The Best Protein Bars for Muscle Gain, Taste And More

Try these bars to help tide you over, curb your appetite, or potentially build muscle.

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A lot has changed over the years, including the quality and variety of protein bars. Long gone are the days when you’d chomp down expecting a chalky texture full of artificial flavors and sugars. Now, there are brands serving up delicious bars loaded with muscle-building protein and great flavor. There are protein bars that taste like candy. There are protein bars free of meat products entirely. There are even protein bars made of meat.

Whether you’re looking to munch on something healthier, fuel a tough workout, or recover from one — there’s a bar for you. Check out our list of the best protein bars for different goals like muscle gain, taste, low-carb, and vegans below.

Best Protein Bars

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. Individual needs for vitamins and minerals will vary.

Best Protein Bar Overall

The best protein bar should check many boxes — like taste and a balanced macronutrient profile, to name a few. We think Legion High-Protein Bar is the best of the bunch.

Legion High-Protein Bar

Legion High-Protein Bar has 20g of protein, 24g of carbs, and 12 grams of fat per bar. It slots in at 240 calories, but it does only come in one flavor — a tasty Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. There’s only 4g of sugar per bar, which is pretty low considering some bars have up to 20g. Plus, the protein comes from a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which makes for a balanced, stable blend — since this product is 100 percent natural, this combo provides smoother digestion, and potentially more effective muscle growth than a single type of natural protein would. 

Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar

Legion High-Protein Bar has 20g of protein, 24g of carbs, and 12 grams of fat per bar. It slots in at 240 calories, and there’s only 4g of sugar per bar, which is pretty low considering some bars have up to 20g. Plus, the protein comes from a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which makes for a balanced, stable blend.

Who Should Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • People who want a high protein bar will like the 20g of whey isolate and whey concentrate here. 
  • Anyone who likes Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavors will like this bar.
  • Athletes who want a low sugar protein bar — this product only contains 4g per bar. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Anyone who is cutting and may want a bar with fewer calories — this one has 240 per bar.
  • People who want a wider variety of flavors can find better options on this list. 

This balanced bar delivers a solid macro ratio with 240 calories, and one objectively delicious flavor — Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. So long as you’re not in a cutting phase, this bar should check most of your boxes. 

Best Tasting Protein Bar

Your protein snack should be enjoyable, so you are actually looking forward to meeting your protein intake. We think this is one of the tastiest snacks on the market. 

Onnit Protein Bites

Why would someone pick a protein bar over a protein shake when the latter is quicker to consume? Because bars are satiating, and sometimes taste better. Onnit’s Protein Bites can hit the spot when you’re craving something sweet, but don’t want to indulge in too much sugar. These bites have all the feel and taste of a decadent snack that, unlike a regular candy bar, only has 5g of sugar. They are also high in protein and fiber with up to 9g of protein and 7g of dietary fiber per 140 calorie serving.

Each bite has more than 60 plant nutrients as part of their MacroNOURISH™ blend to help fill in any dietary gaps you may have with micronutrients. This product is gluten-free, but it does contain tree nuts, milk, soy, and sesame, so be cautious if you have an allergy. The dark chocolate coating on these bites is objectively delicious, and they come in three flavors — Chocolate Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Coconut Cashew.

Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites

Onnit’s protein bites combine the decadence of a dark chocolate coating with a great tasting center, available in three delicious flavors — Chocolate Cookie Dough, Chocolate Coconut Cashew, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. These bites contain up to 9g of grass-fed whey isolate, and 7g of dietary fiber.

Who Should Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • People who want an objectively delicious protein snack — Onnit offers three flavors, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Coconut Cashew, and Chocolate Cookie Dough. 
  • Anyone craving a candy bar-like taste and texture will enjoy the chocolate coating here.
  • Folks following a gluten-free diet — this product is gluten-free.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • Anyone who has an allergy to tree nuts, milk, soy, or sesame as these bars contain all of those ingredients.
  • Someone looking for a larger protein bar that can work as a meal replacement — these bars are delicious, but they are meant to be a snack. 
  • If you want more than 9g of protein in your bar, you should opt for another pick on this list. 

Flavor meets function to produce these candy-like bars that are also free of artificial sweeteners and gluten. Though these bars may only contain up to 9g of protein, they make up for it with a blend of 60 plant nutrients, and an amazing taste and texture that reminds us of biting into our favorite candy bar. Onnit was certainly on it when they made this product. 

Best Protein Bar for Muscle Gain

Muscle gain requires taking in more calories than you’re burning per day. So, if you’re looking to bulk up, you need a bar that’s loaded with carbsprotein, and some fat

Legion High-Protein Bar

For anyone looking to cut weight, this section is not for you. Legion High-Protein Bars contain 240 calories per bar, 24 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat. These bars also only contain 4g of sugar per bar, which means your muscles are getting everything they need, without any of the added sugars you often see in protein bars. The protein here is a blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate, and this product is 100 percent natural. However, this bar only comes in one flavor — Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — so if you’re not a fan of that taste, you’ll need to look elsewhere for your muscle gaining needs.

Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar

Legion High-Protein Bar has 20g of protein, 24g of carbs, and 12 grams of fat per bar. It slots in at 240 calories, and there’s only 4g of sugar per bar, which is pretty low considering some bars have up to 20g. Plus, the protein comes from a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which makes for a balanced, stable blend.

Who Should Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Athletes who are looking to gain muscle will appreciate the macros here — that’s 24 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat per bar.
  • Folks who like chocolate chip cookie dough flavors, as that’s the only option here. 
  • If you’re looking for a higher calorie bar, you’ve found it, as this one contains 240 calories (compared to some bars that contain more like150 calories). 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Folks who are trying to cut may want to opt for a bar that is lower in calories, carbs, and/or fat.
  • Anyone who wants a wider variety of flavors can find that from other brands. 

This bar offers great macros for those trying to build muscle. With 24g of carbs, 20g of protein, and 12g of fat, this whey protein bar can help you make serious gains. 

Best Whey Isolate Protein Bar

If you’re specifically looking for a protein bar made from whey isolate protein, this pick has up to 9g of whey isolate sourced from grass-fed cows — and it tastes great too. 

Onnit Protein Bites

Whey isolate is one of the most popular forms of whey protein on the market for its lean form. Onnit made their protein bites with top-quality grass-fed whey protein isolate to satisfy those who are looking for a highly absorbable protein source that also tastes incredible. Not only are they high in protein and fiber with up to 9g of protein and 7g of dietary fiber, but they contain only 5g of sugar, and 60 plant nutrients, as well. This blend includes herbs, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and more to help meet your micronutrient needs. On top of being a high-quality protein bar, Onnit Protein Bites are also gluten-free and keto-friendly.

Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites

Onnit’s protein bites combine the decadence of a dark chocolate coating with a great tasting center, available in three delicious flavors — Chocolate Cookie Dough, Chocolate Coconut Cashew, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. These bites contain up to 9g of grass-fed whey isolate, and 7g of dietary fiber.

Who Should Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • Anyone who’s looking specifically for a protein bar sourced from whey isolate protein — this bar has up to 9g of it.
  • People following a keto diet will appreciate that this product has just 5g of sugar. 
  • Folks who want a protein bar that also tastes great with no offputting aftertaste — these bars are objectively tasty.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • Anyone with allergies to tree nuts, milk, soy, or sesame. 
  • Athletes who want a higher protein content. While up to 9 grams is decent, there are bars that contain more protein out there. 
  • People who are looking for a large variety of flavors — these bars are delicious, but they only come in three flavors.

Containing high-quality grass-fed whey protein isolate and a blend of 60 plant nutrients, this product from Onnit is great to turn to when a craving hits, or you want a solid protein source. Onnit’s Protein Bites include 7g of dietary fiber, which may help with feeling full, and could aid in digestion.

Best Post-Workout Protein Bar

Sometimes, when you’re done with your workout and just want to get something in your stomach before the drive home from the gym, a protein bar can come in handy. Legion High-Protein Bar can be a great gym bag partner for these cases.

Legion High-Protein Bar

Refueling your body after a tough workout is about more than just cramming calories into your mouth. Hard bouts of training can also take a toll on your mind, which is where Authentic Bars come in — these bars are a breeze to get down as they pack a punch of flavor, and are super soft to chew. 

Legion bars have a whopping 12 grams of fat — and because fats can digest slower than carbs, they aren’t as likely to give you an energy spike and crash later. This can help you maintain a steady energy level after an intense training session instead of feeling pumped up then very wiped out. These bars also pack 20 grams of protein each, and offer 240 calories, which can help give your body the refueling you need after going hard in the gym.

Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar

Legion High-Protein Bar has 20g of protein, 24g of carbs, and 12 grams of fat per bar. It slots in at 240 calories, and there’s only 4g of sugar per bar, which is pretty low considering some bars have up to 20g. Plus, the protein comes from a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which makes for a balanced, stable blend.

Who Should Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Folks who want solid post-workout macros — that means a decent amount of fats and protein. These bars have 12g and 20g, respectively. 
  • If you’re looking for a similar dose of protein as you would get from a protein shake, you’ll appreciate that these bars are made with whey isolate and whey concentrate (which you typically find in shakes). 
  • People looking for a higher calorie bar will like the 240 calories here. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Folks going through a cut who need a lower calorie bar should look elsewhere. 
  • Anyone who is avoiding soy or nuts should note that these bars may contain small traces of those. 
  • If you don’t like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, you may want to find a different option as that is the only flavor offered here. 

With 20 grams of protein and 12 grams of fat per bar, Legion High-Protein Bars can help perk you back up after the gym with solid macros and high-quality whey protein isolate and concentrate.

Best Protein Bar for Weight Loss

Tasty protein bars can definitely accompany you on your journey if you’re trying to lose weight — and these mini Onnit Protein Bites are some of our favorites. 

Onnit Protein Bites

Boasting nine grams of protein per bite, Onnit Protein Bites only contain 140 calories and five grams of sugar. Made from whey protein isolate, these bars come in six chocolate-coated flavor variations. Whey protein isolate is one of the leanest forms of protein on the market, so if you’re looking to shed a couple of pounds, this pick can be a great snack to curb your sweet cravings. These bars only contain 14 grams of carbs and six grams of fat per bar. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a short and simple ingredients list, you won’t find it here. But Onnit Protein Bars do contain 60 plant nutrients and are gluten-free. 

Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites
Onnit Protein Bites

Onnit’s protein bites combine the decadence of a dark chocolate coating with a great tasting center, available in three delicious flavors — Chocolate Cookie Dough, Chocolate Coconut Cashew, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. These bites contain up to 9g of grass-fed whey isolate, and 7g of dietary fiber.

Who Should Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • If you’re looking to maintain your protein intake while losing weight, you’ll be thrilled that these bites have nine grams of protein but only 140 calories and five grams of sugar each.
  • People who need to avoid gluten will appreciate that these are gluten-free. 
  • Athletes who like chocolate. These bars come in six chocolate-covered flavors and can help address your sweet cravings. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Onnit Protein Bites

  • Athletes looking to gain muscle can find bars with higher caloric content.
  • People who want higher protein content per bar, since there are bars on the market with more than nine grams.

Look no further than Onnit Protein Bites if you want a gluten-free bar that is low in calories, carbs, and sugars, but still offers a decent kick of protein — these are a great lean option.

Best Vegan Protein Bars

If you follow a vegan diet, you’ll want to snag a protein bar that is made from either brown rice, hemp, soy, or another planet-friendly option. 

Vega Protein Bars

Vegans, these bars provide an easy answer to the “but where do you get your protein?” question. Vega Protein Bars have 20 grams of protein, which easily outstrips many non-vegan bars out there. The protein in these bars also comes from a variety of sources — primarily pea and brown rice protein, with some nut-based protein thrown in for texture and taste. Plus, they contain 26 to 27 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and three to four grams of fiber, giving you a wide spread of your macros (plus much-needed fiber).

And if you’re looking for the candy-bar effect of a flavored coating, Vega Protein Bars have literally got you covered. You can choose between their Salted Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor, both of which come with a tasty candy-like coating. This largely accounts for the 16 to 18 grams of sugar that these bars are packing.

Vega Protein Snack Bar
Vega Protein Snack Bar
Vega Protein Snack Bar

Vega Protein Snack Bars contain 10 grams of protein and four to five grams of carbs (depending on the flavor you choose). These bars are both crispy and chewy, and only 190 calories

Who Should Buy Vega Protein Bars

  • Athletes who want a bar with a higher protein content will love that these bars have 20 grams of protein per bar.
  • If you like your protein to come from a variety of sources, these bars have pea protein, brown rice protein, and protein from nuts.
  • Plant-based eaters who want a vegan protein bar will appreciate these.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Vega Protein Bars

  • Meat-eaters who prefer whey protein or animal protein might want to choose a different bar.
  • When you’re looking for a wide variety of flavors, only choosing between Salted Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter might not be your vibe.
  • If you want a lower calorie and lower sugar bar, you should know that these contain 290 calories and 16 grams of sugar.

These vegan bars are good for plant-based eaters or anyone really who can benefit from a well-balanced macro profile. 

Best Natural Protein Bar

When it came down to which protein bar had a simple, natural ingredient list, there was one that rose above the field for its soft texture and delicious flavor: Legion High-Protein Bars. 

Legion High-Protein Bar

When it comes to ingredients, Legion keeps it simple. They make their protein bars from a blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate — the same proteins you often find in protein shakes. The fat and carb content is moderate at 12 grams of fat and 24 grams of carbs. And you’re also getting a high dose of protein at 20g. These bars are naturally sweetened and flavored, and they’re free of gluten. However, they only come in one flavor: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. 

Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar
Legion High-Protein Bar

Legion High-Protein Bar has 20g of protein, 24g of carbs, and 12 grams of fat per bar. It slots in at 240 calories, and there’s only 4g of sugar per bar, which is pretty low considering some bars have up to 20g. Plus, the protein comes from a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which makes for a balanced, stable blend.

Who Should Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • If you’re looking for a protein bar that offers protein similar to what you would receive in a protein shake, you’ll like the 20g-blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate here. 
  • If you want a filling and satisfying snack that doesn’t feel like a chore to eat, these bars should find their way into your gym bag.
  • Anyone who wants a protein bar that is naturally flavored and sweetened will like this product. 

Who Shouldn’t Buy Legion High-Protein Bar

  • Athletes who don’t value natural ingredients can find much less expensive bars out there. 
  • If you want more than one flavor option, you won’t find it here. 

If you’re looking for a natural protein bar with minimal sugar and high protein content, Legion has you covered.

Best Crunchy Protein Bar

Texture is a big part of what makes food enjoyable, so we sought out protein bars with a bit of crunch in each bite, and landed on the Promix Crunchy Puff Bar.

Promix Crunchy Puff Bar

If you’re tired of the same old grainy protein bar texture, you might want to pick up a box of Promix Crunchy Puff Protein Bars. They feature whole food ingredients and transparent testing with all third-party testing results available to view for each product — you’ll see that testing is done by Convance and Eurofins Laboratories right on their website. 

Coming in at up to 16g of protein per bar with natural flavorings and subtle sweetness provided by the all-natural ingredients, Promix bars are a great snack with a relatively low-calorie content of up to 150 calories per bar. They have a great crunchy marshmallow treat texture, and if you like different flavors, Promix offers four varieties — Vanilla, Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodle, and our favorite, Mint Chocolate.

Promix Puff Bar
Promix Puff Bar
Promix Puff Bar

These crunchy bars are reminiscent of a rice crispy treat that's packed with protein and absent all that unwanted sugar. They're a nice change from normal chewy protein bars.

Who Should Buy Promix Crunchy Puff Bar

  • Anyone who is a big fan of marshmallow treats, as these are the protein bar equivalent to satisfy that craving in a healthier way. 
  • These bars are great for those who want some variety in their protein bars with four great flavors, and a crunchy texture. 
  • People who prefer to have all-natural ingredients and transparency — third-party testing for these bars is done by Convance and Eurofins, and you can see that right on the product page.

Who Shouldn’t Promix Crunchy Puff Bar

  • If you’re looking to put on muscle mass and bulk up, these are lighter in calories and protein than some other bars on this list. 
  • Anyone who is allergic to or doesn’t like marshmallows should avoid these bars. 

If you’re bored with the same grainy texture you find in many other protein bars, these offer a change of pace with high-quality, all-natural ingredients that offer a little crunch. These bars are available in four different awesome flavors, as well — Snickerdoodle, Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla.

Best Protein Bar for Keto

Looking to limit your carbs and chow on some protein bars that are high in fat instead? If you’re keto, this protein bar can be a great option for you.

Nick’s Keto Snack Bar

It can be tough to find a good keto protein bar, but Nick’s Keto Snack Bar takes care of business. Each bar only has four net grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and two grams of sugar — but the 14 grams of protein can keep you fueled up. There are no added sugars in these bars, but their full chunks of nuts and layers of texture make these protein bars feel like candy bars.

And if you love kitsch, these bars are “Swedish-style,” so their flavors boast names like Karamell Choklad, Chokland Peanot, and Krispi Nougat. Depending on your flavor choice, your bar will be coated in a layer of chocolate or caramel for that added sensation of decadence.

Nick's Keto Snack Bar
Nick's Keto Snack Bar
Nick's Keto Snack Bar

If you’re craving a candy-style bar without all the added sugar, these keto protein bars have 14 grams of protein with only four net grams of carbs and seven to 10 grams of fat.

Who Should Buy NICK’s Keto Snack Bar

  • If you’re adhering to a keto diet, it can be hard to find a protein bar that satisfies your requirements — but with four net grams of carbs and 10 grams of fat per bar, these have got your back.
  • Athletes who want to eat protein bars with lower calorie counts will appreciate that these bars have between 160 and 190 calories, depending on the flavor.
  • When you don’t want any added sugars in your protein bar, you’ll be happy to know that the two grams of sugar in these bars don’t come from added sources.

Who Shouldn’t Buy NICK’s Keto Snack Bar

  • Athletes looking for a higher carb content in their protein bars might want more than the four net grams of carbs in these.
  • People who prefer whey protein isolate instead of concentrate might want something different than the milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate in these bars.

When you’re trying to eat keto while also fueling your workouts, Nick’s Keto Snack Bar comes through with only four net grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and 14 grams of protein.

Best Low-Carb Protein Bar 

Most protein bars (especially the tasty ones) have extra carbs, but that doesn’t work for low-carb or keto dieters. These meat-based bars offer up real animal protein with way fewer carbs. 

EPIC Bars

There are not too many true low-carb protein bars on the market. Most protein bars will have higher fiber content with minimal carbs, which will be promoted as a lower net carb content. Although, with respect to true carb minimalism, few bars truly accomplish this. At a meager 130 calories per bar, EPIC Bars are the perfect fit for the best low-carb protein bar. You can buy bars made from salmon, lamb, pig, chicken, wild boar, cow, bison, or turkey. They are Whole-30, Keto-approved and are free of GMOs. Depending on the flavor you choose, they pack between seven and 13 grams of protein, five to 13 grams of fat, and one and eight grams of carbs. They’re also Paleo-friendly. 

EPIC Protein Bars
EPIC Protein Bars
EPIC Protein Bars

This natural meat-based protein bar is perfect for dieters who want to avoid carbs and lean into fats. Depending on the flavor you choose, they pack around 130 calories per bar, and between seven and 13 grams of protein, five to 13 grams of fat, and one and eight grams of carbs.

Who Should Buy EPIC Bars

  • Any person who prefers low-carb levels will like that these bars only have between one and eight grams of carbohydrates.
  • People who like animal meat will appreciate that these are made from a variety of different animal meats.
  • Most flavors of EPIC bars have zero grams of sugar, and the most they’ll have is six grams — so if you’re looking to keep your sugar levels low, these bars have got your back.

Who Shouldn’t Buy EPIC Bars

  • If you don’t eat meat, you’ll want to select a different product that is not meat-based.
  • Trying to keep an eye on your budget? These can get pretty pricey.
  • When you’re looking for a higher protein content in your protein bar, you can find more protein than the seven to 13 grams that these bars contain.

With just three grams of carbs, those who follow a keto diet will be pleased, but so will anyone who wants to get their sugar elsewhere — looking at you strength athletes who love downing tall glasses of orange juice.

Best Protein Bar for Diabetes

Sometimes it’s not good enough to have a protein bar without added sugar: Sometimes, you need something designed for you, specifically to help control your blood sugar. Extend Nutrition created this bar just for that.

Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars

Extend Bars contain between nine and 12 grams of protein, and they were created with blood sugar regulation in mind. Their ingredients are low-glycemic, meaning that they’re more slowly absorbed into your bloodstream — leading to more stable blood sugar levels as you digest.

The bars have six flavors: Chocolate and Caramel, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Rich Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Yogurt and Lemon, and Yogurt and Berry. Depending on the flavor, your bar will have between 130 and 160 calories, 20 to 25 grams of carbs, and 2.5 to five grams of fat. But regardless of the flavor you choose, your protein bar won’t contain added sugar. Both of the peanut butter flavors have zero grams of total sugar, while Chocolate and Caramel and Yogurt and Berry both have only one gram of total sugar.

Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars
Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars
Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars

These bars are part of a big line of blood sugar-conscious products, and they don’t contain any added sugars for when you’ve really got to watch your levels. They still provide 12 grams of protein per bar, and come in four different flavors.

Who Should Buy Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars

  • Athletes who need to avoid sugar as much as possible will appreciate that these bars all have either zero or one gram of sugar.
  • People who want slow-absorbing carbs to avoid fluctuating blood sugar levels will appreciate the 20 to 25 grams of low-glycemic carbs in these bars.
  • If you like a variety of flavors, these bars have six to choose from — Chocolate and Caramel, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Rich Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Yogurt and Lemon, and Yogurt and Berry.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Extend Bar Blood Sugar Control Protein Bars

  • People who want a higher calorie content in their protein bar should know that these bars only contain between 130 and 160 calories.
  • Athletes who want a higher protein content can get higher protein content from other products, as these range from nine to 12 grams of protein per bar.

If you’re trying to avoid a sugar high and then crash, Extend Bars might be able to help with their slow-release carbs and no added sugars. They’re especially ideal for people with diabetes who are constantly watching their blood sugar levels. 

The Different Types of Protein Bars

Each of the bars on this list gets their protein from different sources — more on that in a moment. But that’s not the only thing that makes them different.

Aside from protein content, some of these bars contain added sugars, while others do not. Some bars are gluten-free. One contains meat, and one is completely vegan. They all bring something unique to the table, no matter which type they are. Each type of protein found in these bars have their benefits and drawbacks, all of which depend on you as an athlete. 

Animal-Based

The protein bars on this list largely get their protein from whey. Whey is a derivative of milk, and therefore an animal-based source of protein. It comes from the process of making cheese, and can be broken down into a concentrate. That concentrate can be broken down even further into a protein isolate, which is often considered a gold standard in protein bars and powders.

Plant-Based

Even though we only included one specific vegan pick, many of the bars on this list contain plant-based sources of protein, like nuts. Many specifically vegan bars (like our pick) also feature pea protein, which — like whey — tends to be broken down into an isolate that is considered high quality. Other vegan sources of protein include hemp protein, brown rice protein, and soy protein.

Even bars that aren’t entirely plant-based can rely a lot on nuts for their protein sources. If you’re looking for a lower calorie protein bar, it might be less helpful to have nuts as a big protein source (since nuts tend to be calorically dense). But if you’re looking for higher fat content, bars that include a lot of nuts can be helpful.

Meat-Based

EPIC bars are unique on this list for being made primarily from actual animal meat. If you prefer that kind of meat-based protein, these might just be the bars for you. This is especially so since these bars are low in carbs — from one to eight grams per bar — and sugar — most of these bars have zero grams. But even though they’re made of meat, they’re fairly low in protein, ranging from seven to 13 grams per bar.

The Benefits of Protein Bars

Whether you’re looking to gain muscle, decrease body fat, or both, studies suggest that focusing on protein intake can help. According to a 2020 study, getting a lot of protein in your diet can help increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. (1) So finding the right protein bar for you can potentially help you achieve any aesthetic goals you might have while maintaining your energy levels.

Quest Protein Bars Texture
Protein Bar Benefits

Protein bars can also come in handy when you’re training extra hard. A 2018 study found that a diet high in protein can help improve your muscles’ recovery after a hard training session. (2) So whether you’re thinking about your long term goals (muscle gain, for example) or short term gain (improving recovery), protein bars might be helpful.

Plus, protein bars can be a convenient and healthy snack to have on hand. Even if you aren’t trying to meet any particular fitness goals, it can be better for your long term health to reach for a protein bar rather than a candy bar when your sweet tooth hits. 

When Should I Eat Protein Bars?

No matter what fitness gossip you hear in the weight room, it’s not necessary to gulp down a particular amount of protein within three and a half minutes of leaving the gym. Nutrient timing is largely individualized — the infamous post-anabolic workout window won’t slam shut if you don’t consume your protein within an hour of finishing your workout. (3)

That said, your workout schedule might prevent you from being able to eat a full meal within a few hours of training. Or, you might just like having a protein bar on hand — especially if you travel around a lot during the day, or train early in the morning on an empty stomach. In those cases, you can eat protein bars when your body feels like you need them. You won’t jeopardize your gains by not wolfing it down immediately after a sweat session.

How We Chose the Best Protein Bars

The first thing we considered when searching for our favorite protein bars was what different consumers may need.

We’re recreational strength athletes that are always on the lookout for the optimal snack to power us through workouts, work, and our day-to-day activities. A great protein bar will have macronutrients that promote muscle recovery and satiation while also sometimes keeping calories on the lower end of the spectrum.

Another aspect we looked at were ingredients — what is the bar made out of? In reality, finding a completely natural protein bar isn’t always incredibly easy, so we considered every bar’s ingredients and assessed them with others in their category accordingly. These major factors helped guide a lot of our top protein bar picks.

Calories and Macronutrients

There’s no denying that protein bars aren’t the lowest calorie snacks on the market. Each protein bar will vary in caloric content, but you can expect to get between 150 to 300 calories for most. This isn’t the largest allotment, and we don’t necessarily consider more calories as a bad thing, but what we do consider is the context in which the bar is being eaten.

For example, we wouldn’t recommend eating a 300 calorie protein bar if your goal is weight loss — save those calories for a meal. We would recommend 300 calories for the athlete in need of a heavier snack for recovery, pre-workout, and muscle/weight gain.

EPIC Protein Bars Taste Test
Best Protein Bars

Regarding macronutrients, we like to look for bars that have moderate fat (five to 10 grams) and carb (20-30 grams) content, and at least 20 grams of protein. Generally, this type of bar will be best for both post-workout, or an any time of day snack. Consider it the best of all worlds. Higher fat bars are ideal as a snack for folks in need of satiation, while higher carb bars are useful for fueling training. We’ve included a wide variety of bars with varying calorie counts/macros to help satisfy customers of all needs. 

Ingredients

Ingredients are another factor we considered when reviewing protein bars. It’s tough to find the perfect protein bar with all “natural” ingredients because every protein bar will involve some level of processing. What we really considered was how these ingredients impacted how we felt after consuming the bars. Sometimes ingredients like sugar alcohols and added fiber can cause digestive discomfort, so if that’s you, then we’d recommend keeping an eye out for these when shopping around.

Each bar that has made our best protein bar round-up has ingredients that vary. We have simpler bars, but also slightly more processed protein bars, all making this list. Although very different in their make, they didn’t make us feel uncomfortable after eating them.

Calculating Your Protein

Protein is the building block of the muscle and is responsible for muscle gain (if you’re in a caloric surplus) or muscle retention (if you’re in a caloric deficit). Here’s how much protein you need depending on your goal:

  • Minimum protein intake: 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.54 to 0.77 grams per pound.
  • Average protein intake: 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. 
  • For Fat Loss: 1.1 gram per pound of bodyweight. 

You can also use our protein intake calculator to figure out how much you need.

Protein Intake Calculator

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What To Consider Before Buying Protein Bars

The best protein bar will not only taste great, but it should meet your daily dietary needs.

Whether your dietary needs are based on ingredients, macronutrients, or calories, we’re confident that there’s a protein bar on the market that will match your wants and desires. When consumed mindfully, protein bars can be a great way to pack in extra protein.

Training Goals

When you’re thinking about investing in protein bars, you want to consider your training goals and the ways you like to eat. In the gym, are you mostly training right now to build muscle? To lose weight? You want a protein bar that will match what you’re putting your body through in the gym. Check to see whether the bar you’re interested in is on the upper or lower end of the protein bar calorie range (typically between around 150 to 300 calories).

It also depends on your eating habits throughout the day. Do you tend to be on the run after your workout? You may need a bar that’s higher in protein to make sure you are properly refueling post-workout. Or maybe you just want a protein bar to keep in your bag to stave off hanger throughout the day. In that case, it might be less about total protein level and more about something that’s going to taste good and hold you over until meal time.

Dietary Needs

Thinking about what your body and mind need from your food is also of primary importance. If you don’t want to count calories, try to check out the ingredients instead. Do you want something with pure cane sugar or sweeteners like honey? Maybe it’s most important to you that your protein bar be as unprocessed as possible.

And if you’re vegan, keto, or need to reduce or eliminate sugar for health reasons, pay attention to those things first. Those factors — plus taste, of course — will help you figure out which protein bars are best for you.

Flavor

Flavor is also going to be a huge factor to consider for most people. The bars on this list range in flavor from candy-like to Rice Krispies Treat-esque to straight-up meat. Are you in the mood for something breakfast-y like Transparent Labs’ Uncut Chocolate Coffee, or a more candy-like indulgence like Authentic Bar’s Peanut Butter Candy? Maybe you want something unique like Extend Bar’s Yogurt and Lemon, or something meaty like EPIC’s lamb bar.

Whatever you’re into, these bars are bound to have a flavor that’s up your alley. Make sure you take our notes on taste into consideration, and read other reviews about the flavor if you want to ensure you’re not buying anything that tastes like chalk. 

Final Word

If you’re looking to add an extra source of protein — and flavor — to your meal plans, the protein bars on this list should do the trick. Whether you’re in a cutting phase, are trying to bulk up, are vegan, or love animal meat more than any other type of food, there’s a protein bar out there for you.

When you’re selecting a protein bar, think about your training goals, the ways you like to eat, and the tastes that make you smile. You’re sure to find an option to suit your needs on this list — and then all you have to do is toss a bar in your gym bag and enjoy.

FAQs

What makes a great protein bar?

A solid protein bar will have ingredients and macronutrients geared towards assisting performance, satiety, and overall health. The best protein bars will be composed of ingredients that suit an individual’s dietary needs best.

Can protein bars be used for weight loss?

It depends. Protein bars can be used as tools to aid with long-term weight loss in the greater scope of one’s diet, but protein bars alone are not inherently magic or overly healthy compared to natural, nutrient-dense foods.

Can protein bars replace whole foods?

No. Protein bars can be useful additions to a balanced diet, but they should never replace whole, natural, and nutrient dense foods.

Are protein bars healthy?

Yes and no. Protein bars with a lot of sugar content are not really healthy and there are likely better options for foods to consume. However, if someone is in a bind or traveling, and they’re an option compared to something like a candy bar, then there’s an argument to be made that they are healthier in comparison.

References

  1. Antonio, J., Candow, D. G., Forbes, S. C., Ormsbee, M. J., Saracino, P. G., & Roberts, J. (2020). Effects of dietary protein on body composition in exercising individuals. Nutrients, 12(6), 1890.
  2. Davies, R. W., Carson, B. P., & Jakeman, P. M. (2018). The effect of whey protein supplementation on the temporal recovery of muscle function following resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients, 10(2), 221.
  3. Arent SM, Cintineo HP, McFadden BA, Chandler AJ, Arent MA. Nutrient Timing: A Garage Door of Opportunity? Nutrients. 2020 Jun 30;12(7):1948. doi: 10.3390/nu12071948. PMID: 32629950; PMCID: PMC7400240.