Picking the Right Protein- Bars and Powders

Have you ever found yourself wandering around the “Healthy Living” section at the grocery story, trying to decipher between the 18 bajillion different options for protein bars and protein powders? It can be a daunting task to try to figure out which products are indeed healthy, not loaded with weird ingredients, and worth your money! The most expensive option is not always the best, and we have some tips on sorting through the labels to make sure you find the best product.

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Look at the Ingredients List

Look for products with shorter ingredient lists. In our previous post on label reading we explained how the ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest (meaning the first few ingredients are present in large amounts). If the first ingredient is sugar, this is probably not the best choice. Be careful of the alternative names for sugar though, including: brown rice syrup, dextrose, cane sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, honey, cane juice/syrup, corn syrup/high fructose corn s syrup, fructose and glucose (Check out this list for even more unconventional names for sugar).

For a protein powder- protein should be the first ingredient. Look for options that contain fewer than five additional ingredients. Many will contain some type of sweetener- since most protein powders are flavored. Ideally, look for one without stabilizers and emulsifiers- the most commonly seen ones include soy lecithin, carageenen, and xanthan gum.


For a protein bar- protein should be in the top three ingredients, depending on what else the bar is comprised of. Lara Bars, for example, contain protein from whole foods, so “protein” will not be listed.

Look at the type of protein and how many grams are in a serving

There are a variety of different types of protein available now- whey, soy, rice, pea, egg white- just to name a few. Whey protein is arguably the most common and widely used. It is derived from dairy and is a complete protein (meaning it provides all of the essential amino acids).

Depending on your dietary preferences- you may opt for a non dairy based protein- in which case, pea protein is a great option.


A product with ~15-20 grams of protein per serving (bar or powder) is an excellent choice. Anything above this is not utilized for protein synthesis, meaning it is broken down and used for other energy in the body. Shakes and bars that provide upwards of 50 grams per serving are not necessary and will not facilitate any “extra muscle growth”. Products with less than 15 grams are not necessarily a bad choice, but may not be worth the money as there are many more whole foods that contain similar amounts of protein that would be more economical choices to provide that amount of protein.

Look at the nutrition label

As always, you will want to peruse the label to make sure the nutrition facts are in check. Look at calories, fat, fiber, protein, and sugar.

Most protein powders range from 80-100 calories for ~15-20 gram serving of protein. Since protein contains 4 calories per gram, this means that a product that contains 20 grams of protein has 80 kcal strictly from protein. Any additional calories would be from additional ingredients.

Many protein bars contain anywhere from 150-250 calories and 10-20 grams of protein. The same math applies, thus a bar with 10 grams of protein contains 40 calories from protein- additional calories are from the other ingredients. This is where picking bars with more simple ingredients lists will ensure you are getting more protein and less added sugar, flavorings etc.


We hope these tips will help you to be better prepared to make a smart buy next time you find yourself in the market for a protein bar or powder!

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