Top 5 Muscle-Building Protein Bars!

Top 5 Muscle-Building Protein Bars!


Update: May 25, 2019

Oh, the power of protein! And since our bodies don’t store it, like it does fat and carbohydrates, we need to take in a fair amount each day.

Folks munch on protein bars:

  • as snacks
  • to supplement their diet
  • to help keep their blood healthier
  • to strengthen hair and nails, skin and bones
  • as a muscle-building block—it’s not surprising that super active people, gym rats, bodybuilders, and elite athletes reach for a good protein bar. [1]

It works nicely, too for use trying to drop some pounds, because a good protein bar should be high-protein, low-sugar, low-carb, low-cal and free of artificial sugars.

That last part is really important, because in low-carb, low-sugar bars what’s usually added are sugar alcohols – which have nothing to do with booze – or artificial sweeteners. If it ends in -ol it’s a sugar alcohol; like mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol for example, they’re sugar alcohols. [2]

And while in moderation these sweeteners will help regulate blood sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association, they also come with some possibly nasty gastro side effects – diarrhea, bloating, and gas. But they may also increase your craving for sweets and weight gain is a possibility. [3]

While artificial sweeteners like aspartame – accepted and used in tons of products from diet soda to flavored yogurts – are globally approved, the jury is still out on the actual science of these “faux” sugars. [4] [5]

We’ve looked at six protein bars with a focus on strengthening muscle – which doesn’t mean you have to be a bodybuilder. Enhancing and strengthening muscles is a good idea for everyone.

Muscle-building doesn’t happen while you’re working out but after; the idea is to let your body recover. A protein bar can help, and is hopefully also a tasty reward.

The best way to get protein into your body is through foods like eggs, lean meats, legumes, greens, fish, seeds, and nuts; good, old-fashioned, healthy, whole nutritious foods. But as one dietitian noted, you can’t keep a turkey sandwich in your pocket. So here’s the lowdown on six bars: ingredients and quality, what users think, and what nutrition scientists say.

1. Quest Protein Bars

What’s Inside?

Quest’s protein blend—which consists of milk and whey proteins—is the ingredient that helps build muscle, aid in weight loss, and lower cholesterol. Other ingredients include soluble corn fiber, almonds, dried coconut, and stevia. Gluten- and soy-free, each bar packs a whopping 20 grams of protein, is a good low-carb choice with just 4 net carbs and 15 grams of fiber, is low-fat and just under 200 calories. There are more than a dozen flavors, including apple pie, double chocolate, PB&J, coconut cashew, and lemon cream pie; some far more popular than others. [6] [7]

What’s the Word from Consumers?

A recent purchaser says his father bucked diabetes with a low-carb diet, and Quest bars were on the menu:

They are made with healthy proteins and ingredients …I recommended them to my father who was eating low carb due to diabetes. In the last 6 months, he has completely turned around his diabetes. They didn’t make him feel deprived of a good snack. He eats one of these a day. [8]

On, more than 13,000 people reviewed Quest bars. The consensus? A 4-star protein bar. [9]

And it appears blood sugar regulation, achieved in part by adding Quest bars to a reduced-sugar diet for folks looking to lose lots of weight or prevent or help to mitigate diabetes, is a big plus:

Best Protein Bar on the market! I have been able to maintain my blood sugars in very tight control, and the flavors are so good. Assisted this diabetic in losing 80 lbs and keeping it off while providing the protein required to stay healthy. [10]

But it wasn’t all sweet for Quest. Nearly 800 reviewers complained about taste (all five flavors), with most giving the bar just one star. Ouch. [11]

What’s the Scoop from Experts?

A Journal of Sports Science and Medicine study article says that whey “protein isolates contain protein concentrations of 90% or higher.” So a superior protein source. But during the process to remove fat and lactose – though good for the lactose-intolerant -and though the protein concentration is high, “it often contain proteins that have become denatured due to the manufacturing process.” [12]

“Denatured” – in other words, it’s processed, and so no longer perfect; the milk protein is tweaked during processing, usually with “heat, alkali, or acid, so that some of its original properties, especially its biological activity, are diminished or eliminated.” [13]

Still, it’s a protein snack bar, not the source of all your nutrition. You should be good with a Quest bar if you’re looking to control your sugar, strengthen your muscles, or get some help losing weight.

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2. MusclePharm Combat Crunch

What’s Inside?

This bar eats more like a soft-batch cookie, it says. Flavors include:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  • S’mores
  • Cinnamon Twist
  • White Chocolate Raspberry

Made by MusclePharm, Combat Crunch is:

…made using a proprietary baking process for superior taste and a softer texture. The bars are high protein, with low active carbs and tons of fiber. Unlike hard-paste, “taffy-like” sports bars, Combat Crunch™ is like eating a soft-batch cookie.

The “crunch” part seems to be the chocolate chips, freeze-dried raspberries, and other add-ins. Regardless, the bar has 20 grams of protein – same as the Quest bar above. But this one comes in at 210 calories and has more net carbs at 13 (Quest has 4 net carbs). Combat Crunch has a prebiotic fiber and a similar protein blend as Quest, but it does include sugar and an artificial sweetener.

What’s the Word from Consumers?

So people say Combat Crunch Bars taste good, like cookies or candy bars; a little crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. But a fair number of purchasers say part of the problem is this little protein bar/cookie is too yummy, and at more than 200 calories each, one might reach for a second. More than 10 percent of all reviewers on Amazon described these bars using the word “delicious.” “Yum,” “So so good,” and “Amazing,” also are frequent descriptions. [14]

Not every flavor has a fandom, though; Birthday Cake may not be a celebration:

NOPE. So everyone’s tastes vary and I absolutely had no delusion that this would actually taste like cake…but seriously when you’re trying to lose weight one can dream right? It’s by far the worst thing I’ve ever tasted that has the word birthday or cake in the title. [15]

What’s the Scoop from Experts?

We’ve already talked about whey isolates. But Combat Crunch contains another ingredient we did not see in the Quest bar: sucralose, an artificial sweetener marketed as Splenda.

The jury is out on artificial sweeteners. While in moderation and not a regular habit, some health organizations are not opposed to artificial sweeteners as they don’t raise blood sugars. [16]

That said, there’s a study that claims cooking with Splenda at high heats (above 350 degrees F/120 C) generates possibly harmful chemicals – one a potential carcinogen. Note it’s only one study at this point, but does recommend using other sweeteners at higher temps. It doesn’t matter much for this bar, since you won’t be cooking it, but if you’re not good with artificial sweeteners this may be a deal breaker. [17]

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What’s Inside?

You won’t be surprised to learn that the “best soft baked” Protein Cookie by MuscleTech is mostly powered by whey protein. But margarine? Sucralose? Sugar and a little more sugar?

It’s not all bad; there’s almonds.

This protein bar is not for the low-carb dieter with 49 grams of carbohydrates and coming in at 350 calories each. It’s all about the protein here, from whey and soy, with a net 18 grams of protein.

What’s the Word from Consumers?

Even MuscleTech says its protein cookie tastes better if it’s microwaved for a few seconds before eaten. Actually, they say the flavor will be “enhanced.” More than 75 percent of purchasers who reviewed the peanut butter Protein Cookie gave it a solid five stars, many pointing to taste and it being a great pre- or post-workout protein snack. [18]

These soft baked whey protein cookies are delicious and absolutely AMAZING!! They are very filling and a great source of protein and post workout snack. I love eating them after my workouts because I see them as my treat after my hard work. The peanut butter ones are my FAVORITE. [19]

What’s the Scoop from Experts?

Ten seconds in the microwave isn’t going to heat these enough to bother the sucralose in them. We’d have to ask MuscleTech what temperature they bake at. But that wasn’t the ingredient that raised my brows.

It was the margarine that caught my attention because if my memory serves, not sure I’ve seen it listed as an ingredient in, well anything but margarine. I suspect the amount is small; but although some margarines are pretty heart-healthy, many—like stick margarine—are loaded with trans fats.

From the Mayo Clinic:

In general, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fat it contains. So stick margarines usually have more trans fat than tub margarines do. Trans fat, like saturated fat, increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fat lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol levels. So skip the stick and opt for soft or liquid margarine instead. [20]

But there’s no way to know how much margarine is in this bar and its density. Is it going to hurt you? Probably not. Depends on which side of caution you wish to err.

The other thing to know is this cookie bar is loaded with calories and carbs. And that’s fine if you’re trying to bulk up, but not smart if your goal is weight loss. [21]

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4. Fit Crunch

What’s Inside?

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine’s Fit Crunch protein bars have quite the following on social media. Like other protein bars, it’s all about the whey. But there’s a candy bar-like appeal—like the Peanut Butter Bar that starts with a soft-baked cookie, then layers of peanut buttery “coating, crunchy protein crisps, chocolaty goodness, and a peanut butter drizzle”—for fitness enthusiasts and athletes that crushes cravings while delivering 16 grams of protein that makes them a popular brand.[22]

But there’s a lot of stuff in these bars that, while found in many other protein bars, may not be the best ingredients on earth. Like sugar alcohols maltitol and sorbitol; sweeteners like corn syrup, sugar, and sucralose; and the fats, including saturated fats, are in here.

The “wow” is the 30 grams of protein in each flavor bar. Equally “wow”—though not in the same way—is the almost four hundred calories per bar, even considering the 30 grams of carbs is netted to 9 once you account for the 2 grams of fiber and the 16 grams of sugar alcohols. The 8 grams of saturated fat is the heavy here (forty percent of the recommended daily intake!), along with 320-490 milligrams of sodium (490 is twenty percent of the recommended daily intake).

Since you’ll see below that a lot of customers compared Fit Crunch to a Snickers bar, I looked up the nutrition and did some math for an equivalent amount—88 grams. Honestly, aside from the protein content, the Snickers bar has a gram less saturated fat, half the sodium, and only 5 calories more. The carbs are higher, for obvious reasons. [23]

But it’s the protein, remember.

Takeaway: If you’re low-carbing, go for the FitCrunch; if you’re watching your salt (because of hypertension issues), you’re better off with the Snickers bar and a few slices of turkey.

What’s the Word from Consumers?

Apparently these bars are very tasty (at four hundred calories, they’d better be). A lot of reviewers on Amazon think so. Most oft read? They taste like a candy bar:

Tons of reviews for protein bars are people carrying on about how the bars taste “JUST LIKE CANDY”. I’ve had tons of protein bars, and they never taste like candy. These ones actually do taste like a candy bar. The crunchy aspect of them really makes them seem like an authentic candy bar. Can’t even taste the protein. [24]

Candy comparisons include: “Taste more like a Snickers bar.” No, maybe, “…like a peanut butter cup and a star crunch combined.” [25]

 What’s the Scoop from Experts?

High-calorie, saturated fat…saturated, high-sodium, and a bunch of artificial sweeteners (plus sugar itself!): FitCrunch bars tick off just about every box except protein that medical authorities tell us to avoid:

Limit the saturated fats… Totally avoid trans fats…[that] can raise your “bad” cholesterol. … Polyunsaturated fats are better choices… In small amounts, they can lower your cholesterol. But they still have a lot of calories, so don’t use too much. …

Sugar and salt are hard to beat. You’re wired to want them. But if you get too much, it’s a problem. …too much salt raises your blood pressure, which puts more strain on your heart. Each day limit yourself to about a teaspoon of table salt (which has 2,300 milligrams of sodium). [26]

Probably best to save this protein bar for a once-a-month super-cheat.

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5. BSN Syntha-6 Protein Crisp Bars

What’s Inside?

Google the word “syntha”—just “syntha,” not “BSN Syntha-6 Protein Crisp Bar”—and you’ll find page after page of shopping sites and posted reviews of these bars with multiple stars leaping off the page. What’s inside these bars that make them, by all appearances, so popular?

The ingredient list looks very much like those found in the bars we’ve already looked at: isolates of whey, milk, and/or soy proteins, sweeteners and flavors, some type of nuts or chocolate chips, oils and other fats, and the like. A few that I’d not seen previously include yogurt powder—which is high in protein but low in fat, sugar and lactose, making it calorie-friendly and easily digestible—and pea fiber (often found in dog food as a functional fiber, but it’s in people foods, too). [28] [29]

With crispy flavors like Chocolate Crunch, Vanilla Marshmallow, Peanut Butter Crunch, and Salted Toffee Pretzel, Syntha Protein Bars aid in recovery after a grueling workout—“busting your ass in the weight room,” the company, Bio-Engineered Supplements and Nutrition (BSN), says. These bars are 230 to 240 calories each, with 20 grams of protein and 2 to 4 grams of sugar. [27]

What’s the Word from Consumers?

“Push your performance past previous barriers,” the company says. This bar is for athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness devotees—not necessarily for the everyday person looking for a protein-rich but low-calorie and low-carb bar to curb hunger, or to replace or partially replace, a meal. [30]

And that’s not just my opinion; that’s the consensus. More than half the 5,000-plus purchasers who reviewed BSN protein bars and shakes on praised the power of the protein pre- or post-workout. Plus, “Tastes like a Rice Krispie treat!” [31]

“It helps keep me lean strong and ready for a work out, I think the mix of proteins and slight fat content help with all of this.” [32]

“They help out so much with our fitness journey …I would definitely recommend these to anyone if you’re always on the go, into fitness or just trying to change you sweet habit.” [33]

It’s also very highly rated on bodybuilding websites. [34]

What’s the Scoop from Experts?

Pea protein, despite being found in dog food, is actually a pretty good source of soluble and insoluble fiber that’s found in lots of vegan packaged foods. It’s a plant-based protein that’s considered to be superior to soy—and even whey, for vegans (whey comes from cow’s milk). It’s also easily digested. [35]

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