I recently met with a dietitian to determine if there was some other cause to my pandemic weight gain rather than pure forced laziness on my part. Well, it turns out that I’m mildly insulin resistant thanks to my body shifting toward menopause. Yay.
I was sufficiently underwhelmed by her advice, however, as it was clear she really didn’t know how to deal with anyone who chooses a plant based diet. The summation of her analysis is that I need more protein and less carbs. Sigh.
I hesitate to use an app like MyFitnessPal because when I did this in the past, I got a bit obsessive with it. I would “buy” treats with activity to cancel out the calories. It was a bad pattern to develop. The dietitian understood this, so instead of obsessing over macros, she suggested that I just aim for at least 75g of protein a day to support my running. That seems doable. However, adding up what I actually consumed in protein in a day really opened my eyes to the lack of it in my diet, considering all that I ask of my body in a week with training. This revelation made me ask my fellow vegan runners who are high performers how much protein they consume each day. Most of them are are in the 100g range.
So, what’s a vegan to do? In a pinch, the obvious answer is to use supplements in the form of protein bars and powders, which my RD recommends. I really hate relying on these, but, alas, these are simple ways to consume more protein, especially if you’re busy. The market is saturated with these, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You must read labels, too. Just because a bar says it’s plant based doesn’t mean it’s vegan. And some have a TON of added sugar. Still others have lots of fiber, so it’s important to time these properly!
I consider these bars to fall in two categories: snack and recovery, depending on protein levels. Also, the higher the protein, the denser the bar, it seems. Here’s what I’ve tried thus far:
Snack bars, which have under 20g protein:
- This bar is on the low end of protein with 12g which is derived from peas, rice, and nuts, but with a stunning 1g of sugar! It has the typical dense, chewy texture of a protein bar, but is also on the thin side, which makes the yummy chocolate coating stand out on the chocolate peanut butter flavor bar. So if you are looking for a non-soy based bar in this range of protein level, this is a good choice. I would buy this one again. Be aware that this company also produces products that are not vegan, so read your labels! Available at Kroger, Whole Foods, and Amazon. I would rate this at the top of my list for a snack protein bar, both for taste and low sugar content.
- These have a lighter texture than most protein bars. They are almost fluffy, like a dense Milky Way bar as its base, and are covered in chocolate. These are available at Kroger, Whole Foods, and Amazon. They make two vegan flavors: Sea Salt Almond Chocolate and Chocolate Mint. I found both very tasty, but of the two the chocolate mint is my favorite. They are on the lower end of protein levels with 13 grams each. Low in sugar with only 5 grams, they make a good snack when I’m doing my afternoon documentation at work. I will definitely buy these again. Note that this brand also makes non-vegan bars, so check your labels! I’m rating this one second on my list of snack bars for taste and convenience, since they are readily available at Kroger in multipacks, and have a lower sugar content.
- Deliciously chocolatey and with a crunchy texture, this bar is a nice change from the dense chewiness of most protein bars. I tried the chocolate chocolate chip flavor. Although it only weighs in at 12g of protein from soy, it’s really tasty! On the sweet side with a whopping 14 grams of sugar, so it’s more like a candy bar than a protein bar as far as taste goes. I will definitely buy this again as a sweet treat. Keep in mind that this company also has a non-vegan line, so read your labels! Available at Whole Foods and Amazon. I’m rating this one third among snack bars because of its high sugar content.
- Although the label boasted “protein pleasure,” I thought it was just ok. I was expecting this one to be really sweet since it has 14g of sugar for its 11g of protein, but it was only mildly so. Again, I went for the peanut butter chocolate bar. This one is dense and chewy without a chocolate coating. It does have real chocolate chips in the mix, though, which was good. And although I wasn’t super excited about this bar, I would try another flavor. These bars are sustainably sourced and soy free. I’m awarding this one fourth place. They are available at Kroger and Whole Foods.
- This bar from the Vitamin Shoppe’s Plnt line surprised me. I’m not really a fan of this line of protein powders, so I was expecting to hate these. And, yes, it’s got that typical chewy texture, but also real chocolate chips and peanuts in their peanut chocolate chip flavor. It really broke up the monotony of the chewy base. They normally have these buy one get one 50% off. This one has a fair amount of protein at 15g and sugar at 8g. I had one of these after a weightlifting day before I went grocery shopping. It definitely kept me from buying all the things I don’t need to eat! Bonus that these are also organic. Ties for fourth place.
- This one is another on the low end of protein at 10g. It’s one of the only fruit flavored ones I have tried, however. Apple Chunk. Although the texture was dense, the taste was OK. I was not a fan of the oily layer surrounding the bar, though. Like I opened the package and the bar nearly slipped out for all the oil. Maybe I just got a bad batch? I’m hesitant to try the other flavors and will likely not buy again.
Recovery bars with at least 20g of protein:
- I tried the chocolate peanut butter bar (are you picking up on a theme here?) It packs 20g of protein from peas and rice, but is pretty high in sugar at 18g. That being said, this bar is delicious. Two layers, one more dense than the other, surrounded by a dark chocolate coating. Even with the high sugar content, it’s not overly sweet. I will definitely buy this one again and try other flavors as well. I think it will be great after a double digit run. Vega also makes a snack version with lower protein and calories as well as a sport bar with 20g protein and BCAA’s. I would rate this at the top of the 20g protein bar list for taste.
- These definitely have more of the texture of a traditional protein bar. Dense, chewy, almost stale brownie-like texture. However, the taste of the flavor I tried, peanut butter chocolate, was pretty good. At 20g of protein, it’s a great recovery snack after a double digit long run. Lower in sugar at 8g. Bonus that these are organic. I’m awarding this one second place.
- I tried these a couple of years ago when my husband and I owned a gym. They were nice enough to send a sample pack to see if we wanted to be a retail partner with them. I really wanted to like these bars, but honestly, some flavors I just couldn’t eat. I tried the lemon meringue pie bar this time, which is a variety I never tried before. This one was decent. With a protein content of 22g with only 1g of sugar, this one might be worthwhile if you need to watch your sugar content. It is sweetened with stevia and is gluten and soy free. I’ll rank this one in third place.
- I tried the peanut butter chocolate flavor, once again. This one is average in taste and sweetness, but I do like that there is a bit of crunch with the chewy. It packs 20g of protein and 14g of sugar. I likely won’t buy again just because the Vega bar is so much better with the same sugar/protein content. I give them fourth place. They do have other products I would like to try, like their Bolt energy chews. These sound promising for marathon training!
I consider all of these bars “processed foods,” although some are cleaner than others, and macros vary. I would definitely prefer to get my protein from whole food sources. Protein bars that I tried generally fall into a “snack” category with lower protein levels vs. “recovery” category, best for after workouts, with 20g of protein or better. I found some to have higher sugar and fiber contents. I would definitely not eat a high fiber bar as a meal before a run! Although I hate to admit that to support my activity levels that I may have to bump up my protein intake, I’m grateful to have so many choices on the market to fill any gaps I may have in my daily intake in a pinch. I hope you found my reviews helpful!
Do you supplement your protein intake with bars? What’s your favorite, if so? As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.