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When you’re cutting, food options can be pretty limited, and even healthy options may be surprisingly high in calories once you check the labels.
Protein is your best friend when trying to preserve or build muscle while also trying to lose weight. However, we commonly get asked can you eat protein bars while cutting because they are marketed as a fat loss aid.
Although protein bars are seen as a ‘healthy’ alternative to a chocolate bar, they can still be loaded with carbs and are high in calories. This causes blood pressure to spike, producing insulin to surge and drop – essentially creating more hunger and cravings after eating a protein bar.
Therefore, you need to be careful when picking what protein bar to eat while cutting and understand what will help you rather than hinder you.
So, what should you be looking for in a protein bar when on a cut?
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Can You Eat Protein Bars While Cutting?
The simple answer is yes you can eat protein bars while cutting! They are a great alternative to chocolate and candy bars. However, some whey protein bars can be high in calories and sugar. This means it’s calorie-dense per gram; therefore, you might find it hard to stay in your calorie deficit when eating some protein bars.
When cutting, you want to volume eat. This means eating food high in volume (weight), nutrient-dense, and low in calories. The best example of volume food is leafy green vegetables which fill you up but are low in calories which can help with feeling hungry and craving food when cutting. .
Volume eating is therefore when you eat more low-calorie foods like vegetables, which allows you to eat more overall without risking going over your daily calorie deficit. .
Some protein bars and energy bars are naturally high in calories (particularly when they contain peanut butter), so they can take up a lot of your daily calories. Some can have a high volume of carbs stated previously, meaning it could leave you hungrier whilst taking up a chunk of calories.
This is obviously a worst-case scenario when cutting as you want to reduce hunger to make the fat loss phase easier to navigate.
If you are constantly having cravings because you’re eating high-calorie foods that aren’t satiating or filling then you’ll find it incredibly hard to stick to your diet for the long run. The key to long-term successful diets is to have favorable cutting foods – something we consistently cover on this site!
Related – How to eat ice cream while cutting
We, therefore, suggest looking out for protein bars with more protein, around 20 grams, and no more than half of that of fat. So, no more than 7.5 grams of fat in a 45-gram protein bar.
Similarly, you want to make sure your carbs aren’t more than 1.5 times that of the protein. So, no more than 30 grams of carbs – which is why you may want to avoid added sugars and stick with natural ingredients.
This general guideline should help you pick protein bars while cutting to help limit the chance of your cravings being heightened and staying in your deficit.
Importance of Protein
Protein is found throughout the body, in muscles, bones, skin & hair. They make up enzymes that help with chemical reactions and hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood.
The National Academy of Medicine research suggests that adults should get at least 0.8 grams of protein for every KG of body weight per day. So, for example, if you are 100 pounds, you need 35 grams, or if you are 200-pounds, you need 70 grams.
Due to the protein being made up of amino acids, which we do not store in our body, we must get protein from food sources. Therefore, it is an integral part of our diet and has many health benefits from eating it.
Just because you are on a cut does not mean you should not eat protein bars, as protein is required in your diet. They can be an excellent alternative to calorie-dense snacks such as chocolate.
You just need to be careful about which protein bar you choose to eat whilst on your cut and whether you can get your protein from a different source.
What are Protein Bars
Protein bars are “snacks” typically made from whey protein powder and a variety of other ingredients. Initially, a protein bar would have been baked oats and whey protein with some flavoring or toppings but these bars have come a long way in recent years.
With market leaders like Grenade (if you know about the Carb Killa bar then this isn’t your first cut) making high protein, low carb bars in a variety of flavors, the protein bar market has well and truly changed for the better.
Just look at some of the varieties that I’ll have as a weekly snack:
Protein Bar Calories (on average)
Per 100g, the nutritional value of a protein bar on average is (you can find this on the ingredient list of any high-quality protein bar)
|Calories (kcal) Per 100g||346|
As you can see, protein bars are calorie-dense compared to other food. Please be aware the figures are based on a 100g serving of average protein bar, so this can vary.
If you look around, you’ll find that many bars are available with 250 – 280 calories per serving but for this, you need to be checking the labels when shopping!
If you are eating protein bars as a quick snack while at work or for a convenient snack at lunch, be careful to not be fooled by the calorie to protein ratio. An average protein bar is around 60-80g, so you are looking toward 207- 277 calories per bar.
As protein bars can be high in carbs, check whether the calories and macros fit within your deficit while cutting. If so, then that protein bar is a great way to get both protein and carbs in a while cutting.
See also – How to count macros
How to Eat Protein Bars When Cutting
Now, you can eat protein bars when cutting as they are not inherently bad for you. We would say check the calories before you grab one and think before you eat snack bars.
Some protein bars have deceptively high sugar calories to compensate for the grainy taste protein can sometimes have. If you are eating around 2,000 calories during your cut, we suggest putting a maximum of 300 calories on a protein bar. This will be relative depending on how much you have eaten that day or going to eat that day.
If you look at a screenshot of my MyFitnessPal you’ll see that I have a protein bar as a snack but I leave space in my daily calories to allow for it – I DON’T use it as a staple.
If you are struggling to recover or are low on energy, a 125g serving of rice may do much more for your progress than having a sweet treat. You need to weigh up the pros and cons when it comes to cutting snacks and a protein bar is included in that.
The problem with high carb and sugar protein bars are that they are rarely satisfying, meaning it does not fill you up. This can cause you to be more likely to go over the calories during your cut if you don’t plan for it and instead consume it out of cravings or moments of weakness. .
Therefore, I would recommend limiting your portion size. If you are snacking between meals, then maybe go for lower. Maybe stick to 100 to 200 calories, so you don’t go over too much before your next meal.
Remember, protein bars can also be a great source of fiber. The best protein bars on a cut usually have between 3 and 5 grams. This will help eliminate the hunger that the carbs and sugar initiate. Look for protein bars with more fiber and fewer carbs to support your cut.
It is good to have a balance. Below I have suggested some of the best protein bars that still provide you with the protein you need while on a cut.
Best Protein Bars for Weight Loss
Given the massive market for protein bars in recent years, it is vital to remember that not all protein bars are equal. It is also important to note that for healthy weight loss overall during a cut, an overall balanced diet and exercise are needed. If you get this right, you can even put on muscle mass by eating healthy snacks and a balanced diet.
Here I have listed 5 of the top low carb, low sugar, and high protein bars to eat while cutting:
1) Myprotein – Lean Protein Bar (International)
This is an excellent protein bar as it has 153g of Calories in a 45-gram bar, with 18g of protein. The carbs aren’t more than 1.5 times protein at 11g, and the fat is way less than half of the protein at 4.6g per protein bar. It also only has 1.2g of sugar.
2) Grenade – Carb Killa Bar (International)
Grenade Carb Killa bars are arguably the best protein bar on the market when it comes to low calorie, low carb, high protein options. The main thing about Grenade is that the bars taste great! Honestly, they are easily the best-tasting protein bars on the market.
A 60g birthday cake bar (amazing by the way) contains 23g protein, 9g fat, and just 13g of carb.
3) Huel – Complete Protein Bar (UK Option)
This bar is also great at 200 calories per 49 grams bar, with 18 grams of protein. It is also below half of the fat to protein ratio at 8.5g and a really low carb to protein ratio at only 10g of carbs.
4) Quest Nutrition – Protein Bar (US Option)
may be the biggest brand globally when it comes to protein bars. Quest was one of the first brands to really test the water with what a protein bar could be and their cookies and cream bar was a game-changer around 2010 – 2013 and they are still going strong now.
Per 60g bar, you’ll have 200 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 21 grams of carbs.
3) Misfits – Vegan Protein Bar (International)
A vegan option with high protein levels at 16 grams of protein in 186 calories per one 45 gram bar. The protein to carb ratio is excellent at only 5.8grams of carbs for 16 grams of protein. This bar also only has 0.8 grams of sugar in it.
These are some really great low calorie, low sugar, low carb bars with high protein to eat whilst keeping within your macro and calorie goals.
Protein Bars Alternatives When Cutting
All of this aside, protein is a massively important part of your diet, especially when cutting. Therefore, just because some protein bars might not be the best when cutting doesn’t mean there aren’t some great alternative high protein foods that can help aid your cut.
I have listed below some of the great options that are equally as tasty but might be better in terms of macros.
A Handful of Almonds – around 150 calories and 6 grams of protein. Even though it might not be as satiating, a small amount does have a high amount of protein and lots of fiber. Just be careful not to eat too many as they can be high in fat.
Related – Can you eat nuts while cutting
Steak – is a fantastic source of protein with, on average, 33 grams of protein. However, we know steaks aren’t cheap and, depending on the cut of meat, can have lots of saturated fats
Salmon – is also a great source of protein averaging around 30 grams. This might be better than steak as it’s naturally low in sodium which is great for the gut, and saturated fats but high in omega 3.
Hard Boiled Egg – for a really cheap, accessible protein source, eggs are great for cutting. One egg, on average, is 76 calories and 6 grams of protein.
In the grand scheme of things, protein bars are not the worst thing you can eat whilst cut. It definitely has more benefits than a regular chocolate bar would have.
However, some protein bars are not ideal when cutting as they are high in sugar and carbs, causing you to crave more food throughout the day and impacting your weight loss progress.
That being said, this is only the case for some; you just need to be careful with the bars that you do pick and whether they fit into your calorie intake for that day.
Protein bars have benefits as they are a quick way to get a lot of protein but only if you are smart about it. We would suggest volume eating as this way you can eat more for fewer calories.
If you want to eat a protein bar while cutting, we recommend the ones listed above as they shouldn’t hinder your weight loss progress and help keep you on track. Or pick an alternative high protein snack that could have better macros overall.