Whether you're trying to gain weight in the form of muscle mass or just looking to add a few pounds for general health reasons, taking in adequate calories can sometimes be tricky.
If you find eating enough food a challenge, one way you can make things easier is to supplement your diet with protein bars and track your food on a calorie counter app. These high-protein, high-calorie bars are a convenient on-the-go snack that can make following a weight-gain diet much easier.
Nutritional Breakdown of Protein Bars
Depending on which brand of bar you buy, the ingredients and nutritional values will vary.
A typical protein bar will contain around 280 calories — about the same as a turkey sandwich, says Carol A. DeNysschen, professor of nutrition at SUNY Buffalo State. DeNysschen adds that most people will feel fuller eating a turkey sandwich, but if you struggle to eat enough calories, the less-satiating bar may be the better option.
A protein bar should have at least 15 grams of protein, notes trainer and sports medicine physician Phoenyx Austin, MD. Additionally, it should have at least 6 grams of fiber, no trans fats and fewer carbohydrates than protein. Another bonus is if the protein comes from whey or casein.
The Best Protein Bars for Weight Gain
1. Quest Protein Bars ($28.99 for pack of 12, Amazon.com)
- 21 grams of whey and nut protein, 200 calories, 5 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, 15 grams of fiber, gluten-free, 0 trans fat
2. Rise Protein Bar ($26.99 for pack of 12, Amazon.com)
- 20 grams of whey and pea protein, 300 calories, 20 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, gluten-free, peanut-free, non-GMO, 0 trans fat
3. ProBar Base Protein Bar ($31.80 for pack of 12, Amazon.com)
- 20 grams of soy protein, 280 calories, 15 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, gluten-free, non-GMO, 0 trans fat
*NOTE: These picks are from the top 10 protein bars reviewed in 2018 by a collaborative effort between WorkoutSupplements Reviews and reviews from fitness experts and enthusiasts.
Why Calories Count
Several different types of bars exist — low-fat protein bars for weight-loss dieting; high-protein high-calorie bars for those with weight gain as a goal; or ones designed as bodybuilding bars. In some cases, medical issues may prompt the use of protein products, such as weight gain bars for people with anorexia.
When aiming to gain weight, you want a bar that's high in calories. For weight gain, you must consume more calories than you burn, so it's vital that you pick a bar that helps up your daily calorie intake without making you feel overly full.
Protein Bars vs. Whole Food
Natural foods are typically the best source of nutrition for your body, even when you're trying to gain weight. Still, the calories and protein in a protein bar won't have a significantly different effect on your weight gain as the same amount of calories and protein from whole foods.
You can easily get your protein from lean meats, legumes and vegetables. While protein bars are convenient, they may contain added sugars, dietitian Kristin Willard, RD says. Additionally, choosing bars over whole foods may cause you to miss out on the essential nutrients and fiber you'd normally get in food. Plus, bars can be pricey.
How to Read a Protein Bar Nutrition Label
When buying protein bars, beware of ones that may say they are sugar-free but contain sugar alcohols. These ingredients may cause gastro problems, like bloating. You'll also want to read the label to check that your protein bar is free of trans fats.
Always check the sugar content and avoid ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose maltodextrin, sucrose or brown rice syrup; these are not only void of nutrition, but they can also lead to sugar spikes in your blood, warns Workout Supplements.
How to Make Your Own Protein Bar
Pre-made protein bars may be convenient every now and then and fit your calorie needs, but to ensure you're getting one that's exactly right for you, a better option could be to make your own.
You'll want to use a high-quality protein powder, whole grains, nuts, seeds and flax seeds to get a healthier bar. For a high-calorie bar, use oats, dried fruit, peanut or cashew butter and chopped nuts. Here are a few of our favorite recipes (feel free to add in protein powder to amplify the amount of protein):
- Dr. Phoenyx: 6 Tips for Choosing the Best Protein Bar
- New York Times: A Look Inside the Protein Bar
- Glamour: Afternoon Snack: Homemade (and Healthy!) Peanut Butter-Chocolate Protein Bars
- Buffalo State University: IN THE NEWS: WEIGHING IN ON PROTEIN BARS
- Kristin Willard: Are Protein Bars Right for You?
- Workout Supplements:Top 10 Best Protein Bars