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  • Writer's pictureAnastasia Lowe

Is your protein bar full of JUNK?? Breaking down four of the most POPULAR protein bars

Updated: May 15, 2022

We are three weeks into 2021, and that means your New Year’s resolution to get fit has officially left the honeymoon stage. The busyness of post-holiday life is in full effect, and some days maintaining that NYE resolution feels impossible. When life is hectic, protein bars can be a great on-the-go snack option…but what if your protein bar is actually setting you back? Contrary to popular belief, protein bars are not inherently healthy. In fact, many protein bars are simply candy bars in disguise, and if not consumed mindfully, could actually hinder your progress. Today we are taking a no B.S. dive into four of the most popular protein bars available in the health and fitness market. If you are tired of being duped, read on.

Odyssey rating system

It’s 2021! I am rolling out a rating system. Because A-F rating systems are boring, I cooked up a very special OFPN unique system that will help you make better, more informed choices. For a detailed explanation of each rating, go here! (scroll to the bottom of the page)

Clif Bar Chocolate Brownie

Clif Bar

Chocolate Brownie

Calories 250

Total Fat 5g

Saturated Fat 1.5g

Sodium 180mg

Total Carbohydrate 44g

Total Sugars 21g

Protein 9g

We begin our tour with one of the most recognizable bars in the health space, the Clif Bar. Launched in 1991, Clif Bar has dominated the nutrition bar market for decades; they offer a plethora of flavors made with organic ingredients at unbeatable prices, and they are widely available in supermarkets, gyms, convenience stores, and even vending machines. Clif Bar boasts a sustainable, organic, homegrown, aesthetic that has become synonymous with health.

The Macros: Plot twist – Clif Bar is not a protein bar…like at all. It’s an “energy bar.” It says so right on the package. Through no clear fault of its own, many people mistakenly assume Clif Bars are lean and clean protein bars. There is a very real difference between a protein bar and an energy bar. By nature, “energy bars” are packed with readily available forms of energy, primarily glycogen (that means carbs + sugar). The chocolate brownie Clif Bar contains 44g of carbs, 21g of sugar, and only 9g of protein. A bar with this macro profile would be a solid choice if you are an endurance athlete who faces substantial glycogen depletion in your training, for example, a triathlete, distance runner, or cyclist. Simply put, Clif Bar would be appropriate for athletes completing 2+ consecutive hours of steady-state training in a day. If you’re more of a 60-minute group exercise class person or 75-minute bodybuilding session type, a Clif Bar is straight-up overkill; and it’s under-delivering in the ONE macro source you should be seeking out: PROTEIN.

The ingredients: In my Halloween Sweets Showdown blog, I touched on the many names of sugar. Brown Rice Syrup, the first ingredient in a Clif Bar, is yet another form of sugar. I know, I know, it sounds healthy (because brown rice!), but it’s just a pseudo-healthy name for sugar. Clif Bar also contains several variations of soy (soy isolate, roasted soybeans, soy flour, soy lecithin). Research on long term soy consumption has presented mixed results, and most issues seem to stem from excessive soy consumption, so I will not give Clif too much flack for its use of soy. However, considering soy is present in many food products, it may be important to evaluate how much soy is in your diet.

Rating: You Tried

Luna Bar Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Luna Protein Bar

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Calories 180

Total Fat 6g

Saturated Fat 3.5g

Sodium 260mg

Total Carbohydrate 21g

Total Sugars 14g

Protein 12g

The Luna Bar is a female-targeted line of nutrition bars offered by Clif. Think of the Luna Bar as the cool sister of the Clif Bar with a slightly more desirable macro profile.

The macros: If we choose to ignore the added sugars, which we should not, the macro profile for a Luna Protein Bar is otherwise pretty solid. It contains moderate levels of protein (12g) and carbs (21g), and it is low in fat (6g).

The ingredients: The makeup of a Luna Protein Bar is a little puzzling. Luna utilizes 3 different sweeteners (cane syrup, cane sugar, chicory fiber syrup), which team up to pack a sizable punch of added sugar with 14g per bar. Much like its heftier Clif Bar counterpart, soy also plays a major role in a Luna Protein Bar. The first ingredient is soy protein isolate, which is a common source of protein in vegan/vegetarian protein bars…only Luna is neither the former nor the latter. Whey protein isolate (derived from cows) is also an ingredient in Luna Protein Bars. The reasoning for using both soy isolate and whey protein isolate, is mildly baffling, especially considering soy can impart an undesirable “earthy” taste.

Rating: Switzerland

Quest Bar Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Quest Bar

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Calories 200

Total Fat 9g

Saturated Fat 3g

Sodium 200mg

Total Carbohydrate 21g

Total Sugars 1g

Protein 21g

Best known for its protein powder and bars, Quest has steadily branched out from the protein basics to offer a wide array of Quest-ized foods including chips, cookies, ready-to-drink shakes, peanut butter cups, and even frozen pizza. In short, Quest is channeling some serious ‘Slim Fast circa 1999’ vibes.

The macros: I have to give credit where it is due, Quest packs a whole lot of protein into one bar. With a massive punch of 21g of protein per serving, Quest handily crushes every bar on this list. Quest bars contain a moderate amount of carbs (21g) and fat (9g), and 1g of sugar (watch out for those sugar alcohols though). When it comes to macros and protein content, out of all the bars on this list, Quest will give you the most bang for your buck.

The ingredients: Quest’s main nutrition crime lies in its enlistment of three different zero-calorie sweeteners, erythritol, stevia sweetener, and sucralose. Due to its propensity for extreme stomach upset and bloating, I am not a big fan of erythritol. “Stevia sweetener” would indicate this bar contains a stevia blend (a combo of stevia extract and an additive like erythritol, inulin, or maltodextrin), rather than pure stevia extract. Some stevia blends can contain very little actual stevia because pure stevia is quite pricey. The final sweetener, sucralose, is just a plain old no-no. Sucralose has been shown to cause a host of long-term issues including increased risk for type 2 diabetes, damage to gut health, and toxicity when cooked at high temperatures.

Rating: You Tried

Gatorade Recover Whey Protein Bar Chocolate Chip

Gatorade Recover Whey Protein Bar

Chocolate Chip

Calories 350

Total Fat 13g

Saturated Fat 10g

Sodium 160mg

Total Carbohydrate 41g

Total Sugars 29g

Protein 20g

The brand that needs no introduction. Gatorade has been a part of the sports recovery game since the 1960s, dominating 75% of the sports drink market share, and boasting partnerships with the MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, WNBA, and numerous professional athletes as well as collegiate and amateur teams. Gatorade has meticulously made its brand and products synonymous with elite recovery, so the introduction of the Recover Whey Protein Bar in 2014 seemed like a no brainer. The bar claims to be “scientifically developed for athletes—to help rebuild and refuel.” Following in the footsteps of its overhyped, macronutrient poor, flagship beverage predecessor, the GatoradeRecover Bar delivers in protein along with a whole host of other things you do not want.

The macros: The macro profile for the Recover bar is, simply put, an atrocity. It contains 10g of Saturated Fat, which means this little 2.8-ounce bar accounts for 49% of the FDA’s recommended standard daily value for Saturated Fat. The carb count clocks in at 41g, which would be far too high for the average gym-goer, but considering the Recover bar is specifically targeted towards athletes, we could let it fly. However, the Recover bar takes the cake, almost literally, with a whopping 28g of ADDED SUGAR. That’s more sugar than a standard Snickers bar. While carbs are essential for athlete recovery, at Odyssey, I encourage my athletes to seek out clean carbohydrate sources. These carb sources should contain low-moderate levels of (preferably naturally occurring) sugars, that will refuel our tank without spiking blood sugar or causing a sugar crash. Better recovery carbohydrate choices include berries, baby food squeeze packs, rice, sweet potatoes, and oats.

The ingredients: Surprise! The chaos does not stop with the macros. The ingredients in the Recover Bar are lengthy, so I’ll stick with the highlights: Vegetable oil, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup (sugar), glucose syrup (sugar), invert sugar (sugar). Count it. That’s FIVE different forms of sugar in one “protein” bar. Besides the increased risk of obesity and diabetes, excess sugar consumption can lead to low energy levels and moodiness, not exactly ideal for elite recovery. Additionally, vegetable oils have shown to be detrimental to heart health and cause inflammation. For those seeking a competitive edge, the Recover bar is not the answer.

Rating: Boy, Bye

Need a better bar?

Try a protein bar without the nonsense. Check out these OFPN approved alternatives

RX Bar Chocolate Sea Salt

RX Bar

Chocolate Sea Salt

Calories 210

Total Fat 9g

Saturated Fat 2g

Sodium 240mg

Total Carbohydrate 24g

Total Sugars 13g

Protein 12g


Simple, real food ingredients with a macro-friendly profile, and 0g of added sugars.

Rating: Yes Queen

Aloha Bar Caramel Sea Salt

Aloha Bar

Caramel Sea Salt

Calories 220

Total Fat 9g

Saturated Fat 1g

Sodium 160mg

Total Carbohydrate 23g

Total Sugars 3g

Protein 14g


All the protein you want with none of the “grassy” taste found in most vegetarian/vegan protein bars.

Rating: Yes Queen

If you are struggling to keep your New Year’s Resolutions on track, I would love to help! Head over to the “Contact” tab and send me a message.


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