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Getting Smarter @ our TOP Energy/Protein Bar Picks

Just when we think we have the energy/protein bar question answered, we learn that one of the most common energy bar protein sources, soy protein isolate (SPI), is inferior to casein, whey & rice. If you have followed our data driven analyses, you know that we select our athletic-minded favorites based on taste, nutrition, ingredients AND the DATA!! See our last article here.

But NOW we need to dig deeper and think MORE about the protein source in our bars.  

  • First, we will explain why we are starting to forgo soy protein in favor of whey, casein or rice. 
  • Second, we will give you the data you love about our "refined" top picks. 

Our objective is to ensure that the energy or protein bar you choose works hard for you. And with all the nutrition noise out there (all natural, low sugar, high protein), it's not easy to separate the cream from the crap! 

Is soy protein bad? It depends.  

  • Studies are not full-proof, nor fully conclusive. However, there is enough research out there to suggest that consumers should consider how much, and what type, of soy they are consuming. Bottom line: be informed.
  • Whole soy is not "bad". Research shows this complete protein is heart healthy and can lower other disease risks. It is also one of the few plant protein sources that is complete.
  • About 90% of soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. There is no scientific agreement on the dangers of GMO soy. This article raises the red flag on all non-fermented soy, even Non-GMO and organic. Again, there is much controversy.
  • Some argue against soy based upon its "hormone" and "endocrine disrupter" effects. Many attest that soy can interact with hormones and cause all sorts of havoc including cancer. But, the evidence swings both ways and is dependent upon a host of factors.
  • Soy can be dangerous for those who already have an existing thyroid problem and take medications for it.
  • The type of soy consumed is really the crux. Nearly everyone agrees that AVOIDING processed soy is good. When soy is processed the good nutrients are stripped away and it loses its health benefits. "Soy protein" as an ingredient is a red flag for processed. NuGo

Bottom line: Choose whole soy products like edamame and fermented soy products like tempeh and miso. Fermented foods have the bonus of good for your gut probiotics.  Avoid or limit processed soy like soy protein isolate (SPI) -- which is what MANY energy and protein bars use.

What does it mean for energy/protein bars? Well, NuGo's Dark Chocolate Pretzel is one of our favorite energy/protein bar and it relies on SPI. Luckily the company also makes a soy "free" version, but it's not as tasty. Now that we are better informed, we will mix in other protein sources and decrease our stock of soy based bars.

What is a better protein source? Whey. It was the Oatmega Bar by Boundless Nutrition that got us thinking about protein sources. This gluten-free bar uses whey protein. The company also makes a delicious cookie (3 flavors). We liked the Perfect Cookie and Oatmega Bar ingredients and nutrition profile so much that we sought out more information about whey.

  • Whey & casein are both dairy by-products and complete proteins, which means they have the essential amino acids that the body needs. 
  • Studies suggest that whey is superior to soy and casein in terms of repairing and stimulating new muscle fibers fast. It is the amino acid leucine that is credited with this effect. And whey has more of it. 
  • Whey is a "fast" protein and therefore best for post workout recovery. Casein is "slow" and a better choice before bed.
  • Since whey rapidly increases protein synthesis and casein blocks protein breakdown, a combo is best. (Read more here.)
  • Whey protein comes in 2 forms: concentrate and isolate. Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) contains 90% or more protein and little or no fat or lactose. This article on WebMD goes into more detail about whey and its health benefits.

What about rice and wheat protein?

  • The main reason energy bar makers use rice or wheat protein is that they are vegan. Rice has the added benefit of being gluten free
     and easily digested. Both are also favored by those who have lactose intolerance. Of our top picks, only the Fiber d'Lish Bar (by NuGo Nutrition) uses wheat protein isolate. And the amount used is minimal. 
  • Rice and wheat proteins are not complete. 
  • A new, small, study demonstrates that rice protein isolate performs as well as whey protein isolate in terms of absorption and muscle use. 
  • Rice protein is slightly higher in calories than whey. Fat content is the same. The big difference is in the carbs. Whey has significantly less. 
  • This article presents a nice summary of the various proteins availble in powder form.
  • Along with the Fiber d'Lish Bar we really love Health Warrior's Chia Bar in Chocolate Peanut Butter. It's a smaller bar with an impressive nutrition profile!
The Athletic-Minded Traveler FAVORITES: These are all winners. We highly recommend you look at the data and tasting notes and try one. 

  NuGo Dark (Choc Pretzel)

Perfect Cookie (Peanut Butter)

NuGo Free (Dark Choc Crunch) OatMega (Brownie Crisp) FiberLove Bar (Chocolate Brownie) Bonk Breaker (PB&Choc Chip)

Health Warrior Chia Bar (ChocPB)

Size (grams) 50 40 45 50 45 62 25
Total Calories 200 150 170 190 140 270 100
Calories/gram 4.000 3.750 3.778 3.800 3.111 4.355 4.000
total fat 5 8 3 7 4 12 6.0
  saturated fat 3 2 1.5 2 1 3 1
Sodium 350 120 90 120 30 170 40
Total Carbs 28 17 28 21 30 35 13
Sugar + Sugar Alcohols 15 7 11 5 9 16 5
Sugar/gram as % 30.00% 17.50% 24.44% 10.00% 20.00% 25.81% 20.00%
Fiber 2 5 4 7 12 3 4
Protein 10 10 9 14 4 8 3
Approx Cost/Bar $1.50 $1.50 $1.50 $2.00 $1.75 $2.50 $1.25
Taste One of the best. High quality dark chocolate We love the slightly crunchy taste. Not too sweet. Dark Chocolate is the plus. NO SOY. One of our favorites. ONLY 5g sugar & fiber & protein. Oaty, less sweet, takes a bit to get used to. Worth it. Best in taste for a chewy, non chocolate covered bar Sweet & a little crunchy from chia seed coating
Texture Crunchy.  Inbetween crunchy and chewy.  Crunchy mostly.  More crunchy than chewy More chewy than crunchy Chewy. We love it. Soft, but not overly chewy.
Protein Source Soy Protein Isolate (SPI) Grass fed whey protein concentrate Rice Protein Concentrate Grass-fed Whey Protein Concentrate & Isolate Wheat Protein Isolate Non-GMO Brown Rice Protein Chia & Organic Brown Rice Crisps
Ingredients: GMO? Organic? Real dark chocolate; Cocoa butter NOT palm oil; BUT soy protein. Gluten free, non-GMO, Omega 3's Soy free, Gluten free; OU Pareve Hooray for Whey, Gluten Free, Non GMO, mostly organic Fiber!! Low sugar, Low calories, wheat protein Gluten & dairy free; Mostly organic, GMO-free rice protein,  Gluten & dairy & soy free; 1000 Omega3, Non-GMO

Definitions:  The protein found in your energy bar most often come as "hydrolysate", "concentrate" or "isolate"
  • Isolate: Considered the most pure with the highest concentration of amino acids (protein). 
  • Hydrolysate: These proteins are soaked in water which makes them quicker digesting.
  • Concentrate: The protein is condensed. It's the least processed and least concentrated, meaning less protein by weight as compared to an isolate protein. It has more carbs and fat.

Why not just go for the bars with 4-5 ingredients like LARABAR?Bonk Breaker

  • For this team, it's taste. Even the newer LARABAR flavors like cookie dough, still taste like dates to us. Regardless, we think that LARABAR is a high quality product.
  • The sugar content can be high on date/cashew/fruit solid bars. For example, LARA's cookie dough comes in at 4.67 cal/gram -- higher than the others in the above chart. Sugar/gram is also much higher at 35.56% -- the next highest in the chart is 25.81%. Yes, we know it's "natural" sugar....
  • We feel similarly about the "trail mix" style bars like KIND.  Extra sugar holds the bar together. And KIND uses inferior ingredients like Palm Kernel Oil vs. cocoa butter.


If Soy Protein Isolate is bad, why do so many energy bar makers use it? It's cheap and has a long shelf-life. It's up to you to decide. For our team, we won't ban SPI, but we are diversifying. And we feel even better about favorites like Bonk Breaker, Perfect Cookie & Health Warrior. We also appreciate that NuGo offers a soy free option. For those who don't have a lactose issue, whey protein is a winner, and the Oatmega Bar or Perfect Cookie is a top pick. We still can't believe there is only 8 grams of sugar in each bar. Kudos!

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Editor Reply: Michael, We

Editor Reply: Michael,

We favor whey too. But for our vegan friend, both pea & rice protein are high quality substitutes.

Interesting that rice is

Interesting that rice is slightly higher in calories than whey. Personally, I just stick with whey powder and an occasional bar for when traveling.

Soy is a great source of

Soy is a great source of protein. until it is taken within limits and precautions in certain cases of medical expertise.

aussie slots

Whole soy can be a very good

Whole soy can be a very good protein source. Or contention is that Soy Protein Isolate, because so heavily processed, is not the greatest source of protein. Whey and rice are better...hemp, pea....others.

Yes, you are correct. As a

Yes, you are correct. As a health expert, I have always said that health products are important, but QUALITY health products are even more important.

Top medal winners at Sochi...

Top medal winners at Sochi... Obvious correlation to lower performance.

Country Medals GMO % Medals/10Million people
Norway 26 1% 52
Austdia 17 1% 20
Sweden 15 2% 16
Netherlands 24 1% 14
Switzerland 11 1% 14
Czech Republic 8 30% 7
Canada 25 70% 7 Highest for a GMO user
Germany 19 1% 2 Recent bans
Russian 33 0% 2
France 15 1% 2
Korea 8 1% 2
USA 28 80% 1
China 9 40% 0.1
GMO users 70 55% 124.14 Total GMO medals (Nearly ten times as many per capita.)
Clean Folks 168 .67% 15.37 Total Clean medals

I am a big fitness freak and

I am a big fitness freak and I have been thinking about similar points made in this article, especially about the quality of protein and taste. Btw, very nicely covered here.

I live in SF where they just launched a new bar. It's called Oorja Nutrition bar. Available on I was one of the lucky ones to test out the samples.

I think this is by far the best. High quality protein, tastes great, low sugar and no artificial crap. No sweeteners.

Anyway, check it out!

Editor's Note: Well Aakash

Editor's Note: Well Aakash piqued our curiosity. Impressive ingredients and nutrition profile. Using the 30% coupon, we ordered a box. The coupon and free shipping were key. We would like to find more Whey Bars to like. Oatmega is just one...We tried a chocolate covered whey based bar, but it wasn't a hit with the team.


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