Cutting, or eating fewer calories to drop fat while lifting weights, can be tricky.
To preserve muscle (and maybe build some!) while losing weight, you'll need to eat plenty of protein.
But to lose weight, you'll have to drop your calories significantly.
It can be hard to do both at the same time.
When cutting, you'll need to eat lots of high-protein, relatively low calorie foods to hit your macros. That's where protein bars can come in major handy.
The only problem is, there are TONS of protein bars on the market, all with different calories, protein levels, and ingredients.
After a ton of research, here's my guide to picking the best protein bar for cutting.
(But first, a quick summary:)
What to look for in a protein bar for cutting or losing weight
As most experienced lifters and exercisers know, the formula for losing weight is pretty simple:
Calorie deficit = weight loss
If you were only interested in losing weight at any cost, life would be pretty dang easy.
But "cutting," implies that you're also incorporating strength training in order to preserve muscle or build strength during the process of losing weight.
So for cutting, we want that calorie deficit to be moderate (around 20% of your maintenance calorie intake) and we want to make sure we're getting enough protein (.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good starting point).
Add on top of that that there are many different diets and nutritional philosophies that might include a) limited sugar b) low or ultra-low carb c) low fat d) gluten free e) GMO free f) all organic g) vegan... et cetera.
So when choosing a protein bar for cutting, you'll want to be aware of:
- Total calories per bar: Super high calorie bars aren't going to help you hit the calorie deficit you need for weight loss. Low 200s and below is a good benchmark for protein bar calories.
- Total protein per bar: It can be hard to get enough protein on a cut! If you're going to spend precious calories on a protein bar, you'll probably want something with at least 15g per serving.
- Fat & Carb levels: This is up to your individual preference and diet. I'll recommend a medium carb, low carb, and an ultra-low carb protein bar below, if that's your thing.
- Vegan, GMO, organic, etc: Again, this is up to you. But you'll want to take a peek at the ingredient list before you commit to buying protein bars in bulk to get you through your cut.
With all of that said, here are my recommendations for the best protein bars for cutting.
You'll find something for just about everybody below!
Best budget protein bar for cutting: ThinkThink High Protein Bars
Overview: My personal favorite, I eat one of these ThinkThink protein bars almost every day. They're creamy, delicious, and packed with protein. They should also appeal to the all-natural crowd... these bars are GMO free, not to mention gluten free and low GI (glycemic index).
(Specs below are for Creamy Peanut Butter flavor.)
Total Carbs: 23g
Total Fat: 8g
Why we like it: The taste on these bad boys is phenomenal. They're a real treat, and the added protein taste is covered up beautifully by the natural flavorings. Better yet, these bars are low sugar if you're worried about overconsumption, but sweet enough to be delicious. What makes these bars so great for cutting, though, is the protein to calorie ratio: 230 calories and 20g of protein. It's really hard to beat that, and most competitors simply can't.
Potential drawbacks: There are some artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols used in ThinkThin bars to bring the taste up.
Best mid-range protein bar for cutting: SimplyProtein Bars
Overview: There's a lot to like about these SimplyProtein bars: Good calorie to protein ratio? Check. Non GMO? Check. High fiber? Yes! Vegan? You bet. Low carb? Absolutely. These bars are a great boost of protein for pretty much anyone on a diet or looking into weight loss.
(Specs below are for Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor.)
Total Carbs: 16g
Total Fat: 4.5g
Why we like it: Most low calorie protein bars suffer when it comes to overall protein levels, but not these SimplyProtein bars. For 150 calories, you get 15g of protein. Not too shabby! They're light and easy to eat, with a crunchy interior kind of like a Rice Krispie treat. Reviewers rave about the taste (these are also available in a double chocolate flavor). And despite the excellent taste, you'll only find about 1g of sugar in these bars — perfect for low sugar and moderate carb diets.
Potential drawbacks: Not everyone loves the crunchy interior of the bar. Lower calorie level means not as filling as some competitors, and lower protein overall than some high protein bars.
Best high-end protein bar for cutting: Epic All-Natural Meat Bars
Overview: You know what's got more protein and less of anything else than, well, anything else? Meat! These Epic bars are actually made of dried meats and other natural ingredients for a crazy low-calorie protein burst with minimal carbs and fat. If you're not into the sugary, peanut-buttery, chocolatey flavors protein bars often use to hide the taste of the protein, you might like this jerky style bar instead.
(Specs below are for Chicken Sriracha flavor.)
Total Carbs: 1g
Total Fat: 4g
Why we like it: If weight loss is your goal, there's not much to complain about with the Epic meat bars. For only 100 calories, you get 15g of protein! That's nuts! There's also only 1g of carbs in the whole bar, which makes this perfect for keto and paleo (these bars were actually inspired by the paleo diet). The taste is delicious and totally unique in the world of high protein bars. Seriously, where else can you get flavors like chicken sriracha and bacon and maple?
Potential Drawbacks: These bars are the most expensive option on this list. Super low carb may not work for everyone's diet.
A quick Amazon search for "protein bar" pulls up over 5,000 results, so you'll have no shortage of options!
Want low carb? Vegan? High protein? Medium protein? Low carb? Low fat?
You can find anything in the world of protein bars.
For cutting though, focus mainly on bars that can help you hit your calorie deficit while getting a solid amount of protein in your diet. That's their main purpose, and the 3 I've recommended above serve it very well.
Hopefully this research will be a helpful starting point for you as you search for the best protein bar for cutting. Good luck to you, and good luck with your weight loss goals!
(Personally, I find the ThinkThin High Protein Bars to be delicious and exceptionally well-rounded. Check them out on Amazon.)
Protein bars for weight loss FAQ
Are protein bars good for losing weight?
They can be! They won't burn fat magically on their own (and beware of any that claim to do so) but they are often a great and highly-efficient source of protein, which your body needs lots of during a cut.
As long as you're aware of the calorie count per bar and your overall calorie in take compared to your energy output (tip: multiply your bodyweight x 12 for weight loss daily calories), you should have plenty of success.
Just be cautious of protein bars that seem "healthy" but are actually loaded with extra calories from sugars and additives. The ones I've listed above should give you a pretty good start.
What are the best low carb protein bars?
If low carb is your thing, you can't go much lower than the Epic All Natural Meat Bars (link above)
But be aware: Low carb on it's own isn't necessarily the best weight loss strategy. Total calories in versus calories out is a better long term plan, though going low carb on occasion can help you shed a little bit of water retention and feel crisper.
Going too low carb for too long will probably leave you feeling drained and low energy (unless you're practicing and adjusting to the keto diet, a super low carb high fat strategy that forces your body to burn fat for energy in place of carbs).
Are protein bars good for weight loss AND muscle gain?
That's a whole can of worms, but in general, probably not.
Losing weight and gaining muscle at the same time is really difficult to do unless you're brand new to working out, or haven't worked out in a long time.
If you've been lifting for a while, for example, you're probably going to have to choose between a cut to lose fat or a bulk to add size and muscle. Doing both sounds great, and can be done under perfect circumstances, but it's not super realistic. No protein bar is going to change that. It's just one food, after all!
Can I make my own healthy protein bars at home using a recipe?
Yes and no! It's pretty hard to replicate the macros you find in manufactured protein bars like the ones above in your own kitchen. You'll have to be comfortable mixing protein powder into the recipe.
There are lots of good at-home protein bar recipes you can make without powder, but they typically have a lot less protein, more fat, and higher calories overall.
Plus, in my opinion, they don't taste as good.
What's the healthiest protein bar?
That's impossible to answer without knowing your own goals (weight loss or muscle gain) and diet strategy.
The best and healthiest protein bar would be different for someone on a cut using the ketogenic diet versus someone on a bulk using IIFYM (if it fits your macros, or flexible dieting).
Figure out your primary physique goal, what your training is like, and what diet or nutritional strategy you're going to follow, and then choose a protein bar that aligns well with that plan.