Protein Bars Vs Protein Shakes: Which Are More Effective?


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Protein bars and protein shakes both offer a convenient way to increase your protein intake, particularly when you are on the go and don’t have time to sit down and prepare a more complete meal.

But, which is healthier, protein bars or protein shakes? How do protein bars vs protein shakes stack up? Keep reading to find out!

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • Are Protein Shakes Or Protein Bars Better for You?
  • The Benefits of Protein Bars vs Protein Shakes
  • The Benefits of Protein Shakes vs Protein Bars

Let’s get started!

A person enjoying her homemade protein shake.

Are Protein Shakes Or Protein Bars Better for You?

Before we look at the specific pros and cons of protein bars vs protein shakes, It’s important to establish that there isn’t necessarily a “winner” overall. 

There are certain circumstances in which protein bars are better than protein shakes and certain instances in which shakes are better than protein bars.

Most often, whether it is better to have a protein bar vs shake or vice versa will largely depend upon your dietary needs and preferences.

There is a lot of overlap in the nutrition offered by either a protein shake or a protein bar, so in some ways, choosing one over another can be a matter of personal preference, convenience, and cost.

With that said, there is now quite a range of protein bars and protein shakes available, and the term “proteins shake“ can refer to a wide range of homemade protein shakes as well. 

As such, the nutrition facts of any two protein bars or any two protein shakes can actually be quite different. This means that it’s hard or shortsighted to make sweeping generalizations about protein bars vs protein shakes and their nutrition facts.

A person in workout clothes unwrapping a protein bar.

The Benefits of Protein Bars vs Protein Shakes

Protein Bars Are More Convenient

Both protein bars and protein shakes can be convenient (if you’re drinking a premade shake), but when you’re looking for convenience, there is little arguing that protein bars are better than protein shakes.

They do not require any refrigeration.

You can keep one in your gym bag or backpack and have one on your way to or from work.

Although most people will eat the entire protein bar in one sitting (and nearly all protein bars are a single serving), you can take bites or have part of a bar and then fold down the wrapper and save the rest for later.

For example, if you need a quick pick-me-up or have a sensitive stomach. you might want to have half of a protein bar as you head into the gym for a workout and then save the other half for mid-workout or afterward. 

Protein bars are also great for hiking, long walks, runs, or long cycling workouts where carrying a liquid protein shake would not be particularly feasible.

A person with red headphones biting into a protein bar.

Protein Bars Have a Better Macronutrient Balance

Although both protein bars and protein shakes have different ingredients and nutrition facts, if you’re looking for a more balanced macronutrient profile, you’ll typically find that in protein bars vs protein shakes.

Protein bars usually contain some amount of fat and carbohydrates along with protein, while protein shakes often provide mostly protein if you’re making your own with just protein powder and water or unsweetened almond milk.

For example, the Exo Peanut Butter and Jelly Protein Bar provides a balance of 10 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, and 27 grams of carbohydrates. 

The RX Chocolate Sea Salt protein bars have 12 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, and 23 grams of carbohydrates. 

The macronutrient balance in protein bars can be better for certain diets and may provide longer-lasting satiety because of the mix of nutrients, including healthy fats.

Protein bars almost always have more fiber than protein shakes, and fiber not only aids digestion and improves bowel regularity but also keeps you fuller for longer because it slows gastric emptying.

For example, the RX bar listed above has 5 grams of fiber, which is about 20% of the daily value. The carbohydrates in protein bars also make them ideal for pre-workout or post-workout fueling.

A hiker resting and eating a protein bar.

Protein Bars Are More Filling

In general, when it comes to satiety, it is typically better to have protein bars vs protein shakes.

In addition to the macronutrient ratio of protein bars vs protein shakes and the higher fiber content in protein bars vs protein shakes, protein bars tend to be more filling and have a more significant impact on appetite because they are solid.

Studies have found that chewing solid food seems to provide better satiety than drinking liquid calories.

The body may be unable to detect the intake of calories and nutrients in beverages as easily or accurately as when real food is chewed and swallowed.

This means that even when the number of calories in the protein shake vs protein bar are similar, you may not feel as full for as long after the protein shake.

Because the protein shake is liquid, it is heavier in your stomach, so you might feel full right after drinking it, but that satiety will not last long, and you may find that you are hungry quite soon afterward.

A woman in a purple tank top looking at her protein bar.

Protein Bars Are Lighter

As mentioned, from a practical perspective, having protein bars vs protein shakes during activities where you have to carry your fueling makes sense because protein bars are lighter since they are dry.

However, another benefit of having a lighter protein bar vs shake is that the protein bar will not slosh around in your stomach if you are going to be doing high-intensity interval training, plyometrics, jump roping, boxing, sprinting, or other types of vigorous workouts.

If you do not have ample time to digest your pre-workout snack before your session, your stomach might feel better with the protein bar instead of a voluminous protein shake.

Protein Bars May Be Less Processed

We all know it’s best to consume foods in their whole, unprocessed state as much as possible.

Both protein bars and protein shakes are considered processed foods.

However, there are some protein bars that use whole food ingredients and have very minimal processing.

Protein shakes, on the other hand, use protein powders, which are extremely processed, and if you are buying premade liquid protein shakes, there are almost always tons of processed ingredients and fillers in them.

A woman on a track looking at her protein bar.

The Benefits of Protein Shakes vs Protein Bars

There are also benefits of protein shakes vs protein bars.

Protein Shakes Are More Customizable

Although you can certainly buy pre-made liquid protein shakes, when most people use the term “protein shake,“ they are referring to a protein shake they have made using protein powder.

This allows you to tailor the protein shake to your nutritional needs and goals as well as taste preferences.

Although you can find protein bars with different flavors and different types of protein sources, most people are not making their own protein bars from scratch, giving you less control over exactly what you are eating.

A person drinking from a yellow protein shaker.

Protein Shakes Are a Leaner Source Of Protein 

If you are trying to lose weight or really do not want to have carbohydrates or fat with your protein snack, it’s almost always better to have a protein shake vs a protein bar.

Protein shakes can be made with protein powder isolate and plain water, which will give you a very lean protein. With most protein bars, you will find that there are calories from fats and/or carbohydrates.

For example, even sugar-free keto protein bars have quite a bit of healthy fats and more calories than a scoop of protein powder that you can use to make a basic lean protein shake.

Protein shakes also tend to have less sugar than protein bars, particularly if you are making your own from protein powder and you are not adding additional sweeteners. 

With that said, flavored protein powders are often packed with artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols like erythritol, or other non-caloric sweeteners such as Stevia. These are not necessarily “better for you“ than natural sugar.

A person in a colorful sweatshirt drinking from a pink protein shaker.

You can also find sugar-free protein bars with similar ingredients, but if you had to make a sweeping generalization about the sugar in protein shakes vs protein bars, protein shakes typically have less sugar.

Ultimately, there isn’t a definitive winner in the protein shake vs protein bar match up, as there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

You can find many healthy protein bars and shakes, as well as those that are masquerading as little more than a candy bar or milkshake with an expensive price tag.

Choose which works best for you, your dietary needs, and the specific circumstances in which you will need to consume these products.

To ensure your protein shakes and bars are as unprocessed as possible, try out our homemade recipes:

10 Awesome Protein Shake Recipes

How To Make Homemade Protein Bars

Two chocolate protein shakes.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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