Getting enough protein in your diet is important for so many reasons and with the best protein bars you can top up your intake, even when life gets busy. These handy snacks are unrivaled when it comes to convenience and taste, helping you to meet your protein needs on the move.
Gareth Nicholas, head performance nutritionist at Maximuscle, says: “Protein bars offer a great tasting, confectionary style treat, whilst being nutrient conscious. They're often low in sugar, low to moderate in fat, high in protein and high in fiber."
Unlike the best protein powder, you can easily carry a protein bar around in your work or gym bag. Most of them contain anywhere between 15g and 30g of protein, providing an ample amount of this nutrient for a pre or post-workout snack. Most bars also include a blend of proteins to provide a complete amino acid profile (the building blocks of protein), which may not always be the case with certain food sources.
Protein helps to build muscle, improve body composition and keep us fuller for longer, aiding with weight loss goals. So which protein bar can support you in these goals? At Live Science, we’ve tested a number of the best protein bars on the market to bring you our ultimate round-up.
The best protein bars we've tried
Misfits focuses on producing protein snacks, protein powders and dietary supplements that are 100% vegan and planet-friendly. Packaging is also sustainable.
Misfits protein bars come in 11 different flavors and boast a great nutritional value. A single serving contains nearly 5mg of iron (26% Daily Value) and 30mg of calcium (3% DV), as well as 12g of chicory root and beet fiber, both known for their great prebiotic properties. Taste wise, they are outstanding, and our favorite of all the protein bars we've tried. The chocolate brownie flavor in particular is deliciously rich, and so moreish it's hard to restrict ourselves to just one. The new mint choc chip flavor is also a must-try – even members of our team who aren’t keen on mint chocolate were won over.
Misfits bars could be a great choice for those who want to lose weight too. Not only are they low in calories and sugar, they are enriched with green tea extract, which may promote fat burning and aid weight maintenance, according to one Cochrane review (opens in new tab). Though relatively small in size, each protein bar provides a 15g dose of pea and soy protein. The only downside to Misfits bars is the relatively high price tag. Also, many may not like the fact that they’re sweetened with xylitol and stevia, which can give a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
When you think of Hershey’s, the first thing that will come to your mind are its highly popular sugary snacks, rather than fitness supplements. But you may be surprised to find out that this company also makes protein bars.
ONE protein bars come in an array of flavors, including rare gems like pumpkin pie, pecan butter and cinnamon rolls. Made with milk and whey protein isolate (which is easy on the stomach), they pack 20g of protein in a single bar, while keeping their sugar content very low. A single serving contains 3g of fiber and nearly 102mg of calcium (8% Daily Value). ONE protein bars are quite affordable and widely available in many stores across the country. The downside is the presence of artificial sweeteners: maltitol and sucralose.
Texture wise, ONE protein bars are very similar to Quest, in that the bar is one texture throughout, rather than having multiple different layers. However, they are coated (the birthday cake flavor even had sprinkles). They are surprisingly dense too. The flavors don’t quite live up to expectations – peanut butter was nutty enough, but lacked the ‘wow’ factor of other brands. But for the price and accessibility, ONE bars are a good option if you’re looking for a reliable, on-the-go snack that packs a protein punch. Plus, the almond flavor was a firm favorite.
Quest Nutrition’s dizzying array of protein-enriched foods, from cookies to chips, are widely available in many stores across the country. The brand prides itself on catering to all needs and preferences and their protein bars are no different. They come in 16 flavors, including rare gems like lemon cake, blueberry muffin and chocolate sprinkled doughnut. All of their products are also free of gluten and artificial preservatives. They’re vegetarian, but not vegan.
Nutrition-wise, Quest bars are great all-rounders. A single serving contains less than 1g of sugar and packs nearly 21g of whey protein as well as 14g of fiber, making it suitable for both bodybuilding and weight loss purposes. On top of that, one Quest bar delivers nearly 120mg of calcium, which neatly covers almost 10% of your recommended Daily Value. However, to balance out the low sugar content, these protein bars are sweetened with several different sweeteners, such as stevia, erythritol and sucralose. Though safe to ingest, they may have laxative effects if eaten in excess.
Texture wise, Quest bars are on the denser side. If you’re at home, you may like to heat the bar up in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it. They are one texture throughout, so if you want more of a confectionary-style snack with layers of caramel or ganache, this might not be for you. Having said this, we found them a really useful snack to take to work or on day trips, because you don’t have to worry about them getting squashed. Flavor wise, they’re really good – sweet without being too sickly. We liked the chunks of chocolate in the cookie dough flavor too. The bars are a good size, and left us feeling satisfied, but not bloated.
RXBAR’s mission statement is to make high quality products that only contain ingredients derived from real foods. All of their products are free from artificial additives, preservatives and sweeteners, easily making them the cleanest protein bars on our list.
RXBAR protein bars come in 12 different flavors, including all-time classics like chocolate sea salt and peanut butter. For this review, we picked the blueberry flavor. Although made with just five main ingredients – dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews and blueberries – it’s a surprisingly filling and satisfying snack. Texture wise, we found it surprisingly chewy (note: don’t take a big bite, as this did get stuck to the roof of our mouths). We liked that the bar contained slices of nuts, rather than blending them all into the mixture. The dates sweeten the bar just the right amount too, with no synthetic taste that some protein bars can have.
Though marketed as a protein snack, a single RXBAR bar provides only 12g of protein. Due to the lack of sweeteners, it’s also very high in natural sugars. As a result, it may not be the most suitable option for those who want to lose weight. But with nearly 60mg of calcium (4% Daily Value), 460mg of potassium (10% Daily Value) and less than 1g of saturated fat per serving, it’s still a much healthier option than your regular snack bar.
The company behind Clif bars made sustainability one of its primary objectives – and it shows. From a nutritional standpoint, there’s loads to praise these protein bars for. They’re free of GMOs, artificial sweeteners and unnecessary additives. Clif bars are made mostly with organic rolled oats, peanut butter and soy rice crisps, and they’re sweetened with a range of natural sugar syrups, including brown rice, tapioca and cane syrup. A single serving contains a whooping 2mg of iron (10% Daily Value) and nearly 5g of chicory fiber, which is a great prebiotic that benefits your good gut bacteria.
Though Clif bar ingredients are of amazing quality, their macronutrient ratio may not be to everyone’s liking. Packing nearly 260 calories and 17g of sugar per bar, they may not be the best option for people whose primary goal is weight loss. What’s more, Clif bars are relatively low in protein – only 11g per serving – and because of that it’s probably more suitable to describe them as ‘energy bars’ rather than ‘protein bars’. This is why we think they’re a great option for those who enjoy a long hike, but don’t necessarily want to pack a load of bulky food with them.
Clif bars come in a wide range of flavors and are available in two different sizes: regular and minis. We tried the regular size in peanut butter flavor, which really did taste like we’d just had a spoonful of the real thing. The texture is great too – not too crumbly, but not too chewy. These are a great option for those who do a lot of endurance sports, and want a quick energy boost.
When it comes to the fitness industry, Grenade is widely known for its range of health foods and dietary supplements. Grenade protein bars, their flagship product, come in 12 flavors – and some of them sound rather intriguing, like peanut nutter or caramel chaos. For the purposes of this review, we tested their highly popular selection pack so we could trial a range of flavors.
Grenade bars are great all-rounders. Each bar contains nearly 20g of whey and milk protein and only 1.4g of sugar, making it suitable for most types of physical activity. At the same time, a single serving provides only 2g of fiber and no additional vitamins, minerals or functional ingredients. It’s also artificially sweetened with maltitol and sucralose.
If it’s a luxurious, dessert-like feel you’re after with your protein bar, Grenade delivers just this. We’d actually pick this bar over most traditional chocolate bars, because it delivers a variety of textures and a smooth chocolate coating on each bar. Out of all the flavors we tested, we liked the salted caramel and white chocolate cookie the most.
Frustratingly, it’s worth noting that Grenade bars are not suitable for vegetarians as they contain hydrolysed beef gelatine.
MyProtein needs no introduction. A household name and a fitness retail giant, it sells everything from dietary supplements to exercise equipment. If you’ve ever set a foot in the gym, most likely you’ve come across their products in one way or another. Recently, MyProtein released a new series of layered protein bars and we decided to give them a thorough test.
Layered protein bars come in six different flavors, including all-time classics like chocolate brownie and cookies & cream. Each bar contains nearly 20g of whey and milk protein, 4g of sugar and 9g of fiber, making it a perfect snack for those embarking on a weight loss journey. A single serving of MyProtein bar also provides nearly 171mg of calcium (15% Daily Value), 2mg of iron (10% Daily Value) and 179mg of potassium (4% Daily Value).
Although these bars don’t contain any synthetic colors or preservatives, they are artificially sweetened with isomalt and sucralose. It’s also worth noting that MyProtein Layered bars have hydrolysed bovine collagen listed in their ingredients, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. Another downside is the price – they are one of the most expensive snacks on our list. However, a draw is that you can purchase individual bars, rather than having to commit to a pack of 12.
If you’re after a protein bar that has more than 20g of protein and less than 200 calories, look no further than the Pure Protein range. Made with whey and milk protein isolate, each bar contains 2g of fiber, 100mg of calcium (8% Daily Value) and 2mg of iron (10% Daily Value). Pure Protein bars are affordable and come in nine different flavors, including staples like chocolate peanut butter and chocolate salted caramel. However, the low sugar content is balanced out by the addition of several artificial sweeteners sucralose, maltitol and sucrose. Moreover, Pure Protein bars contain hydrolyzed collagen and therefore are not suitable for vegetarians.
We felt that the Pure Protein bars were a little on the smaller side compared to others on the market. However, this does make them a good snack option for those embarking on a weight loss journey. Inside, the texture is fairly dense, but not as chewy as some of the other more budget-friendly bars. We did like that the chocolate deluxe flavor was coated in chocolate though, which made for a nice treat with our morning coffee.
If varied texture is a must for you when it comes to the best protein bars, Bulk’s Macro Munch are triple layered and soft baked, without being excessively chewy either. We tried both the Millionaires Shortbread and Chocolate Honeycomb flavors, and liked that the coated outer layer came with sprinkles on top for added crunch. Despite being one of the largest protein bars we tested in terms of weight, we didn’t feel too full or bloated after snacking on one of these either. However, Bulk does label the Macro Munch as ‘gourmet’. While they’re definitely tasty, we felt this was a slight exaggeration
Each bar contains 20g of protein (a combination of milk and soya), less than 4g of sugar and 6g of fiber. The good news for vegetarians is that the bars don’t contain hydrolyzed collagen, unlike some other brands. However, the ingredients list is quite extensive, so if you’re looking for a protein bar with minimal ingredients and very few added sweeteners, this might not be to your liking.
As a company, Bulk is also committed to delivering products with minimal environmental impact, so it has transitioned 90% of its packaging to more sustainable alternatives. Plus, if you don’t eat dairy, they also offer a vegan protein bar that’s equally as tasty.
If you struggle to find a protein bar that ticks your boxes in terms of flavor, you’re sure to find an option you can enjoy with Nourished. This brand allows you to customize your own protein bar from over 400 different flavor combinations.
So how does this work? First, pick your flavor from 15 different choices, including strawberry couli, banoffee caramel and citrus drizzle. Then, pick your topping — from salted peanuts to coconut chips. Finally, choose if you want to coat the bar in vegan, milk or white chocolate. We tried a selection of flavors, including raspberry ripple, peanut salted caramel and chocolate brownie. The bars are quite sweet, but we really liked how generous the serving size was (around 69g per bar) and it kept us feeling full until lunch.
Nutrition wise, each bar packs in at least 18g of plant-based protein (from soy), while containing less than 2.5g of sugar. Bear in mind, however, that Nourished bars do tend to be higher in carbohydrates and fat, with most flavor combinations coming in at around 300 calories. So this bar may be better suited for those who are bulking, rather than those looking to shed fat or drop a few pounds.
How do we test protein bars at Live Science?
All of the protein bars in this guide have been tried and tested by the Live Science team. Firstly, we looked at the ingredients list and nutritional values, to judge who the bars would be suitable for in terms of health goals and dietary requirements, as well as any artificial ingredients or nasties. We then judged the taste and texture, including only products that passed out taste tests. We also looked at the size of the bar in terms of its value for money.
What is the best protein bar?
When choosing the best protein bars, most people tend to focus on two factors: flavor and price. And no wonder. Protein bars are definitely more expensive than regular snack bars. It’s also quite challenging to find a protein snack that doesn’t have the characteristic dry texture and flour-like aftertaste. However, not all protein bars are healthy and a few more aspects need to be taken into account when assessing a protein bar. There are three more criteria to look into: the types of ingredients, the quality of the protein blend used, and the ratio of macronutrients in a single serving.
It’s probably not surprising that the protein content is the key factor. The amount and type of this macronutrient will determine the quality of the bar. However, it’s worth noting that more does not necessarily mean better. Our bodies are limited in terms of how much protein they can utilize for muscle building purposes. According to a review published in The Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in new tab), eating more than 25g of protein in one sitting can be counterproductive as the excess will be either burned for energy or deposited as fat.
To get the best results, aim for bars that contain approximately 15-20g of protein per serving.
Another important aspect is the type of protein blend used. The majority of brands choose to enrich their products with whey protein and milk protein isolate, because these blends have a great amino acid profile and tend to absorb well in the stomach.
For some individuals, whey can cause abdominal cramps and digestive issues. In this case, you may want to opt for a plant-based protein source. Variety is key here. Pea, hemp or rice protein isolates on their own may not deliver the right type and amount of amino acids to effectively stimulate muscle growth, despite being excellent protein sources. However, a mix of several different plant-based sources will ensure a high quality protein profile that will be comparable to animal-based products.
Then comes calorie content and sugar. The best protein bars contain no more than 5g of natural sugar and are sweetened with natural sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners will cut down on the calorie content, but keep in mind that they could be harmful to your health if eaten in access, triggering digestive issues, particularly in individuals with a sensitive gut.
On the other hand, if you’re bulking and trying to grow some serious muscle, your body needs a lot of energy. In this case, protein bars with higher calorie and carbohydrate content may be more suitable to support your fitness goals.
Finally, it’s best to avoid protein bars with multiple food additives and preservatives. Producers know how to hide them and it may not always be easy to spot the artificial components on the ingredients list. However, Dr Claire Shortt, nutritionist and scientist at FoodMarble has a simple solution.
“A rule of thumb is if it's hard to pronounce, it’s not likely to be natural, and more likely to be an additive or preservative,” she says.
What are the benefits of using the best protein bars?
Using protein bars is an easy way to help you grow and maintain your muscles. They can also assist with appetite control, weight loss and metabolism.
Multiple studies back this claim. According to a review published in Physiology & Behavior (opens in new tab), protein consumption can have a beneficial effect on several different hormones that regulate appetite and blood sugar levels.
What’s more, many protein bars have been specifically designed with dieters in mind. Low in calories and simple carbohydrates, they make a perfect snack for anyone who wants to lose weight and limit their sugar cravings.
Last but not least, certain protein bars are enriched with additional compounds, such as minerals, vitamins, or herbal extracts. As a result, they can be considered as functional meal replacements — in a very convenient, compact form.
What’s more, protein bars can be highly beneficial for our digestive health and immune system by acting like a prebiotic. “Protein bars can be a handy source of dietary fiber,” says Shortt. “They can also cause an increase in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These are a superior source of energy, protection, and maintenance for our gut and help our body to function properly. They also aid in fighting inflammation and improving glucose tolerance.”
Not least, certain protein bars are enriched with additional compounds, such as minerals, vitamins, or herbal extracts. As a result, they can be considered as functional meal replacements - in a very convenient, compact form.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.