Who doesn’t love a good protein bar? They’re among the most tasty, filling, and convenient healthy snack ideas you can enjoy, whether you prefer store-bought or homemade. If you’re looking for recipes to make your own protein bars though, then you’ve probably got an inkling that DIY’ing it has certain advantages.
The main draw with going the homemade route is the infinite customizability. When you make your own bars, you never have to compromise on getting exactly what you’re looking for, Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a Los Angeles–based sports dietitian and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF. Say you love the chewy texture of one store-bought protein bar and the chocolate drizzle on a different one. “Instead of buying two different bars that have pieces of what you enjoy eating, the one you make on your own is personalized to you and your favorite ingredients,” Ansari says.
Beyond pleasing your palate, homemade protein bars can fit your nutritional needs to a T. “With homemade bars, it’s also easier to add more nutrition into each bite,” Ansari says. (Want carbohydrates that will provide a more gradual stream of energy? Throw in some fiber-rich dried fruit or whole grain cereal. Need a bit more fiber and fat to help satiate you? Add some nuts and seeds.) Equally important, making your own bars means you get to leave out the ingredients you don’t love so much or need to avoid for health reasons. (More on that in a minute.)
Of course, store-bought protein bars do have their benefits too—namely, requiring zero time in the kitchen—and there are some excellent products out there that can certainly merit a place in your diet if you’re a fan. If you want to stick to store-bought, awesome. But since there are some potential pitfalls there, we’ll go over what you need to know so you can steer clear of them. Then we’ll talk about how homemade protein bars can help you avoid those drawbacks altogether and answer some common questions about making them. Finally, we’ll send you off with a collection of killer homemade protein bar recipes.
Do protein bars make you poop?
Certain store-bought protein bars have a reputation for making you clutch your stomach or run to the bathroom because they contain ingredients known to cause GI discomfort, such as (a lot of) added fiber and sugar alcohols.
Fiber is wonderful, but the high concentrations of added fiber that some bars contain (as much as 10 or 15 grams) is a lot for your system to handle at once, as SELF has reported, especially if you aren’t used to such amounts. This can cause issues like gas, bloating, cramping, and yes, pooping.
The other main culprit—popular in low-sugar, sugar-free, or low-calorie protein bars—is sugar alcohols. While everybody’s tolerance for the type and amount of sugar alcohols they can consume before experiencing GI issues is a little different, as SELF has explained, they can cause gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea for plenty of people.
What ingredients should you avoid in protein bars?
There’s no set list of ingredients that everyone should stay away from. When it comes to choosing what kind of protein bars to buy, you’ll want to go on individual preference and avoid (or limit) any ingredients that you know cause you stomach issues, like the aforementioned large amounts of added fiber or sugar alcohols.
If you know that too much added fiber bothers your stomach, you should look out for bars with large amounts of fiber and skim for chicory root, inulin, or oligofructose on the label, as SELF has explained. If sugar alcohols cause you problems, check the nutrition label (where they’re only sometimes listed) and scan the ingredients list for erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.
Many people will also need to avoid certain ingredients for health reasons. Five of the nine major food allergens flagged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are commonly found in protein bars on the market: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, and eggs. And if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, for instance, you need to look for gluten-free protein bars.
The beauty with homemade protein bars is that you don’t have to worry about any of that. That’s why at-home protein bars may be especially appealing for anyone who does have allergies, sensitivities, or reactions to certain ingredients. No scrutinizing lengthy ingredients lists and no weird stomach gurgling involved.
What should you put in homemade protein bars?
Whatever you want! While the options are pretty much endless, there are a number of staple ingredients you’ll commonly find in homemade protein bars that add nutrition, flavor, and texture.
One ingredient you find in nearly every homemade protein bar is nut or seed butter.
It adds yummy flavor and a luscious smooth or crunchy texture (depending on your style) and helps bind the bar together. Ansari always adds a nut butter to her homemade bars to make it more filling, thanks to the combination of fat, fiber, and protein. Peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower seed, and pumpkin seed are all great options.
Another great addition is dried fruit, which sweetens up your bar with naturally occurring sugars while providing fiber and vitamins—plus chewiness and binding. “I personally love adding chopped dates or apricots,” Ansari says. Dried apples, blueberries, pineapple, cherries, or raisins work well too.
A few other common ingredients are whole nuts and seeds, grains like oats and crispy cereal (which offer fiber and a granola bar–like texture), cocoa powder or chocolate chips, and liquid sweeteners like maple syrup or honey, which help your bars stick together and taste delicious.
How do you get enough protein into your protein bar?
“Enough” depends on the purpose of your bar. If you’re simply looking for a bar that makes a filling and energizing snack or sweet treat, then a balance of protein, carbs, and fat will serve you better than a huge hit of protein. Combining several different ingredients that contain a modest amount of protein, such as nut and seed butter or whole nuts and seed and grains like oats or quinoa can help you meet a more modest protein goal (such as 7 or 8 grams, for instance), Ansari says.
On the other hand, if you’re making bars to eat after a workout (or, say, as your main source of protein at breakfast) then you may want to add a more concentrated form of protein. Think Greek yogurt (for refrigerated bars), eggs (for baked bars), and protein powder.
While it’s not necessary, as Ansari points out, protein powder is probably the easiest way to get a good serving of protein (like 12 to 15 grams) into your bar. While you can experiment with adding a scoop or two to any homemade bar, it’s a good idea to follow a recipe, because protein powder can easily result in an unpleasant taste or texture if you don’t strategically combine it with other ingredients. Popular types include the classic whey and plant-based protein powder options such as soy, pea, or brown rice. And the wide variety of flavors—from unflavored to mocha to cookies and cream—might inspire you to get creative with your bars.
Is it bad to eat protein bars every day?
Nope. As long as they’re not your primary source of protein, protein bars are a great way to help pad out your daily protein intake, which should come from a variety of different foods.
“Protein bars can be added into a well-balanced eating pattern,” Ansari says. She generally encourages a “food-first” approach, where you meet most of your protein needs with other kinds of foods (like meat, soy, pea protein–based meat substitutes, fish, eggs, dairy, and nondairy alternatives fortified with plant protein) and add in protein bars to help fill in the fueling gaps throughout your day.
“I would try incorporating one or two bars between meals, and see how they help you meet health or performance goals,” Ansari says (between lunch and dinner or after a workout, for instance). Eating high-protein bars daily is especially cool if you’re making your own bars that are primarily made from whole foods and free of ingredients that could bother your stomach. Not to mention, cheaper.
Now, let’s get to those recipes.