Protein Bars: The Breakdown

Some protein and granola bars are nutritionally identical to candy bars. Here's what to look for in a protein bar to really get the nutrients you need.

Let’s be honest, the world of protein bars and snack bars is so overwhelming and complicated. You walk through the snack bar aisle in the grocery store and there’s just shelves and shelves of what companies claim to be nutritious, healthy, and guilt-free options. While I’m not trying to bash protein bars and snack bars, most of the time they’re none of those things.

A majority of protein and snack bars are basically just candy bars disguised as “healthy” options. In this post I’m going to break down one of my all-time favorite granola bars the Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in Chocolate Chip to one of my most favorite candy bars. It’s honestly shocking how similar the two nutrition labels are. Then I’m going to go into all of my favorite protein bars at the moment. I typically eat one a day so I have a whole list of favorites!

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Most people will look at those numbers and think, “Well the Quaker bar has almost half the calories as the Snickers so that’s definitely the healthier choice.” Most people have been trained to look at calories when accounting for the quality of food. While that can be good measure of how nutritious a food source is, it really only tells you how calorically dense the food is.

The clear winner in this comparison seems to be the Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip bar, right?


I want you to pay particular attention to the serving sizes. The Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip bar only has a serving size of 24 grams. That’s exactly half of the 48 gram serving size of the Snickers. So, to make this more of a fair comparison, I’m going to scale down the serving size of the Snickers bar to 24 grams.

Let’s scale this down:

Well look at that. The nutrition facts are almost the same! Yes the Snickers bar still has approximately 23 more calories than the Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip bar, but in the grand scheme of things, 23 calories is nothing.

Shocking, right?

So, side-by-side, the two bars aren’t drastically different. I’m not advocating you to go out and eat a Snickers bar every day in place of your regular granola bar, but I want you to be aware at just how similar snack bars can be to candy bars.

What to look for in a protein bar?

Here are my requirements:

  • Under 250-300 calories
  • Protein content around 20-25 grams
  • Carbs close to a 1:1 ratio to protein
  • Fat under 10 grams

If a bar is over 300 calories, there’s a lot more carbs or fat than I’m looking for in a small meal replacement. 300+ calorie bars have their place, but that place is not in my stomach.

Protein should be the main focus of the protein bar so it needs to have a substantial amount. 20-25 grams is a solid choice for a small meal replacement bar. I also want the main protein source to be some form of whey isolate (read more about whey protein here). This gives you the highest protein content with minimal fat and carbs.

Carbs do and should have their place in a protein bar. If you’re using a protein bar solely for a post-workout meal, you might want to consider something with a littler higher carb content to help restore all that glycogen in your muscles. But for me, when eating a protein bar as a meal replacement, 25ish grams of carbs is perfect.

Unless my protein bar has peanut butter or something of the sort in it, the fat content should not be significant. Period. 8-10 grams is the range I’m shooting for.

Some of my favorites!

Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar in Peanut Butter Fudge

These are definitely in my top 3 of favorite protein bars. They’re more of a cookie/wafer style bar than a dense protein bar. The macros are pretty decent, however they are a little higher in fat than I would like. But, that hasn’t stopped me from eating them!

FitJoy Nutrition Protein Bars

I received this in my April StrideBoxFIT box, and it’s delicious. I really liked the consistency of the bar – not too chalky, didn’t taste like cardboard.

Nature Valley Protein in Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate | Kirkland Signature Protein Bar

The Nature Valley Protein bars are a great budget-friendly option that you can find in any grocery store! I think that’s a huge plus. They’re not going to break they bank, they have a decent amount of protein, and they’re delicious.

The Kirkland Signature Protein Bars are decent. They’re not the best, but they’re also not the worst. The consistency is good, they taste delicious, and the macros are very similar to those of a Quest Bar.

Quest Bars

Alright these are my all-time favorite. Quest has received a lot of negative feedback in the past few years after they changed their formula, but their newest formula is delicious. The bars are most, flavorful, and honestly don’t taste like I’m eating 21 grams of protein. These are a staple that I always have on hand and keep in my gym bag on the regular.

I hope this post opened your eyes to the world of protein bars, and what to look for when trying to find one! As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below and I’ll  get back to them as soon as I can 🙂

~abigail gray

  • I had NO idea about a lot of this! This is making me definitely rethink the chocolate chip granola bar in my bag…it never seems to actually give me any energy! I’ve been dying to try Quest bars…any flavors you recommend? 🙂
    paige / eyeliner wings & pretty things

    • Hmm I really really love the Blueberry Muffin. I was afraid it’d be too sweet and too artificial tasting, but it’s none of those things! I’ve also heard really great things about the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

  • Wow this was so great to know! The granola bars you used to compare are the exact ones I’ve been eating thinking they’re the healthier choice, so this was so helpful.

    Ashlee //