College life rarely allows for the time to make and eat three reasonable meals a day, so filling snacks are key to not getting too hangry. Our busy lifestyles mean we tend to eat multiple filling snacks instead of a few sit-down meals. We’re always looking for healthy, portable snacks that can fit any kind of diet—in comes the protein bar.

chocolate, candy
Elena Bailoni

Protein bars are a near perfect solution for the busy college student. The wide availability of brands means anyone can find a bar that fits their diet, budget, taste, and nutrient needs.

If anyone has been guilty of replacing one too many meals with a protein bar, it’s me. Classes and clubs already have me stretched pretty thin, and my less than normal dietary restrictions mean I don’t have the luxury of banking on free pizza at meetings. I keep a bar in my backpack, purse, and car at all times.

Have there been times where I’ve stopped myself at 7 at night and realized I ate nothing but protein bars all day? Sure, guilty as charged. But I wanted to know how long I could last eating nothing but protein bars and how it would make me feel.

chocolate, tea
Elena Bailoni

The rules I set for myself were: eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat anything that doesn’t fit your dietary needs, and hit a minimum protein intake. As long as I stayed within these parameters, any combination of bars was fair game.

Day One

coffee, chocolate
Elena Bailoni

Before starting out, I laid out combinations of "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" bars that would allow me to meet my minimum protein goal. This allowed me to supplement my "meals" with bars that were on the lower end of the protein spectrum but would be my treats for the next few days. 

Anyone else always wake up starving? I literally considered cheating on this "diet" before it even began. Nothing sounded better than an omelet, but instead, I made a cup of coffee and made my first bar last by slowly breaking off small pieces.

My roommate made an amazing panini on our stove for lunch. I burned my favorite protein bar attempting to broil it to get the feeling of a warm lunch. I settled for an alternative that had 20 grams of protein, making me feel surprisingly full after the 30 seconds it took me to eat it.  

By mid-afternoon, I'm feeling a tad gross. Everything I've eaten today has been chocolate, vanilla, or cookie-flavored. I want nothing more than just one little carrot. The sugar headache is starting to become real.

But between heavier than normal bars and the "snack bars" I ate, I'm feeling pretty full into the night. Still tired of dessert flavors but other than a little gas (#noshame) from the increased fiber, all is well after day one. 

Day Two

milk, chocolate, candy, sweet, dairy product
Elena Bailoni

I wake up feeling surprisingly full. Probably due to the fact that I had to eat night bars like crazy in order to get enough cals in. I sleep in since my breakfast and lunch is already made—so I'm not tempted to wander into the kitchen to make a real breakfast.

I was able to make it through school, work, and my workout without feeling fatigued. If anything, I might say I had more energy than I normally do on my busy days. But then I had my "dinner" and things started to head south.

Added fiber in a bar is great when your on-the-go lifestyle doesn't allow time for you to eat a ton of fruits and vegs every day. It's not so great when you consume about 50% more than the recommended daily value. 

I felt gross and was still hungry. All I could eat were my bars but all I wanted was to face-plant into a salad. I've been chugging way more water than usual to try to cure my sugar headaches, and while it's working, it's not fixing my stomach in any way. 

Day Three

Elena Bailoni

I had planned to go to the gym before my morning class, but I woke up feeling so fatigued and hungry that I decided against it. I ate a huge bar as soon as I got out of bed and while it doesn't immediately satisfy me, after a few minutes, I feel full enough to function again. 

It may be worth noting that I woke up with pimples in places where I don't normally break out. Whether these are related to my diet or general college stress, we may never know. 

So the early afternoon hits and honestly, I'm gassy af. I apologize to my intestines as I eat another bar to get through my classes.  

I have to eat again after class, less than two hours later, due to the general fatigue that I'm feeling and none of this is a good situation for my body. I have a headache, can't seem to feel full, and my stomach is making noises that shouldn't come from a normal human being.

I was prepared to do this "diet" for up to five days, but I decide that I need to call it quits after the third night. I'm one high fiber bar away from an embarrassing public situation. I don't have enough energy to focus on studying, which is kinda problematic in college.

After eating my last bar, I felt some relief knowing I'd be able to feed my belly some vegetables the next day. But I was still pretty uncomfortable until I went to bed and even after having a vegetable-packed breakfast and lunch the next day.

The Takeaway 

candy, chocolate, peanut butter, chips, peanut
Elena Bailoni

The good parts of this challenge all circled back to why busy people gravitate towards protein bars to eat in the first place. They didn't require any time to make, I could eat them fast and on-the-go, and they kept me full for a few hours.

I also got to eat dessert flavors for every meal since no one questions a cookie dough protein bar. And with all the bars on the market, I had a suprising variety of tastes and textures to choose from. 

But the negatives far outweighed the benefits. First off, I should have invested in savory bars. Eating almost exclusively chocolate and peanut butter seemed like a good idea once upon a time but I'm officially tired of dessert. 

tea, chocolate, coffee, cake, beer
Elena Bailoni

I also felt the effects of all the sugar I was eating. Most of my bars contained natural forms of sugar, but even then, you can have too much of a good thing.

Finally, they add a literal crap ton of fiber to protein bars. Getting too much fiber is also not a good thing, and let me be your example of why.

Is it possible to survive off protein bars? Meh, maybe. Your level of discomfort may vary. I'd never do this again, but I'm definitely not deterred from grabbing a bar the next time I'm running late for class.