I hate supplements but love candy: a novella
If you’ve been in keto for enough time that you stare longingly at candy bars, you’ve probably considered keto protein bars. There used to be like 2 – Quest and Atkins. There may have been more but those were the most accessible ones when I started keto 9 years ago.
Back then, the best of the Quest bars was the cinnamon roll and it was just fine. The Atkins bars were filled with maltitol, which has a insulin-spiking effect on some people and a toilet-emergency effect on others. But you get bored of meat and eggs and salads; sometimes you need protein but can’t stomach another bunless burger.
And sometimes you just need a sweet treat that is keto-friendly. I get it. Since protein bars have been a staple for decades in the fitness community, it only makes sense that tons of companies are making a foray into keto versions. That got me thinking about what other bars might be out there and if they’re any good.
Good in this case is both subjective and objective, in the sense that they needed to taste good, but also be nutritious. To be keto compliant, they need the right macro breakdown but you might also want some added vitamins to mix things up. A good keto bar should hit these parameters:
- Usefulness- We want them to have protein, and to function well as a snack or a pre/post-workout.
- Taste – they’re not going to encourage customers if the bar tastes like chewed-on bricks.
- Price – you shouldn’t need to mortgage your house to eat a snack that fits your diet.
- Good, keto macros – low in carbs, high in fat, moderate protein.
The best bar will be protein-packed, sate your appetite, and provide solid nutrition while still tasting at least pretty good. You also don’t want to be kicked out of ketosis or spend the day in the bathroom, either.
Why even use protein bars?
While whole foods are ideal in every scenario, real life is hardly ever ideal. You might have a 9-5 job, gym, and then night class and no time to eat in between. Companies that cater to a keto crowd realize their consumers might be more health-focused. This results in bars that are made from natural, whole food ingredients. This might sound logical, but there was a brand of protein powder/bars a few years ago that was found to contain cadmium and lead, which are not foods, not even a little bit.
But honestly you can just use them to fill a craving for something sweet without having to make your own keto concoction. It’s like that old Mark Twain saying, “the people who care about you won’t judge you, even if you’re cooking a Quest bar in butter”.
Anyway, using the above criteria, I evaluated 5 prolific keto protein bars. For this article I also shared some of my bars with my kids because I’m a parent and you can’t avoid it, so I did factor their verdict into the “taste” category. If something tastes good to them with their limited and finicky palates, I consider that an endorsement. My wife bowed out because “those all taste like chalk and Grey’s is on”. Suit yourself, nerd! Time for science!
An oldie-but-goodie, I’ve been eating Quest bars from time-to-time for a long time. Like I said before, the only good one in the past was Cinnamon Roll but they’ve changed formulations. Now they have an incredible lineup of different bars, including:
- Cinnamon roll
- Cookies and cream (not into this one)
- Peanut butter brownie smash (very into this one)
- Raspberry cheesecake
- Chocolate Sprinkled Donut (new, delicious)
And those are just a few – there’s like 20 varieties and they have chips and protein powder, too. Quest includes a lot of non-chocolate options, including banana pie, apple pie, and blueberry cobbler. For our experiment, the kids and I ate the Blueberry Muffin and Chocolate Brownie PB Smash bars. All three of us agreed that the Chocolate was incredible, and the Blueberry bar was pretty decent.
I personally have eaten enough Quest bars in my time to know that overall, they’re pretty delicious. Their macro breakdown is pretty solid, too:
- Carbs – 23g, with 14g being fiber and 2g labeled as Erythritol. This means the bar has roughly 5g of net carbs as far as I can tell
- Fat – 7g, so not a ton but not awful, either
- Protein – 20g, so exceptionally good as as a protein supplement
We are fans of the Quest bars in our household and I’ll likely keep eating them in the future. Let’s see how they measure up:
- Usefulness – Well, they are a protein bar first and keto-adherent second. With 20g of protein, they are very functional.
- Taste – They’re almost all really good. Quest changed their formula a few years ago and they use a perfect blend of sweeteners that maximize taste while minimizing all the weird yucky things non-sugar sweeteners typically have.
- Pricing – Most places I’ve seen them have them priced at about $2/bar, which is pretty cheap. You can get them even cheaper on Amazon if you want to buy boxes at a time.
- Macros – So Quest bars use allulose, which has some great sweetening properties without spiking blood sugar. That said, they still “count” as carbs, so the initial counts look pretty high. For some people allulose will spike their blood sugar a bit, but in general the carbs shouldn’t affect you like 20+ carbs of sugar would.
Julian Bakery makes these and they’re pretty small, which was the first thing I noticed since I’m an enormous grumble-monster. Though they’re small, they still have 15g of protein, which isn’t terrible at all, but even better because these are designed to give you a quick burst of betahydroxybuterate. This shot of ketones is a great way to get energy quickly, and that’s kind of the goal of these bars.
InstaKetones also has BHB powders, and like the powders, these are orange flavored. Most bars like this have chocolate and peanut butter flavors but I can’t say I’d ever had orange before, so it was a nice change of pace.
They’re full of fiber but the one big issue here is all that fiber plus the BHB has the potential to give you some stomach problems. The company itself suggests you start by eating a half bar and work up from there. That’s pretty intense.
Their nutrition breakdown is:
- Carbs – 18 (minus 14g fiber) and they’re sweetened with non-sugar sweeteners, so there’s very little actual insulinogenic carbohydrate that I can tell in these.
- Fat – 8g
- Protein – 15g
There’s a good amount of protein in these bars and the BHB salts will convert to ketones immediately, so you can eat these at workout time and have sustained fuel. I found that popping one (well, a half of one) with a small cup of coffee right before my workouts really helped push those last few reps and helped me focus, too. I’ve never been much of a pre-workout fan apart from coffee but these things are pretty good in that regard.
- Usefulness – Not a great snack, but they’re really good as a workout supplement.
- Taste – The taste is good and it’s cool that it’s so drastically different than most other keto bars out there, being that it’s fruit flavored.
- Pricing – At roughly $2.50/bar, they’re far cheaper than most pre-workouts. Not a good price as a snack, but then I don’t recommend them as a snack anyway.
- Macros – Absolutely I would recommend these based on their functionality and nutrition profile for a keto dieter who is into weight lifting or HIIT.
All of the protein bars on this review are different from each other in some fundamental way, and the most obvious is their taste and mouth-feel. Atlas bars are probably my favorite right now, hands-down specifically because of their taste and mouth-feel. I picked up a variety box with:
- Peanut butter
- Vanilla almond butter
- Chocolate cacao almond butter
I loved the chocolate cacao immediately, and my kids did, too. It tastes like a not-too-sweet brownie. It’s made with erythritol and stevia so it avoids the menthol-grossness of pure erythritol as well as the bitterness of pure stevia.
They also add in coconut oil powder for some MCT goodness as well. The peanut butter one – which I thought I’d like the best – ended up being the one I liked the least, and it was the same with the kids. The vanilla was pretty great but the chocolate was the favorite.
As near as I can tell, these are the only three flavors they have, but I keep picking up the chocolate ones because they’re just wonderful. They’re a bit carbier than other bars, so I try to only eat them on days I hit the weight room. The macros are below:
- Carbs – 22 (minus 11g fiber and 3g of sugar alcohol)
- Fat – 12g
- Protein – 16g
So you can see, they’re set up to be pretty good for keto but they’re not as keto-centric as some of the other bars on this list. They’d be really amazing for paleo and they work for a ketogenic diet, but again, I would limit yourself.
- Usefulness – The MCTs and natural ingredients make them something that I was absolutely fine serving to my kids and they were stoked.
- Taste – The sweeteners are blended perfectly and they’re not too sweet, so they’re really delicious. I love their texture as well, because a lot of keto protein bars have that ultra chewiness like some Quest bars do, and that can put people off.
- Pricing – These are around $3 per bar on Amazon. Though I think they’re worth it, that price is a bit steep compared to others.
- Macros – These fit a ketogenic diet, but they’re likely to eat up your carb limits for the day. Either plan for that or do another few sets on the bench and squat rack.
ONE Protein bars
I’ve seen these at the supermarket on multiple occasions, usually near the Quest bars. I finally checked their macros and was pleasantly surprised that they were keto-friendly. I decided to pick some up for this review and was immediately struck by how many different flavors they have. Some of those flavors include:
- Cookie dough
- Glazed donut
- Blueberry cobbler
- Lemon pie
- Salted caramel
Not being known for my ability to rein in my impulses, I waddled to the check-out with roughly all of them. I ate a donut one in the car and shared with the kids and it was pretty good. We tried the rest at home and though the lemon pie was not our favorite, the rest were quite delicious. The macros are roughly:
- Carbs – 22 (minus 10g fiber and 5g of sugar alcohol) – most bars have about 5-8 net carbs.
- Fat – 8g
- Protein – 20g
I personally loved the salted caramel and the kids liked most of them, excepting the blueberry cobbler and the lemon pie. I tried one before my leg day at the gym the next morning and found I was hitting the 5th set of my 5×5 with more gusto than normal, so they provide good energy as well. Like the Atlas bars, however, they are a bit carbier, so like a good boy I moderated my intake and you should, too, as most have about 5-8 net carbs per bar.
- Usefulness – For a snack or a protein supplement, these are great! They’re not so sweet that they set off cravings, and they were a nice slow burn energy for a workout.
- Taste – Some are definitely better than others. I didn’t like the lemon much at all, but then again I don’t like Quest’s lemon bars either because they taste like Lemon Pledge. Once you find one you like, though, you’ll definitely come back for more.
- Pricing – On Amazon or their website, these will run you about $2.30-$2.50 a bar, which seems to be the normal price for this sort of item. I think it’s fine.
- Macros – Great fat and protein, and decent on carbs.
Bulletproof Collagen bars
I have to admit that I don’t buy in to the Bulletproof brand. While I do believe the company has helped forward the idea that fat isn’t bad and they have helped make MCT oil more accessible, there’s a lot of woo-woo here. They sell “fat water” which is literally water with suspended fat molecules.
Hard pass, thanks.
That said, they do make some tasty collagen bars. They’re incredibly interesting from a mouth-feel standpoint; very dense, not too sweet, and the Vanilla Shortbread bar is extremely evocative of real vanilla shortbread.
The kids weren’t super stoked on them, but as an adult, I veto their opinion. They taste pretty good and as I mentioned they’re made with mostly collagen protein and MCT oil. While collagen isn’t a great protein for muscle building, it does serve a lot of other purposes, including:
- Heart health
- Improved skin, hair, and nails
- Wound recovery
- Digestive health
- Joint health
The current trend of bone broth is rooted in the fact that collagen has so many specific health benefits, so Bulletproof bars really help you get this specific protein in your diet. Plus they taste better than skunky bone broth.
Macronutrient-wise, it looks like this:
- Carbs – 15g – these are sweetened with chicory root, which also provides the bulk of the prebiotic fiber, too. Their net carbs are between 8-10 g each, and I think it’s because they’re mainly comprised of cashew butter. Still, the MCTs and collagen are great for recovery and overall health, plus a boost of energy and mental clarity.
- Fat – 14g – the best fat profile of any of these bars, and it’s because these are keyed more into the benefits of MCTs rather than the protein aspect. Great stuff, honestly.
- Protein – 12g – collagen works differently than other forms of protein, so 12g of protein is simply different here, not better or worse than say whey protein.
For the purposes of a keto protein bar:
- Functionality – collagen intake is something most people skimp on or simply aren’t aware they need. MCT oil for energy makes these that much more useful.
- Taste – I love the vanilla shortbread ones; the taste and texture are perfect, AND the lemon ones actually taste great, which is a departure from other brands’ lemon products.
- Pricing – the price is swingy AND expensive. The cheapest I’ve seen these in the wild is about $3.00/bar and they’re pretty small, so this is the biggest drawback. The price on Amazon varies from slightly under $3 to over $4.50, so they’re not something I would have on hand all the time to be honest.
- Correct macronutrient profile – the macro profile is interesting, because while they’re fine for keto, they’re not optimized for it. They really fill a very specific role with the MCT and collagen.
Is there a best keto protein bar?
I can’t say there’s a best one honestly. They all have pros and cons; Bulletproof are the most expensive and they’ve got a specific niche. Quest are the cheapest and easiest to find, but their ingredients aren’t as clean or delicious as Atlas bars.
Personally I liked the Atlas bars the most while my kids like the One bars best. They all provided great energy for my morning workouts, and none triggered cravings. Of these I’ve reviewed, I would recommend any one of them, depending on why you needed a keto protein bar.
If you just want a snack, Quest and Atlas are my picks. For a burst of energy and focus, Bulletproof and InstaKetones are perfect. Maybe you simply want a keto treat and have a very specific craving, One has a variety that is unmatched in a bar you can eat without guilt.
Do you have a favorite keto protein bar that I didn’t cover? Or perhaps you have feelings about one of these that I tried? Let me know in the comments; I’m always looking for another reason to eat semi-candy bars.