from carbohydrate, and 20-30% of calories from fat.

4. Not all protein is created equal.

Yup, you got to pay attention to the types of protein in your bars! A lot of protein bars will cut cost by using more processed, low-quality proteins. I choose bars made with whey, brown rice, pea, egg-white, or hemp protein. The protein I recommend avoiding is soy protein or soy protein isolate. Processed soy found in soy protein/soy protein isolate can cause a lot of stomach upset and irregular hormone imbalances among other not so pretty side effects.

5. The ingredient list shouldn’t be a novel.

If you’re having to google search more than a couple ingredients in your bar, ditch it! For packaged foods in general, I go by the rule, 5 ingredients or less and/or you should be able to pronounce all of them.

Not sure where to start? Here is a list of my top three favorite protein bars!

1) I Am Bar

My latest addiction, the I Am Bars! This bar is made with grass fed whey protein and all natural ingredients. The Apple Cinnamon is definitely my favorite. It really tastes like an apple pie in your mouth! Especially if you put it in the oven or toaster oven under broil for a couple minutes until golden brown, soft, and gooey. Mmm mmm mmm. The macro nutrients are impeccable as well. They have 7 grams of fat (only 1 g of saturated fat), 25 g of carbs, 19 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein!

**Use code LIFEINSPANDEX for a FREE box with subscription or 10% off individual orders!

I Am Bar2) Quest Bar

Quest bars can be dangerous. They just taste so da*m good! For protein bars in general, I like to limit it to 1 or 1.5 per day depending on my activity level and the rest of my eating choices. Yes, some of the Quest bars have sucralose in them, but only trace amounts. Macro nutrients for these babies are 8 grams of fat (3 grams of saturated fat) , 21 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 21 grams of protein.
Quest Bar



3) NuGo Slim

If you like your bar a little less chewy and a little more chocolaty, NuGo Slim bars are your jam! I love the dark chocolate coating and cookie-like center. Now, this bar does have some soy protein. But I’m willing to choose my battles on this one because the protein is certified non-GMO and also mixed with whey protein. The rest of the ingredients and the macronutrients are on point! Macronutrients for these protein bars are 6 grams of fat (2.5 grams of saturated fat), 19 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein.

Nugo Slim Bar

What’s your favorite protein bar? I would love any new recommendations. Let me know in the comment box below!

Health and happiness,



*Disclaimer: I am an ambassador for IAmBar, however, all opinions are my own. I truly love these bars and support the company as a whole. 

Hi and welcome to Life in Spandex! I'm Emily, a personal trainer who believes there should be no secrets standing in your way to getting fit. I am sharing my knowledge here on this blog in order to help you reach your goals. Fitness should be fun, eating healthy should taste good, and feeling your absolute best is the ultimate goal. Let's get fit together!
  1. […] 7. Protein Bars – The Good, The Bad, and The Tasty […]

  2. so good to know! i’m not sure what to look for when buying them until now.

    1. So glad I could help you! So important to know what’s going inside your body

  3. Great points! I feel like so many have an insane amount of sugar!

  4. Thanks for the post! I gotta say I make my own protein bars because I don’t trust any out there! There are a few good vegan ones for me but then there is the cost aspect.. siiigh.

    1. I love making my own too :). Do you have any recipes?

  5. I like what you said about the ingredients lists not being a novel! It sure seems that way sometimes. Thanks for these helpful suggestions. I’m always looking for a good pre or post-workout snack.

    1. You’re so welcome Rica 🙂

  6. That’s some good advice. I always just look at the calories and that’s it

    1. You gotta look at more than that! Calories are way less important than what’s actually inside your food 🙂

  7. The apple cinnamon bars sound yummy…I’ve never heard of that brand

    1. It’s new!!! Founded by pro baseball player Bob Wheatley! Definitely worth a try 🙂 especially when you can get a box for free!

  8. I’m obsessed with Quest Bars! Cookies and cream all day <3

  9. Have to watch the sugar usually like protein bars

  10. This is really interesting! I had actually only heard of the Quest bars, and it was neat to find a few others. My very favorite bars are Square Bars and Perfect Bars. Have you tried them?

    1. Yes I have! They’re good but have so much sugar 🙁

  11. I wish we have at least one these brands here.. It’d be handy while hiking. 🙂

    1. You can order iambars online 🙂 use code LIFEINSPANDEX for a free box!

  12. I’ll have to check these out, thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome Stephanie!

  13. Thanks Emily! This was great, concise info!

    1. You’re so welcome Emily :). Great job in class today!!!

    2. So i just ordered the peanut butter chocolate (because I think my family will like it best)
      but I really want to try the apple…maybe I can trade you one!

      1. I just finished off my last box of Apple but I will definitely give you one when I get my next shipment!

  14. Quest bars are definitely amongst my favorite protein bars, but now I definitely want to look out for the I AM bars.

    1. Yay! Right now you can only get them online so use that promo code to your advantage. Can’t wait to hear what you think Trish!

  15. Love love love Quest bars! They’re seriously addicting!

    1. You’d love the iambars too then! I know, they’re dangerous!

  16. Honestly, my favorite “protein bars” = chicken or salmon! haha!

    1. ;-p you cheeky, girl, you. Whole food is definitely the best option! But when you’re in a bind you can at least know you’re picking the next best 🙂

  17. I never knew which protein bars to try, for me they are so hit or miss! I am going to try some of these!

    1. So glad to help!! Let me know which ones you like best!

  18. Thanks for sharing! It can be so deceiving and intimidating to pick a protein bar that will actually do good things for the body and mind.

    1. Ugh ya I know… Food marketing is frustrating

  19. Thanks for this, I enjoy quest bars the most but I find that most of the protein bars that I’ve tried had really unappetizing textures or so loaded with sickly sweet flavors to mask the bad flavors.

    1. Totally feel ya on that Vy. The IamBars have the same texture as quest and are not sickening sweet at all!! You should give them a try. I mean you get a free box so why not?!

  20. some of these ive never heard of it. thank you for the information. 🙂 pinning to my foodie review board.

    1. Yay thank you back!

  21. You know, back in my heavy weight-lifting days, I would LOVE the Met-RX BIG 100 bars… in fact, thinking about it even now makes me salivate. But now-a-days my wife has got me to be extremely nutritional-conscious and we’re pretty organic oriented.

    Will have to give these ones a look next time I’m in our local sports nutrition store. My buddy owns the local Bakersfield Sports Nutrition where I get all my stuff. Will have to see if he has any of these.

    1. Yes definitely do David! At the moment, iambars are only sold online.

  22. You must try the fit crunch or muscle pharm combat crunch bars, I can’t even look at a quest bar now, they are SO yummy ! I will have to try the other two you mentioned thanks for sharing

    1. Oh I love fit crunch! Thanks!

  23. I’m a huge fan of Clif bars but I usually can’t justify the calories, so I never buy them. Probably for the best, and there are a lot of lower calorie options out now anyway.

    1. Yes definitely! Clif bars are not the worst as far as calories go. Yes 250 is on the higher side for a snack but it’s not unacceptable. They just pack in the sugar!

  24. Good to know! There are so many of them out there. Thanks for this review post. It’s super helpful.

    1. You’re so welcome Christine!

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