Besides being an essential part of a healthy diet, research suggests protein is a key ingredient in muscle building, post-pump recovery, and weight loss. With so many potential benefits, it’s no wonder active men always seem to be looking for new ways to get more of the nutrient.
In response to the growing demand for protein-rich foods, the muscle-builder has been added into everything from pudding to pretzels. But while companies producing foods in this category get kudos for their culinary creativity, many products are loaded with sugar and calories, making them more similar to sinful indulgences than healthy supplements.
To help you navigate all the new protein-packed foods on the supermarket shelves, we’ve tracked down the most interesting options and asked Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group and Jim White, R.D., personal trainer and registered dietitian, which products are worth trying.
The Scoop: This protein-packed bread is made with whole wheat, whey protein isolate, oats, omega-3 rich flaxseed, and heart-healthy millet and sunflower seeds.
The Bottom Line: “At 14 grams of protein per slice, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck, but the extra protein is only beneficial to vegetarians struggling to get enough of the nutrient. If you eat from all food groups, skip it,” suggests Moskovitz.
Quest Nutrition Protein Chips
Per serving: 120 calories, 190mg sodium, 21g protein
The Scoop: This crunchy snack is made from dried potatoes and a blend of milk protein and whey protein isolate. Quest also uses a generous amount of seasonings and salt to boost flavor while keeping the chips low-calorie.
The Bottom Line: “Since most chips have twice the calories, sodium, and are a lot higher in artery clogging saturated fat, this snack can be a healthy substitute when a crunchy craving strikes,” says Moskovitz. “At 21g of protein, these chips can even replace a protein shake or a bar.”
Kay's Naturals Gluten Free Protein Pretzels
Per 1.2-oz. bag: 120 calories, 3g sugar, 12g protein
The Scoop: These gluten-free pretzels are enriched with soy protein isolate. They come in flavors like Jalapeno Honey Mustard and Cinnamon Toast, and are one of the only pretzels of its kind on the market.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. “I would not recommend this to someone looking to lose weight or lean out. The 1.2 oz. serving is very small, so it won’t be too filling. There are better, more satiating protein sources,” says White.
The Protein Bakery Chocolate Chip Brownie
Per brownie: 190 calories, 18g sugar, 6g protein
The Scoop: This gluten-free treat is rich in muscle-building whey protein, but it’s also loaded with brown sugar, chocolate chips, and butter.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. “A sugary brownie is still a brownie even if it contains some protein. If you're truly craving something sweet, go for the real thing—but only have a few bites and savor it,” suggests Moskovitz.
MuscleEgg High Protein Liquid Egg Whites
Per 1-cup serving: 120-130 calories, 399-400mg sodium, 25-26g protein
The Scoop: MuscleEggs go through a special pasteurization process that kills salmonella and neutralizes avidin—a protein that blocks vitamin B6 absorption. The process allows the product to be cooked or added to protein shakes and consumed raw.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. “What differentiates this product from competing brands are the flavored options, but those have extra calories and additives. I recommend sticking with natural cooked egg whites,” notes White.
Exo Cricket Protein Bars
Per bar: 270-300 calories, 13-18g sugar, 10g protein
The Scoop: In lieu of whole bugs, these bars are made from milled cricket flour. Whole foods like almonds, dates, and cacao nibs are used to enhance the taste and add crunch.
The Bottom Line: If you’re feeling brave, “try this bar as an occasional post-workout snack," says Moskovitz. "The protein and carbs will aid muscle recovery and replenish glycogen lost during exercise, but any bar with more than seven grams of sugar per serving shouldn’t be eaten regularly."
P28 High Protein Nut Butter Spreads
Per 2-tbsp serving: 200-210 calories, 1-3g sugar, 14g protein
The Scoop: This line of whey protein-infused nut butter spreads has six more grams of protein than standard varieties. In addition to their classic peanut and almond butters, they also make flavored varieties.
The Bottom Line: “I would recommend this to a vegetarian who uses peanut butter to increase his protein intake,” says White. “But those who are eating from all food groups should skip it. It’s always better to get protein naturally rather than added sources like whey.”
For a great-tasting peanut butter protein boost, try the PB Chocolate Love from Jamba Juice. The 16-ounce smoothie delivers 14g of protein via a blend of natural peanut butter, chocolate, bananas, milk, and whole grains. Click here to find a Jamba Juice near you.
FlapJacked Protein Pancake Mix
Per ½ cup mix/4 pancakes: 180-200 calories, 8-9g sugar, 15-17g protein
The Scoop: This pancake mix, made with ingredients like whole oat flour, whey protein isolate, and quinoa flour, is loaded with hunger-busting protein. It comes in three flavors: Buttermilk, Cinnamon Apple, and Banana Hazelnut.
The Bottom Line: Save it for a weekend treat. “FlapJacked has more sugar and calories than traditional pancakes,” reveals White.
Green Mountain Farms Greek Cream Cheese
Per 2-tbsp serving: 60 calories, 3g sugar, 4g protein
The Scoop: Thanks to the addition of whey protein concentrate and Greek yogurt, this spread has a few additional grams of protein and 40 fewer calories than regular cream cheese.
The Bottom Line: “Getting some protein from cream cheese is fine as long as it’s not replacing more nutrient-dense protein sources like eggs and fish," says Moskovitz. "Also, if you’re smearing cream cheese on a bagel, go for 100% whole wheat or low-glycemic pumpernickel, and only eat half if you're trying to lean out."
Powerful Yogurt High Protein Greek Yogurt
Per container: 140-170 calories, 9-20g sugar, 21-25g protein
The Scoop: Powerful Yogurt utilizes a proprietary straining process to help retain the natural proteins found in the yogurt's pasteurized milk base.
The Bottom Line: Try it. “Powerful Yogurt only boasts 2-3 more grams of protein than its competitors, Chobani and Fage, but for men looking to gain muscle, the extra protein may be a beneficial,” says White. “To keep added sugars to a minimum, opt for the unflavored variety and add fresh fruit for flavor.”
MHP® Power Pak Pudding
Per can: 190 calories, 0g sugar, 30g protein
The Scoop: This artificially sweetened pudding contains milk protein and soy protein isolates, and provides half of the USDA’s daily calcium recommendation.
The Bottom Line: “Try it if you're curious, but it won't have any major health benefits," notes Moskovitz. “Since this snack is a processed food, consume it only in moderation and don't let it replace whole foods, naturally rich in essential vitamins and minerals.”
EPIC Grass Fed Animal Protein Bars
Per bar: 140-200 calories, 6-9g sugar, 220-240mg sodium, 10-14g protein
The Scoop: These Paleo, gluten-free bars are made from hormone-free meats and poultry, organic spices, and dried fruit.
The Bottom Line: Save it for after a super sweaty workout. “These bars are fairly high in sodium, so I would not recommend them for anyone watching their salt intake," says White.