The ever increasing speed of modern day living has seen a boom in high protein snack options. Food companies realise that consumers are much more aware of what they are putting in their bodies than they were 10 years ago, and many are now much more likely to opt for a high protein snack (as opposed to, for arguments sake, a chocolate bar) to tide them over between meals. The personal eating habits of the consumer are also imperative, and it makes for a market that reaches far and wide. High protein snacks come in various guises, including bars, balls, muffins, cookies and crisps; and are aimed at endurance athletes, weight lifters, dieters, vegans, and now even the average Joe. Consumers are now much more likely to read the ingredients and make conscious choices based on their health goals. Nonetheless, taste, texture and convenience are still very large factors in the decision making.
What to look for in a high protein snack?
Many high protein snacks are now actively marketed as such, with ‘protein bars’ being commonplace on supermarket shelves and other ‘protein fortified products’ cropping up on various supplement websites. Indeed, there seems to be a competition between manufacturers in which the winner is the company who can fortify the widest range of food and drinks with a chosen protein – welcome protein muffins, protein pasta, protein crisps, even protein water to an already saturated market. These companies will have you believe that if you can’t add protein to it, it’s not worth eating – however, some of the best high protein snacks are not even marketed as protein products, and require a little extra searching to enjoy the benefits.
When searching for the right snack for you, it’s important to consider your individual goals. Are you looking to gain, lose, or maintain weight? Do you tolerate dairy and gluten? Of course, it is also important to consider your flavour preferences – would you prefer a sweeter or savoury snack? Are you after a snack that is nutty, chocolately, or even meaty? What is your preferred source of protein? And how much are you prepared to spend?
When it comes to high protein snacks, there is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ product. A snack that is perfectly balanced for one consumer might be another person’s nightmare. When comparing different snack options, we considered a wide range of products appealing to different consumer groups. Our aim was to be able to cross examine high protein snacks in various formats, aimed at various consumer groups, and draw conclusions as to the best products available today. Whilst the products would be very different from one another, we could still draw comparisons on cost vs amount of protein, as well as the ingredients used, taste, texture, and in general how satisfying the snack is.
In order to ensure the comparison reflected the scale of the high protein snack market today, we wanted to make sure the snacks that we covered were varied in terms of both type of snack and type of protein. This meant comparing products made with both dairy and plant based protein, in different shapes, sizes and flavours. For sake of variety, we also compared beef jerky and biltong – a naturally high protein snack that was a favourite of meat lovers long before protein bars and shakes ever hit the market. The products we chose to compare were:
Organic Food Protein Bar – A vegan protein bar made with brown rice protein, almond butter and flax sprouts amongst other organic ingredients.
Trek Mixed Berry Energy Bar – A berry flavoured vegan energy bar made with soya crispies, which up the protein content and add a crunch to the bar’s texture.
‘Peanut Protein Blast’ Bounce Ball – A chewy, ball shaped snack made with peanuts and whey protein, and with a focus on natural ingredients.
Pulsin Maple and Whey Crisp – A smaller ‘block’ shaped snack made with peanuts, cacao butter and three different types of protein. Soft texture with whey ‘crisps.’
Quest ‘Chocolate Brownie’ Protein Bar – A chocolate flavoured, low carb and low sugar protein bar.
Bench Pressed Oats (apple and cinnamon flavour) – Instant porridge fortified with whey protein.
Wild West Beef Jerky ‘Honey BBQ’ – Gluten free beef jerky with a honey BBQ glaze
Cruga Biltong ‘Original’ – A low carb dried beef snack
MyProtein Chocolate Chip Protein Muffins – A dessert alternative fortified with whey, soy and egg protein
Protein Snacks Chicken Protein Bites – A packet of chicken flavour ‘bites’ made with soy protein. Despite having the appearance of crisps, they cannot be branded as such due to no potatoes being present!
We compared the products based on their taste, texture, and how satisfying they were when eaten as a meal replacement. We also considered the quality of the ingredients used, the nutritional value of each product, and of course, the price.
Looking at the ingredients of the products first, we immediately see a huge contrast in terms of the quality of the ingredients used. Some products have a clean ingredients list – Organic Food Protein Bar being one of the stand out products, with just brown rice protein, agave nectar, date paste, almond butter, raisins, flax sprouts and sesame seeds being present in this bar. This did, however, make for a bar that was rather high in fructose; agave syrup, whilst being a natural alternative to table sugar, isn’t necessarily any healthier.
On the other side of the coin, the two ‘protein fortified’ products (MyProtein Muffins and Protein Snacks Chicken Protein Bites) were quite clearly no more than junk food with additional protein. Both contained gluten, and controversial soy protein was prevalent in both – it was the only protein source in Protein Snacks Bites and was the main source of protein in MyProtein Muffins, although the latter also featured whey protein. MyProtein Muffins had the most shocking ingredient list of the two, including vegetable glycerol, modified waxy maize starch, vegetable oil and wheat flour.
The other, non meat based products all featured a good list of ingredients. Bounce Ball Peanut Protein Blast and Pulsin Maple and Whey Crisp contained a similar set of ingredients; both had a base of brown rice malts and peanuts, and featured a blend of protein (Bounce Ball used three different types of whey, whilst Pulsin used whey, rice and pea protein isolate). Bench Pressed Oats had a simple ingredients list (oat flakes, skimmed milk powder, whey protein concentrate, xylitol, sultanas, chopped apple, cinnamon) with no artificial ingredients. However, it did use whey protein concentrate as it’s protein source, whereas the other whey based products used more expensive forms of whey such as whey isolate. Trek Bar contained natural ingredients, but used Soy as the protein of choice – whereas Quest Bar built its low carb offering around whey and milk isolate, almonds and chicory fibre. Quest Bar also featured Lo Han Guo, a safe and sugarless fruit derived sweetener. It does, however, also contain sucralose.
In terms of the jerky and biltong, the contrast between the ingredients was startling. Whilst Wild West Jerky focused on using natural ingredients and was gluten free, Cruga Biltong’s ingredients list featured some eyebrow raising additions. As you would expect, the main ingredient in both products was beef – but whilst Wild West Jerky was flavoured with ingredients such as honey, apple cider vinegar and pineapple juice, Cruga Biltong featured monosodium glutamate, hydrolysed vegetable protein and vegetable fat, amongst others.
With the exception of Bench Pressed Oats, Cruga Biltong, Myprotein Muffins and Protein Snacks Bites, all other products were gluten free. Bounce Ball and Pulsin Bar were also certified non GM, whilst Organic Food Bar was both organic and non GM.
The nutritional balances of each product were very varied, not least because the products are primarily aimed at different target audiences. The snacks also came in different sizes, ranging from a 25g pack of Cruga Biltong to a 90g Myprotein Muffin.
Due to their size being so similar (49g and 50g respectively), Bounce Ball and Pulsin Bar were easily comparable. Of the two, Pulsin had marginally higher protein (15g compared to 14g) and fibre (3.9g compared to 2g), and was also lower in carbohydrate (18g compared to 19g). Interestingly though, Pulsin Bar do not disclose the amount of sugar in their product – however, one would imagine it would be comparable to the respectable 12g of sugar found in Bounce Ball based on the ingredient list.
In comparison to these two, Organic Food Protein Bar was a larger product at 70g. This meant that it packed more protein (22.6g) and fibre (9g) – but crucially, the amount of protein as a percentage was higher too. Approximately 32% of this product was protein, compared to 30% (Pulsin) and 28.5% (Bounce Ball). Organic Food Bar also contained a good amount of healthy fats from the almonds, sesame seeds and flax sprouts, as well as being the most nutrient dense product. Nonetheless, it was the product with the second highest amount of sugar at 23g (33% of the product) – falling behind Trek Bar, which contains a whopping 30g sugar (44% of the product). In fact, whilst being a snack made primarily with whole foods, the nutritional profile of Trek Bar was one of the worst, as it carries just 11g protein (largely from soy), which is just 16% of the product.
If you are looking for the lowest carb snack option available, then Quest Bar would be your snack of choice. A 60g bar contains only 5g carbohydrate and only 1g of sugar to an impressive 20g protein, so is a popular choice for the weight loss market. Despite these impressive macros, however, Quest Bars are noticeably lower in vitamins and minerals than the likes of Organic Food Bar and Bounce Balls, mainly because the ingredient list largely features concentrated foods and sugarless sweeteners designed to keep the protein to sugar ratio as high as possible, thus ruling out nutrient dense whole foods.
The highest carb option was Bench Pressed Oats, delivering 43.1g of carbohydrate per 70g serving; although only 14.6g of these were sugars. In comparison with MyProtein Muffins, Bench Pressed Oats were also slightly higher in protein (20.2g compared to 19g), despite the serving size being 20g less. Many of the 387 calories in MyProtein Muffins came from fat, with this product containing 16.9g – and given the source of this fat is from an unhealthy source (vegetable oil), this is a concerning statistic. On the other hand, Protein Snacks Chicken Protein Bites had the highest amount of protein as a percentage; 21g of the 35g serving was protein (60%), whilst there were only 8.8g of carbs and less than 1g of sugar. That being said, this product was void of any vitamins and minerals thanks to the ingredient list.
When the two beef products were compared, we doubled the size of the serving of Cruga Biltong (25g) so it was directly comparable with a serving of Wild West Jerky (50g). Cruga Biltong was higher in protein (23g compared to 17.1g) and much lower in sugar (just 1.2g compared to 14.9g). As a percentage, Cruga Biltong was the second highest protein snack overall.
To repeat a point made earlier, an appropriate ratio of protein to carbohydrate and fat is something that will be different for everyone. Endurance athletes will benefit more from a higher carbohydrate option, whereas people looking to lose weight may wish to keep the carbs down. If there were to be a general rule when comparing the nutritional values of each product, it would be that it carries a solid amount of protein (ideally around 30%) from a clean source, whilst keeping the level of sugar low. Ideally, the product would also be made with whole foods, and therefore richer in vitamins and minerals.
When it came to taste, the consensus showed that the most popular products were MyProtein Muffins, Wildwest Jerky and Organic Food Bar. For the muffins, this was expected, as this product is essentially your standard unhealthy muffin recipe with additional protein – so this arguably skews the validity of these results. Wildwest Jerky was voted the best tasting jerky by quite some way, with many who tasted it saying it was the best they had tried. Cruga, on the other hand, was considered artificial tasting by some. Interestingly, despite the ingredient list being void of any artificial flavourings, Organic Food Bar was considered the best tasting bar, as it had a nutty flavour and no obvious ‘protein powder’ taste.
Bounce Ball Peanut Protein Blast was also considered very enjoyable, with many commenting that this product tastes like peanut butter. It was considered a better tasting product than Trek Bar, although this was still largely enjoyed thanks to the natural berry flavour. Pulsin Bar was considered a relatively enjoyable product, but the flavour was fairly neutral. The flavour of Protein Snacks Chicken Protein Bites, Bench Pressed Oats and Quest Protein Bar was, on the whole, not considered enjoyable.
In terms of texture, Organic Food Bar, Pulsin Bar and Wildwest Jerky scored the best. Organic Food Bar scored the highest, with the ‘melt in the mouth’ texture of the product being remarked on. The texture of Pulsin Bar was a contrast to this, as it was soft but with crunchy bits – it scored very well for these exact reasons. Wildwest Jerky also scored very well, and was considered a much softer, easier to eat jerky than Cruga – which was considered too chewy for some.
Quest Protein Bar and MyProtein Muffins were generally considered to have an enjoyable texture. Bounce Balls and Trek Bars divided opinion somewhat; some people enjoyed the texture of Bounce Balls, whilst some found them too chewy; some people enjoyed the texture of Trek Bars, whilst some found them too firm. The opinion towards the texture of Bench Pressed Oats and Protein Snacks Protein Bites were not divided however, as the majority were not partial to the texture. Bench Pressed Oats were said to have a chalky, flaky texture, whilst Protein Snacks were considered the worst product, as it had the texture ‘of cardboard.’
When it came to satisfying hunger, Organic Food Bar, Quest Protein Bar, Bench Pressed Oats, Wild West Jerky, Cruga Biltong and MyProtein Muffins all scored well. Trek Bar and Pulsin Bar were considered reasonably satisfying, whereas the general consensus with Bounce Ball is that it needed to be eaten alongside another snack to prove satisfying. Despite the high protein content, Protein Snacks were considered the least satisfying, largely due to the ‘airy’ nature of the product. Interestingly, Protein Snacks were rated the worst product for taste, texture, and satisfaction.
When comparing the products for value for money, it was important to consider more than just the retail price. After all, the serving size of each snack varied considerably, so comparing the price of two different size products would not be fair. As the focus of this comparison was to compare various high protein snacks, we decided to break the price down into ‘cost per 25g of protein,’ by dividing the actual protein content of each snack into 25, and then multiplying it by the retail price. These figures, along with the actual retail price of the products, are shown in the table below.
|Product||Retail Price||Protein (g)||Cost per 25g Protein|
|Trek Mixed Berry Protein Bar (60g)||£1.49||11||£3.39|
|Cruga Biltong Original (25g)||£1.49||11.5||£3.24|
|MyProtein Protein Muffins (90g)||£1.67*||19||£2.20|
|Pulsin Maple and Whey Crisp (50g)||£1.69||15||£2.82|
|Bench Pressed Oats (75g)||£1.69||20.2||£2.11|
|Protein Snacks Chicken Protein Bites (35g)||£1.75||21||£2.08|
|Organic Food Protein Bar (70g)||£1.79||22.6||£2.09|
|Bounce Ball Peanut Protein Blast (49g)||£1.99||14||£3.55|
|Wild West Beef Jerky (50g)||£2.29||17.1||£3.35|
|Quest Protein Bar Chocolate Brownie (60g)||£2.33*||20||£2.91|
|*only available as part of a multiple purchase|
As the table above clearly shows, a product with a lower retail price does not necessarily mean good value for money. Granted, the snack itself will cost less, but if you have a daily protein target to hit, you may end up spending more in the course of the day. Looking at the table, the best value lies in Protein Snacks, Organic Food Bar and Bench Pressed Oats – whilst seemingly cheaper products like Trek Bar and Cruga Biltong actually represent some of the worst value in terms of cost per gram of protein.