Protein bars have gained a lot of popularity recently, and it may be for the wrong reasons. A lot of people eat protein bars one as a meal regularly as a replacement.
My roommate, for example, eats a bar every morning instead of breakfast, and there are a lot of people out there just like him.
Even if you are not trying to fully replace a meal, many people eat protein bars as a snack between errands.
However, either of these uses is not what protein bars were designed for.
They are, by nature, high in sugar, calories, and, of course, protein, which is fantastic if they are used as they are meant to be used – by serious athletes who are performing serious workouts regularly.
But if you’re not working out consistently at a high intensity, eating protein bars to fill up and soothe your sweet tooth is not healthy.
In general, you should try to keep your snacks limited to whole fruits and veggies instead.
Not all workouts require a protein bar. To understand this, you just need to think about the amount of energy you’re expanding in your workouts.
For example, if I go for a short bike ride, which is anything under 15 miles. I won’t eat a protein bar, a candy bar, or an energy drink. I’ll stick to water and a banana with peanut butter.
But when rides hit 20+ miles, that’s when I whip out the energy drinks and protein bars, because, at that level, the energy I am expending requires replenishment.
Protein bars and protein shakes are designed to replenish that.
When looking for a protein bar, you should be looking for:
- High protein levels, low sugars (maximum of 14 grams per serving)
- Lower calories (up to 200 grams per serving)
- High levels of fiber, which allows for slower digestion and a more even release of energy, according to nutritionist Jennifer Silverman.
Protein bars can also easily be homemade.
There are tons of recipes out there for healthy, homemade protein bars, but they will contain a few ingredients; rolled oats, nut butter, seeds, and dried fruit if you want, and maybe a few chocolate chips or honey.
But if making your own bars isn’t something you’re interested in, that’s fine.
There are plenty of healthy, tasty options ready-made protein bars out there! Here are our best picks for the best protein bars in the market!
PS! I have a new favorite protein bar – called the BuiltBar. The taste is a 10/10 for me and it’s got 17g of protein and only 130kcals per bar.
From the protein bar provider of the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, Gatorade Whey Protein Recovery bar is one of the best tasting protein bars out there.
With a high rating on Amazon and over a thousand customer reviews, Gatorade is blowing away the competition with a product that would generally seem to be outside of their wheelhouse.
The company is certainly known for its Gatorade energy drinks. However, they also make a variety of protein-focused fitness products, including protein powder and bars.
These protein bars come in a variety of flavors, including Chocolate Caramel, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Pretzel, Cookies N Creme, Mint Chocolate Crunch, Peanut Butter Chocolate, and Vanilla Almond. They come for a pack of 12.
Each bar includes 13 grams of fat, 360 calories, 160 milligrams of sodium (only 7% of your daily suggested intake of sodium), 29 grams of sugar, 41 grams of carbohydrates, and 20 grams of protein.
The protein used by Gatorade in these bars is Whey protein, which is one of two types of milk protein.
The other type is called Casein.
The main difference is that Whey protein is known to be a quick-digesting protein, while Casein protein is known to be digested very slowly, forming a clump of protein in your stomach and releasing essential amino acids for several hours.
The Whey protein in these bars is designed to be mid or pre-performance supplements. They’ll give you a quick, powerful, and restorative energy boost either during a workout or right before you start a workout.
This brings me back to what I mentioned earlier. These protein bars are designed for serious athletes who are performing at high levels of intensity.
They are really high in calories, carbs, and sugar, in addition to protein. They really can’t be considered healthy.
But when you’re working out at really high levels, expending a lot of energy, you can (and should) sacrifice the concept of being ultra-healthy for much-needed nourishment.
If you’re not working out at a high level, and especially if you’re just trying to satisfy a sweet tooth and not working out at all, you should stay away from these protein bars.
Again, when used in the proper circumstances, these bars are incredible.
They have a time and place, and should not be treated as regular old granola bars or meal replacements.
They are some of the best tasting protein bars on the market, definitely owing, in part, to their high sugar content and variety of flavors.
In this respect, it’s easy to eat these when you’re not working out, as they kind of function like a candy bar.
Regardless, it is difficult to find a truly delicious protein bar out there, as too many of them taste stale or rubbery.
If you’re looking for protein bar options that taste great and will definitely replenish your muscles and energy levels during and after a workout, look no farther than the Gatorade Whey protein bars.
If these bars are a little too high in sugar for you, keep readin
For option number two, we’re going to look at a protein bar that provides the perfect amount of opposition to our first choice.
This one has it in the name; it is healthy. With an above average rating on Amazon, Health Warrior Inc. is making a healthy protein bar that caters to all types of people.
Their Pumpkin Seed protein bars are low sugar, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy, and dairy-free, and are also USDA organic.
These bars for 12, also come in a variety of flavors which include Chocolate Peanut, Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond, Honey Cracked Pepper Turmeric, Honey Sea Salt, and Maple Sea Salt.
They also have the conventional chocolate chip and peanut butter, but they also have a bunch of interesting flavors.
The cracked pepper turmeric flavor, for example, has a unique taste that, while it may not be for everyone, has a ton of health benefits, as turmeric is a known anti-inflammatory, and can help fight cancer and heart disease.
One Health Warrior bar contains 13 grams of fat, 60 milligrams of sodium, 180 calories, 6 grams of sugar, 10 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein.
And this is where the glaring weakness surrounding these bars is revealed to also be their greatest strength.
They are undoubtedly much healthier than Gatorade bars. They have significantly smaller portions of calories, sodium, and sugar, which should be taken into account, but they also have less than half the protein content of the Gatorade bars.
For that reason, this brand might not be the best bar to eat during a triathlon. But if you’re doing a light or less intense workout, these are great-tasting protein bars that prove that you don’t have to sacrifice health for flavor.
I think it is safe to assume that everyone has at least heard of a Clif bar.
The traditional Clif bars are the ones with the image of the rock climber on the front, and they come in a bunch of flavors and are a solid go-to energy bar.
Those bars are not what I am referring to here. Here, the third-best protein bar is the Clif Builder’s protein bar, with an excellent rating on Amazon.
The Clif Builder protein bar differs in one main nutrient from their traditional option: protein content.
The regular Clif Bar contains around 10 grams of protein in one serving, while the Clif Builder contains 20 grams, which makes it a strong point of comparison to the Gatorade Whey Protein Bars.
Clif Builder bars are on the more expensive side for a dozen bars, and they, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) only come in one flavor: Chocolate Mint, an overall consumer favorite.
Don’t go crazy though. They are more expensive, but it might just be that these bars are worth the expense.
Let’s get into the nutrition facts.
For starters, the Clif Builders are non-GMO, low-glycemic, low sugar, and gluten-free. Plus, the protein that their bars are made up of is plant-based protein.
That makes it accessible to a wider variety of consumers and provides a healthier option than the traditional milk-protein options used by Gatorade.
The bars have 9 grams of fat, 260 calories, 200 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of total sugar, and 20 grams of protein.
Being low-glycemic allows for the protein content to be digested slower, which provides a more constant supply of essential amino acids to your muscles.
By using plant-based protein, Clif is keeping up with new science that says plant-based protein is better for the environment as well as the people using it.
Clif Builders are an option somewhere between the Gatorade Protein bars and the Healthy Warrior protein bars.
They have high levels of protein and calories that you need to get through or recover from a tough workout.
But they are also made from the best, healthiest ingredients, and don’t contain such high levels of sugars, calories, or sodium to place them in the same boat as most candy bars.
Plus, they do taste fantastic (you just can’t leave them in a hot car, as they will melt).
#4: GoMacro Macro Bar
Next we have the environmentally conscious, plant-based, USDA organic, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, soy-free GoMacro Bars, which have a good rating on Amazon.
These bars have raised the bar in terms of expense with a dozen bars, a price that is reflective of the quality of the ingredients used.
You have the choice of over 15 flavors, which is too many to list here, but I will say they include options such as Mocha Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Banana Almond Butter.
GoMacro Bars have 270 calories, 10 grams of fat, 45 milligrams of sodium, 34 grams of carbs, 11 grams of sugars, and 12 grams of plant-based protein.
They stack up as somewhere between the Health Warrior bars and the Clif Builders; they are low in sugar, but not the lowest, and they are also low in protein, though, again, not the lowest.
The company has a very environmentally conscious mission, and the bars are therefore produced with 100% renewable energy.
If you’re looking to support family-run, local businesses that are doing their part to help their environment, while getting that great-tasting, healthy, and a high-energy protein bar, the GoMacro Bar is a good option.
Fifth place goes to Detour’s simple Whey Protein Bar, which has an average rating on Amazon and was rated by Men’s Health Magazine as their Number 1 protein bar.
These bars are also not on the cheap side with 10 bars per box.
They come in three flavors: Caramel Peanut, Chocolate Chip Caramel, and Salted Caramel Cookie Dough, and are also non-GMO, gluten-free, and all-natural.
They contain 230 calories, 8 grams of fat, 260 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein.
They also contain 6 grams of fiber, which is the highest-fiber levels of any other bars on this list, most of which are around the 1-2 grams per serving mark.
Being high in fiber isn’t necessarily a bad thing; higher fiber levels means slower digestion, which allows for a more constant supply of amino acids to your muscles.
But you may want to stay close to a bathroom when you’re testing these bars out; the first time you have one definitely should not be in the middle of a marathon, for example.
These bars taste great without packing in too much sugar and are not an unhealthy option. They are not the healthiest option either, but as I mentioned earlier, during high-intensity workouts, the ‘healthy’ option might not be the best.
Just keep in mind, these bars, like Clif bars, do melt, so keep them out of the heat if you can.
Our next choice is a little more unique than the others. The RxBar protein bar, which has a good rating on Amazon, boasts right on the packaging that they contain 3 egg whites, 14 peanuts, 2 dates, and no B.S.
A box of 12 bars, which puts these bars on a comparatively cheaper side of things, a definite upside.
These gluten-free bars only use all-natural, real ingredients, making them one of the healthier options on here.
They come in over a dozen flavors, including Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Apple Cinnamon, Mango Pineapple, and Maple Sea Salt.
They cover all the traditional bases, but also have an abundance of new, exciting flavors.
They taste good, for a protein bar, similar to a fig newton.
One bar contains 210 calories, 9 grams of fat, 270 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbs, 15 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein.
They, like the Detour bars, also have 6 grams of fiber in them, necessitating a cautious trial period.
These bars are not the highest in protein, nor are they the highest in sugar, making them a healthier option for lower-intensity workouts.
The seventh and final protein bar on this list is the Kirkland Signature Protein Bar (you can read a more in-depth review by clicking that link).
These delicious bars come in a multitude of flavors include Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, and Cookies ‘N Cream and are gluten-free, and non-GMO.
These bars have 190 calories, 7 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar, and 21 grams of protein, making them one of the healthier options on this list.
Making a delicious protein bar without added sugar is an impressive feat, plus, these bars have the addition of a high level of protein, making them a good option for high-intensity workouts.
And, lastly, you get 20 bars per box at a pretty reasonable price. You can buy them on Amazon but, obviously, if you have a nearby Costco that will be cheaper.
Just because you’re using protein powder doesn’t mean you should skip on a protein bar and vice versa.
The benefits of protein powder, if you organize yourself properly, are a constant supply of amino acids into your bloodstream.
Studies have also found that liquid sources of protein deliver these amino acids better than solid forms.
The best method for a serious athlete is a combination of Casein protein powder, which is slow digesting and so sits in your stomach, releasing a constant stream of protein, combined with healthy protein bars during or after workouts, to keep your muscles immediately satiated and constantly regenerating.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.
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