Stashing a granola bar in your bag or munching on one at your desk can be a good way to add calories to your day if you're looking to gain weight.
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Below, we've rounded up the cream of the crop when it comes to high-calorie granola bars that can help you toward your weight goals.
The Best High-Calorie Granola Bars for Weight Gain
- Best Meal-Replacement Bar: Pro Bar Meal On-The-Go Peanut Butter ($32.04, Amazon)
- Best High-Fiber Bar: Superfood Energy Bar (recipe)
- Best Nut-Free Bar: GoMacro Oatmeal Chocolate Chip ($28.99, Amazon)
- Best for Carb-Lovers: IQ Bar Wild Blueberry ($24.99, Amazon)
- Best for Protein-Lovers: Thunderbird Cashew Fig Carrot ($23.95, ThunderbirdBar.com)
- Best Grain-Free Bar: No-Grain Apricot Energy Bar (recipe)
- Best Breakfast Bar: Perfect Bar Almond Butter ($24, PerfectSnacks.com)
- Best High-Protein Bar: Clif Builders Protein ($8.46, Walmart)
Can Bars Help With Healthy Weight Gain?
Bars can fit into a healthy weight-gain plan. "When it comes to weight gain, you want to aim for more nutrient-dense foods that contain a balance of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates," Maya Bach, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Chicago, tells LIVESTRONG.com. And many bars fit the bill.
Because these bars are typically calorie-dense, you can use them to increase your total calories without overloading your stomach with food.
One catch? If you don't choose right, some high-calorie bars can be "like a Snickers bar on steroids — insanely high in sugar and saturated fat," Bach says.
When you're trying to put on pounds, keep the definition of health weight gain in mind: That's between a half pound and 1 pound per week, Bach says.
How We Chose
When analyzing bars, we scouted the ingredients list and nutrition label, focusing on bars that prioritized real, whole-food ingredients, prized plant-based protein and were considered higher in calories.
In addition to some nutritionist recommendations of bars you can find on supermarket shelves, we also looked for DIY options you can make at home to help you save money.
1. Best Meal-on-the-Go Bar: Pro Bar Meal On-The-Go Peanut Butter
- Calories: 390
- Protein: 12 g
- Carbs: 43 g
- Fat: 21 g
- Fiber: 6 g
These bars are big enough to be satiating enough for a meal. (Or break one in half for a snack.) They're loaded with peanut butter, peanuts, sunflower, flax and sesame seeds, plus oats — all healthy, high-calorie foods.
Each full bar supplies 12 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat for serious staying power. Plus, they're high in fiber, with 6 grams per full bar.
One downside is that these are more expensive compared to many other bars.
2. Best High-Fiber Bar: Superfood Energy Bar
- Calories: 290
- Protein: 14 g
- Carbs: 35 g
- Fat: 14 g
- Fiber: 8 g
If you're eating more in an effort to gain weight, you want to make sure you're also including fiber, a heart-healthy nutrient that also helps keep you regular in the restroom.
This bar is a winner because it packs in fiber-rich whole foods: pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds and oats for a total of 8 grams per serving. (Adults should get between 21 and 38 grams of fiber per day, per the Mayo Clinic.)
There is no added sugar in this recipe — all the sweetness comes from the dates, which also give this bar a nice chewy bite. Make these at the beginning of the week and enjoy them throughout.
Get the Superfood Energy Bar recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Best Nut-Free Bar: GoMacro Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
- Calories: 270
- Protein: 12 g
- Carbs: 35 g
- Fat: 9 g
- Fiber: 3 g
It can be tough to find bars without nuts, especially if you're looking to ramp up your protein intake with a bar. GoMacro's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip flavor has 12 grams of protein, plus it's organic, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO and soy- and dairy-free, making it a great choice for those who have food allergies or on a restricted diet.
The protein in this bar comes from a mix of plant-based sprouted brown rice and organic pea protein. The sunflower seed butter gives it a sweet taste (there is added sugar in this bar), while the oat based delivers a nice chewy texture.
4. Best for Carb-Lovers: IQ Bar Wild Blueberry
Protein: 12 g
Carbs: 11 g
Fat: 15 g
Fiber: 8 g
You'd think that a bar for carb-lovers would be one that is carb-rich — but if you're filling your day with that macro, you can use a bar to help balance that out with more protein in your diet, Bach says, who recommends one that contains at least 12 grams of protein.
This truly tasty bar has just that, providing 12 grams of plant-based protein along with zero grams of added sugar (the sweetness comes from stevia and blueberries), and a respectable 11 grams of total carbs.
5. Best Bar for Protein-Lovers: Thunderbird Cashew Fig Carrot
- Calories: 160
- Protein: 2 g
- Carbs: 31 g
- Fat: 3.5 g
- Fiber: 5 g
Yes, the opposite rules of "carb-lovers" apply here: "If you typically consume a lower-carb, higher-protein diet and you're looking to gain weight, you want a healthy higher-carb bar," Bach says. Preferably one that has low to no added sugar.
If you love a hit of sweetness as a snack (or dessert), then a fruit-based bar is for you. The Thunderbird line of bars really hits the mark.
Their Cashew Fig Carrot is one of Bach's favorite flavors and it's a winner because of its healthy mix of fiber (5 grams per bar) and a little hit of protein (2 grams per bar), which comes entirely from whole foods (dates, figs, cashews, carrots, vanilla extract, Himalayan pink salt and nutmeg fill the entire ingredients list).
Thanks to the sweetness from the fruit and carrots, there are also zero grams of added sugar. You'll also score 10 percent of your daily value of the energy-revving nutrient iron.
6. Best Grain-Free: No-Grain Apricot Energy Bar
- Calories: 352
- Protein: 11 g
- Carbs: 26 g
- Fat: 23 g
- Fiber: 7 g
It can be tough to find a grain-free bar that really packs in the calories when you're looking to gain weight. The base of this DIY apricot energy bar is simply made of apricots, almonds and cashews (with some egg thrown in there for a surprise protein boost).
You will have to start your oven for this one, but the result is worth it.
Get the No-Grain Apricot Energy Bar recipe and nutrition info here.
7. Best Breakfast Bar: Perfect Bar Almond Butter
- Calories: 350
- Protein: 13 g
- Carbs: 25 g
- Fat: 19 g
- Fiber: 4 g
You might be able to put these in the "dessert for breakfast category," especially if you dig something sweet in the morning. The bars are made of a base of almond butter and honey, which makes them taste almost fudge-like. (And, as a consequence, you'll also get 12 grams of added sugar, so take note of that and consider eating fewer foods with added sugars accordingly.)
Because of the superfood powder that Perfect Bars are formulated with, you'll also score 10 percent of your daily need for potassium, a blood pressure-friendly nutrient, as well as 15 percent of your bone-building calcium, one-quarter of your magnesium (a nutrient that regulates stress) and 60 percent of your daily vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Not a bad way to start your day.
8. Best High-Protein Bar: Clif Builders Protein
- Calories: 290
- Protein: 20 g
- Carbs: 29 g
- Fat: 11 g
- Fiber: 2 g
Sometimes you need a bar that will really pack in the protein, especially if you need a snack with longer staying power.
The Clif Builders Protein bar straddles the line of a meal-sized bar with nearly 300 calories and 20 grams of protein per bar. It is higher in sugar (16 grams of added sugar, or about one-third of the daily recommended limit), as well as saturated fat. If you eat this one, watch the added sugar and sat fat during the rest of your day and plan to adjust your diet accordingly.
What to Know Before You Buy
Instead of staring blankly at the rows of granola bars, follow these smart guidelines for how to shop:
1. Choose Between Meal vs. Snack
These granola bars all supply a concentrated source of calories. And while everyone has different calorie needs (depending on factors such as your health goals, age, weight, height and activity level), Bach advises aiming for 160 to 220 calories for a snack-sized bar or 350 to 420 for a meal-sized bar.
2. Go for Healthy Fats
When choosing a bar, the key is understanding where your calories are coming from. Carbohydrates offer 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 calories per gram. All that means, says Bach, is that fat is more calorie-dense compared to carbs and protein.
You'll get the most bang for your buck by focusing on bars containing heart-healthy fats such as nuts and seeds (think: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp hearts).
3. Watch for Sweeteners
Ideally, you'd choose bars that limit added sugars (e.g. maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup), but you also have to be on the lookout for nonnutritive sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols (anything that has an "-ol" at the end, such as sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol).
"Sugar alcohols do not contain calories but can put a heavy load on your GI tract by pulling in water from your body, creating bloating and gas," Bach says.
If you're choosing a bar with sugar alcohol, that's fine. You may not experience any stomach distress eating them, but just be on the lookout for these side effects, and drink a lot of water, Bach says. If eating a bar makes you feel crappy (literally), then move onto something else.
- Mayo Clinic: Chart of high-fiber foods
- Nutrients: Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited
- National Institutes of Health: Potassium
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin E
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Gastrointestinal Tolerance of Chicory Inulin Products
- Shape: 10 Easy Recipes for Homemade Energy Bars