I get asked at least once per week what the best healthy protein bars are that I recommend. Since so many were asking I felt it was time we had a permanent post for you to reference when looking for a protein bar. I know that not everyone will agree and some will be sad their favorite is not on the list but just know that this is my expert opinion and not meant to shame or judge you for what you do or do not eat on a regular basis. This guide is meant to help you find a protein bar that works for you should you need or want one.
Since the landscape of the food industry is constantly changing, I will likely have to update this or add a new post every so often to reflect what is on the market. These are the best healthy protein bars that I could find and that also don’t taste like crap (in my opinion). This list is reflective of what is on the market as of July 2021.
Why You May Need a Protein Bar
You may be thinking to yourself, do I need to eat a protein bar to be healthy? The answer is simply, no. You do not need a protein bar to be healthy but you may benefit from one or want one and that is A-Okay. Here are some reasons you may benefit from a protein bar:
You struggle to eat enough calories daily. Some of us just aren’t hungry all the time or we are so busy we forget to eat. A bar can be a nice concentrated source of energy and fuel for your day. The extra 200-400 calories may give you the extra energy you didn’t even know you needed.
You need help reaching your protein goals. Some people struggle with reaching their protein goals. This can be because we didn’t have time to prep (can’t just be eating raw chicken), we are sick of meat, or we just completely forget to eat protein. A bar is a quick way to get 10-20g of protein.
You are on the go often and need something quick to grab. If you’re someone who doesn’t sit down well or are just busy juggling 400 things a day, a bar may be an easy way to bridge the gap between meals and prevent a hunger meltdown (aka a blood sugar crash).
You struggle to fuel your workouts. You may be unsure of what to eat before and/or after a workout. While a real food meal may sound ideal it may not be feasible with your life schedule. A bar is usually easy to digest and even easier to pack with you in your gym bag.
You are traveling and have limited options or storage. I almost always have a bar (or 5) with me whenever I travel. It’s a nice calorically dense food and is shelf stable so you can guarantee if you get stuck on a runway for hours you at least have food so you don’t want to fight your neighbor.
You want something different for your snacks. You may be tired of your apple and peanut butter and want a change up and that’s okay. Swap in a bar for a snack (not a meal—as it’s just not enough) and enjoy.
Ideally you do not want to be using a bar as a meal replacement. Why? Because a bar is typically 150-350 calories and I like to see meals that are 400-600+ calories in order to be satiating. I also find that protein bars have less protein and fiber than a meal, which can also lead to you being hungry sooner. Bars are good snacks for enjoyment, pre workout, post workout or just because but I don’t think they are a good meal replacement.
I will say it here and I will continue to say it over and over and over but when it comes to the individual and their nutrition needs “it depends”. Everyone needs something different in their diet whether it’s because of a disease state, an allergy/intolerance or just a taste/texture reason, and THAT’S OKAY. So when looking at this list, figure out which bars make the most sense for you. A friendly reminder: just because your favorite influencer likes a certain protein bar doesn’t mean it will be the right one for you.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a protein bar:
How does it make you feel? If you find you have digestive complaints (i.e. heartburn, indigestion, uncomfortable bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc.), headaches, sluggishness, etc. then this is not the bar for you.
How does it taste? If you are eating something that disgusts you it’s not worth it. Work to find a bar that works for you. Some may love the taste of a date-based bars, others hate it, some may be more sensitive to the aftertaste of a bar, others may not notice it. That doesn’t mean the bar is good or bad it just means that we have different preferences.
Do you enjoy it? Truly if you don’t enjoy it and you are forcing yourself to eat it then it’s time to find a new bar or a new snack item. IF you are traveling or hiking or stuck without anything else and it’s your ONLY option that is a different story. In general, if you have the option, don’t just keep eating a bar that you hate just because you feel you are supposed to like it.
Is it within your budget? There are many bars out there and some are more expensive than others. Sometimes you’ll be able to stock up when there’s a sale but other times you may need to have a back up bar that fits within your budget.
What Makes a Healthy Protein Bar?
There are many different areas I looked at while looking into protein bars. After evaluating over 40 different brands, I found there were a few things that made a bar worthy of my approval. Here are some of the factors I considered:
Protein Content. Protein tends to be the hardest macronutrient for us to get in our diet because it requires preparation. For that reason I included bars that had a minimum of 12g of protein or more.
Ingredient Quality. This meant that the bar wasn’t just a load of fillers but also had some nutrient dense foods like nuts, seeds, whey protein, etc. I tried to avoid bars with any artificial sugar or ingredients.
Added Sugar. This one is a bit tricky as sugar can be a really easy way for athletes to fuel their workout and isn’t always a bad thing. For this, I tried to be mindful of overall health and not just the athlete in mind so we are looking at bars with 15g or less. I also did not intentionally exclude any bars that contained sugar alcohols (i.e. erythritol, malitol, sorbitol, etc.) but just know some people cannot tolerate these well as they may lead to digestive distress.
Taste & Available Flavors. Just because something is healthy doesn’t mean it tastes good and vice versa. I narrowed down the bars that had decent nutrition content but then ALSO tasted good. Remember taste is relative so you may need to dig into a few options to figure out which ones taste best to you.
The Best Healthy Protein Bars
This list is not exhaustive and there are always new bars coming on the scene, these are just my favorites based on the criteria above. I also recognize there are a ton of OTHER bars out there but many are not marketed as protein bars as they are lackluster in that arena so today we will just focus on those protein bars.
I listed them in alphabetical order so that I didn’t show any preference amongst them and allow you to decided for yourself based on how they make you feel, taste, cost, etc.
Aloha Plant-Based Protein Bars
These plant-based bars have great ingredients and are also great for those who cannot tolerate dairy or gluten. These don’t have the most protein of the group but 14g will definitely keep you satisfied and with the fiber content almost 1/3 of your daily needs (needs range between 25-40g/day), this will also likely be a filling snack.
Nutrition Facts: 220-260 calories, 9-13g fat, 22-26g carbs, 6-10g fiber, 2-5 g added sugar, 14g protein
These bars are incredibly tasty and are filling with 17-19g of protein. The downfall of these bars is that they have 8g of sugar alcohols. Some people may be totally fine with the sugar alcohol but some may experience digestive distress so proceed with caution if you have a sensitive stomach. These are relatively low in calories for a bar so you may find you need to pair this with something like an apple, a hard-boiled egg, etc. I personally don’t love the aftertaste of these bars but they are not as offensive to me as some others so they made the cut.
Nutrition Facts: 130-180 calories, 2.5-7g fat, 18-21g carbs, 6-7g fiber, 4-5g added sugar, 17-19g protein
Clif Builders Bar
20g of protein in a bar means you will be full and will help with preserving lean body mass and building muscle. It is low in fiber, which for many may be helpful if you find fiber around workouts causes digestive distress. These make a great post workout snack as they also come packed with a good deal of carbs/sugar. These bars are a good bang for your buck with 20g of protein for under $2, that’s quite the steal.
Nutrition Facts: 280-290 calories, 9-11g fat, 29-31g carbs, 2-3g fiber, 17g added sugar, 20g protein.
Clif Whey Protein Bar
Another Clif product, but this one has a little less protein and also a lot less added sugar. This bar is meant for anytime of day and can be used as a snack, pre or post workout. This bar isn’t great if you have trouble with dairy and/or whey but otherwise should be a good option to pack in your travel or gym bag. I like the whey…errr way this one tastes especially since it is good any time of day. It doesn’t taste like your old school protein bar.
Nutrition Facts: 250-260 calories, 11-13g fat, 23-25g carbs, 4-5g fiber, 3-4g added sugar, 14g protein
Love the ingredients of these bars. There are no artificial fillers, artificial ingredients or sugar alcohols, which means it has less of an after taste. These bars are super filling at 300 calories and 18g protein per bar. They are on the higher end of added sugar but would make a good post workout bar or an on the go snack on days you are busy or traveling.
Nutrition Facts: 300 calories, 14g fat, 25g carbs, 4g fiber, 15g added sugar, 18g protein
Kind Protein Bar
You’ve got to give it up to Kind bar they have been in the game for a while and instead of fading to the back they have risen to the challenge and kept up with what trends are hot. This protein bar is a bit on the high end of fat so it would probably not great for a pre-workout or immediately post-workout bar but definitely good for any time during the day as a snack as it is a good source of fiber, lower on the added sugar end and a modest amount of protein. Also, you can’t be the price per bar and can find it in many local grocery stores!
Nutrition Facts: 230-250 calories, 17-18g fat, 17-18g carbs, 5-6g fiber, 6g added sugar, 12g protein
Luna Protein Bar
I grew up either eating a Luna bar or a Power bar for lacrosse games/tournaments and swim meets. I loved the Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna bar but it didn’t have all that much protein. Now Luna has a new line of 3 protein bars that each have 12g of protein (as opposed to 8g) that is a great option as a snack or post workout fuel. It is on the lower end of the calorie range for bars so it may need to be paired with more food if you find you are hungry soon after consuming it.
Nutrition Facts: 180-190 calories, 6-8g fat, 19-21g carbs, 2g fiber, 12-15g added sugar, 12g protein
Oatmega Protein Bar
I used to love the Oatmega cookies but now they have a protein bar line that is made with grass-fed whey and even has some omega 3s in there (don’t worry it doesn’t taste fishy). Coming in with 14g of protein this bar is good for a snack and has a decent amount of fat and fiber so probably not great for pre-workout (unless your digestion allows). These are reasonably priced and have some delicious flavors.
Nutrition Facts: 200 calories, 7g fat, 22g carbs, 7g fiber, 4g added sugar, 14g protein
Where to Buy: Amazon
By far my favorite protein bar because of the way it tastes. It is rather high in fat and added sugar but makes for a great and satisfying snack. There are a ton of flavors and no artificial flavors or aftertaste which is a win. This bar is great for an on the go snack and/or post workout. Fun fact: these are a refrigerated bar but are safe to be out of refrigeration for up to 1 week so you can travel with these, which many may not realize.
Nutrition Facts: 310-350 calories, 19-22g fat, 24-29g carbs, 2-5g fiber, 10-13g added sugar, 12-17g protein
(Whey and Pea Protein Varieties)
These bars are a hidden gem as many people I recommend them to have never had them or seen them but end up enjoying them. These make for a great post workout bar as they have a good amount of protein but also come packing with fat and fiber which may make digestion wonky if you enjoy them pre-workout (everyone is different). These come in both whey and pea protein varieties so if you struggle with whey/dairy these may be a good option for you.
Nutrition Facts: 250-310 calories, 13-16g fat, 20-24g carbs, 3-5g fiber, 12-16g added sugar, 15-20g protein
The ingredients of Rx bar are pretty simple. However, these bars are date based and you have to like the taste and texture of dates in order to stomach these. I personally like these but know it’s hit or miss on the taste/texture scale. The nice thing is Rx bar is found EVERYWHERE so if you’re in a pinch and need a snack you can likely find one of these. They are good for a snack or post-workout and depending on your digestion could also be consumed pre-workout.
Nutrition Facts: 210 calories, 9g fat, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 0g added sugar, 12g protein
Alright, there you have it the best healthy protein bars of 2021 in my dietitian opinion.
Now I want to know, what are your favorite protein bars? Any new ones you want to try now that you see them on this list?
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