Bar Review!

But not the one you think I mean. I promise, there’s no law in here. I got protein bar happy at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago and bought a variety to sample.

gift cards make me go nuts.

I’ve never been able to eat these as a “meal.” I see people bringing Clif bars to class as “breakfast” or “lunch” and I’m like… crap. I respect that. But I can’t do it. It’s not that they’re not filling, it’s just a mental thing. Anything meant to “replace” a meal just doesn’t work for me [see also: Carnation breakfast shakes]. Granola bars are snacks in my mind, and that’s that.

But I do realize that there are going to be many, many times in the very near future where a “meal” [and the time required to consume it] just won’t be in the cards. That’s why I’ve been toying with smoothies, cold oats, and other grab-and-go type foods. So I figured I’d get protein curious and give these things a shot.*

I put together a little notes sheet with the nutritional info and other data [time I ate them, activity, notes, etc.] so I could compare them once they were all housed.

First rule of Protein Bar-ing: Pay attention to the sugar-protein ratio. The ideal bar should have, at the very least, a 1:1 ratio of grams of sugar to grams of protein. If one of them is higher, it better be the protein. If the grams of sugar are higher than the grams of protein, you’re eating glorified junk food. Sorry. Putting an egg white on a cheeseburger does not a health food make. And putting a cheeseburger between a Krispy Kreme doughnut just might give you diabetes. But “I’m not your doctor, I’m your chef,” or whatever She says to make herself feel better about her Empire of Shame. TANGENT.

Second rule of Protein Bar-ing: Watch the calories. I was stunned at the amount of calories some of the bars had [I think Shaun picked up one that had eight hundred, no joke]. It’s easy to think [like I do] bar = snack = eat it with a big lunch, but these protein/energy bars are meant to replace meals or fuel intense work-outs, not come in in the clutch when you’re out of Quaker Chewys, or whatever-they’re-called. Things could get dangerous, my friends.

So here they are, in chronological order of my consumption. Find out the winner [and loser :(] at the end!

1. Luna White Chocolate Macadamia Bar [“for women”]

by clif.

The first thing I noticed was the “70% Organic” label. Weird. The first three ingredients are soy, oats, and flax, and there’s no corn syrup, so the bar passed the ingredients test quite well. I ate it around noon, prior to a scheduled run, and was able to sustain 7.5 miles without feeling hungry or tired. It also kept me full for a few hours in total, making it such that I could go a little longer without a post-run snack. That’s a pretty powerful 190-calorie bar. It was tasty, pretty creamy – what you’d expect from a white chocolate and macadamia combination. Nothing special, but I was off to a good start.

  • Calories: 190
  • Protein-Sugar Grams Ratio: 9g:11g [sad]
  • Saturated Fat: 2.5g
  • Carbs: 25g [one of the highest]
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Activity: 7.5-Mile Run.

2. Clif “Mojo” Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar

another by clif.

[Photo Source]

Charlottesville Running Company handed these out after one of my races last fall, so I already knew I liked the taste. Why wouldn’t I – it’s like Wild Squirrel’s Pretzel Pizzaz peanut butter. Mmm. It’s a little larger than the Luna bar but has the same amount of calories. I ate this one after an hour-long triathlon training session, plus a walk to the movie theater [Extremely Loud and Incredible Close, gah I adore Jonathan Safran Foer] as part of my dinner. Although I was full, I don’t recommend this for dinner because it left me with a massive sweet tooth. So far, the best protein-sugar ratio, too!

  • Calories: 190
  • Protein-Sugar Grams Ratio: 9:9
  • Saturated Fat: 2.0g
  • Carbs: 20g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Activity: Out on the Town.

3. Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar, French Vanilla


This was lunch for me on a day I had a long block of class, and it was delicious. It’s like those creme-filled wafer cookies you used to eat as a kid [remember, the ones that come in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry?]. I loved it. So creamy and sweet. It’s also on the larger side of the bars [it actually might be the largest], and has the best sugar-protein ratio, too. Unfortunately, it’s a huge mess. Crumbs all over the desk in Antitrust… sorry, Rob.

  • Calories: 205
  • Protein-Sugar Grams Ratio: 14:9 [hooray!]
  • Saturated Fat: 5g
  • Carbs: 10g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Activity: In-Class Lunch.

4. Clif Bar Carrot Cake

workspace snack.

Yuck, yuck, yuck, on all counts. It’s awkward looking, tiny, grainy, and most certainly not cake-y in any way. It’s a calorie BOMB, and has the most horrifying sugar-protein ratio. Actually horrifying. For the added calories, there’s no added protein, just a ton of sugar. As I began my run 45 minutes later, I sort of felt like I was in a sugar coma. I did make it through eight miles and felt great in the end, but i was not worth this bar.

  • Calories: 240
  • Protein-Sugar Grams Ratio: 9:26 [FAIL]
  • Saturated Fat: 1.5g
  • Carbs: 35g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Activity: 8-Mile Run.

5. Balance Bar Yogurt Honey Peanut

[Photo Source]

I’ve got nothing but love for this bar. I ate it around 3:30PM on a day when lunch was at noon but dinner wasn’t until 8:30. It carried me through the time. Although smaller, this bar was dense, creamy, and insanely filling. The creaminess of the yogurt exterior was a nice touch with the peanut butter-y center. This felt like controlled decadence. What is more, it clocks in at 28 on the Glycemic Index, which is pretty great.

  • Calories: 200
  • Protein-Sugar Grams Ratio: 15:18 [Almost]
  • Saturated Fat: 3.5g
  • Carbs: 22g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Activity: Making it to Dinner.

So which bar wins my little trial run?

The Loser: Clif Bar [#4]. This is a candy bar masquerading as a nutrition bar. And it’s not even a good tasting candy bar. In fact, it tasted like sand paper. I might be in the minority because I see people eating these all the time, but I promise you – it gets better. The 45 grams of carbohydrates in this tiny thing at least doubled the carbohydrate content of the other four bars. Not worth it, at all.

** The Winner: Clif Mojo Peanut Butter Pretzel. [#2]. Lowest in calories with a decent amount of fiber and protein, and not too much sugar [9:9 ratio], this bar is the perfect combination of cream and pretzel crunch. Call me biased toward peanut butter and pretzels, but if you’re looking for a healthy sweet snack, this is definitely the way to go. I’ll stash a few in my desk at work for lunches on-the-run. **

The Runner Up: Balance Bar [#5]. I loved the flavor and texture of this bar, but was deterred a little by the sugar-protein ratio. Additionally, I don’t really need 15 grams of protein in one sitting, so the Mojo bar is a more reasonable choice for someone of my size. I do plan on keeping this one on hand, though! It will just be more of an indulgence than a regular thing.

What protein bars would you recommend?

* “I guess you could say I’m buy-curious…”


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Categories: Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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7 Comments on “Bar Review!”

  1. February 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    I feel like the best protein bar is a hard boiled egg and a sweet potato or roasted butternut squash! No need to buy these bars that have weird ingredients you may not even know how to pronounce!

    • February 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      oh, of course! one of michael pollan’s food rules: don’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce 🙂 but if you’re trapped at work and didn’t come prepared and your only recourse is a run to the store next door, it’s good to at least be able to pick out the best option. also, many of these bars fared pretty well in an ingredient investigation.

  2. February 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    My dear Courtney, I can’t wait until you have an awesome, and I mean awesome, drawer in your office filled with emergency snack foods. (Not that you’ve never had an office before–I’m just thinking ahead to your next one.) Mine had extra soy sauce for the times the delivery guy forgot it, a bunch of plastic silverware, and the Nutz over Chocolate Luna bars. (I’ll have to check and see how it holds up according to your scheme.) I have never had a Balance bar and am excited to try the runner up.

    This post makes me miss running. I haven’t gone since I sprained my chest weeks and weeks ago.

    THANK YOU for the Liebster love! I am so flattered. I really am. I’m so glad we’re in touch.

    • February 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      Sprained your chest? Eek… that sounds horrible. I’m having the opposite feeling right now, where I’m absolutely sick of it and I just wish the half marathon was over! Following a “training plan” sort of takes all of the fun out of it.
      And of course, re: Liebster. Your blog is hilarious and inspiring. I love it.
      My “emergency snack food” drawer last summer also had extra shoes and excessive amounts of Orbitz gum. I need to step my game up.

  3. February 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    That’s awesome. Beware the day the shoes flee the drawer and start to collect themselves in a pile under the desk. It’s like crossing the Rubicon. Once that happens, you’ve committed to a life of darkness and disaster under there.

  4. Frank Vis
    November 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    I am doing some heavy bodybuilding workouts and of course protein bars come in handy. ;

    Our very own web site

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