Protein bars are a fast and convenient way to get more protein – which can increase protein synthesis, muscle mass and keep fat off. There are many health and performance benefits associated with a high protein diet. Despite this, protein intake across America (and many other countries) is well down across most populations (1).
Due to the increased need for protein when exercising at a higher intensity, studies have estimated that an athlete requires twice as much protein per day as a sedentary person (2).
Best Protein Bars
1. NuGo Slim
Low in sugar and net-carbs, high in protein and fiber, and free of artificial ingredients, NuGo Slim is a low glycemic snack that’s perfect for people monitoring their blood sugar or looking to maintain a healthy weight. NuGo Slim was tested to have an incredibly low glycemic index of 24.
With seven real dark chocolate flavors to choose from, staying fit has never tasted so good. All seven flavors are certified gluten-free and four flavors are even vegan. For these reasons, it’s our #1 pick.
RXBARs are protein bars made with real ingredients. Just real food that tastes good and is good for you. Each delicious bar packs 12g of protein and 5g of fiber in just under 220 calories. No artificial sweetener, flavors or fillers. Just real food.
They are one of the most trustworthy brands on the market, making them the obvious choice for a go-to snack or meal replacement.
3. Optimum Nutrition Opti-Bar
This bar is for serious gym goers who want maximum protein and minimal carbs to keep the belly fat at bay. It has monstrous 20g of protein per bar, 10g of fiber and just 1 gram of sugar.
Opti-Bar offers convenient on-a-go muscle support to assist muscle recovery to get you ready for your next workout. It also comes in 3 delicious on-trend flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Brownie, and Cookies ‘N Creme.
4. Legion Athletics Protein Bar
If you want a clean, all-natural, low-calorie and low-sugar protein bar that has 20 grams of five-star protein from whey and peas, that tastes as good as it looks, and that’s easy on your stomach the Legion protein bar is for you.
Legion Athletics protein bars are baked-to-perfection, naturally sweetened and flavored high-protein bars that are gluten-free, low in calories and sugar, and downright delicious.
5. ONE Bars
ONE has always been a high protein snack bar pioneer with a singular mission: exceptional taste, texture, and ingredients with zero compromises.
Whichever ONE bar flavor you grab, from Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough to Almond Bliss, you’ll be getting 20g of protein, 1g of sugar and zero regrets. Their bars are gluten-free bars are a perfect guilt-free snack when your energy is low.
6. Quest Nutrition
Quest has a simple mission: making the foods you crave work for you, not against you. Each Quest Nutrition protein bar contains 21g protein, 4g net carbs, 1g sugar, and 14g fiber.
There’s no added sugar and they are a keto-friendly protein bar. Quest protein bars are also certified gluten-free by the gluten-free certification organization.
7. EPIC Performance Bars
Made from simple, non-GMO ingredients and protein from cage-free egg whites, EPIC Performance Bars are an ideal snack for athletes, adventurers, and anyone seeking a simple yet powerful diet.
EPIC Performance Bars are thoughtfully crafted with six simple ingredients or less, making them an EPIC snack that can fit into many diets and lifestyles.
8. Pure Protein Bar
Pure Protein’s protein bars are packed with protein– an essential nutrient for optimal body function, strength, and lean mass. They provide high-quality protein for a convenient pre or post-workout snack.
With 20 grams of protein, 3 grams of sugar and 200 calories, new Pure Protein bars give you a reason to celebrate.
9. MusclePharm Combat Crunch
MusclePharm’s Combat Crunch Protein Bar is a multi-layered protein bar that delivers balanced nutrition and soft, yet crunchy texture with superior taste.
This protein bar is packed with 20 grams of protein, is gluten-free, contains no GMOs, and is low in sugar and carbs. Combat Crunch Bars follow the standard of gluten-free < 20 ppm gluten. The Combat Crunch Protein Bar is the three-time recipient of Protein Bar of the Year.
10. Gatorade Recovery Bars
Scientifically developed for athletes, each bar contains protein and carbs to rebuild and refuel. Gatorade recovery bars are made with 20 grams of high-quality whey and milk protein to help rebuild your muscles so you come back strong.
They also come packed with 42g of carbs per bar to replenishing and get ready for tomorrow’s workout.
How We Rank
With so many protein bars on the market, we need strict rules to find the best of the best for you. The first thing we looked at was protein content. Any protein bar that had less than 15g per serving, like the very popular Kind Bars, did not make the list. Next, we looked at the added sugar content. Too many protein bars are filled with almost as much sugar as a candy bar (we’re talking about you, Cliff). The products that got bonus points were those low in sugar, high in taste but also only used natural sugars, such as those from fruit.
Third, we look at how natural the protein bar was. Was it packed with artificial sweeteners and colors, or did it use the power of nature to make it taste and look good? Fourth we looked at the texture. Were the bars chewy and fresh or chalky and hard? Fifth, we looked at fiber content and additional ingredients. Products that made the top rankings, like Legion Athletics packed their product with good stuff like prebiotics, fiber, and healthy carbs to help muscle building and fat loss.
Lastly, we looked at manufacturing practices and testing reports on the purity and integrity of the companies and their products. Only then, did we come up with the absolute best protein bars on the market that you see on the ranking above.
1. Protein bars can help increase lean mass. When we say lean mass, we’re talking muscle mass for the most part. Obviously, by increasing muscle protein synthesis, a protein bar can help to build muscle mass.
A 2000 study on overweight police officers following a calorie deficit diet with increased protein intake found that the protein groups had increases in lean mass compared to the control group (dieting without increased protein) (3).
A 2001 study found that for lean mass to increase, muscle protein synthesis needs to exceed muscle breakdown (4).
Raising protein through a protein bar would appear to solve this issue. A 2014 study by Van Loon stated that protein ingestion “directly elevates muscle protein synthesis” which can help lead to increased lean mass (5).
But it’s not just whey protein that can be effective at increasing lean mass, a study on casein protein (another common protein source for protein bars) found that taking it before bedtime helped increase protein synthesis more than whey protein (6).
This means that a pre-bed protein bar might be a good idea.
If you’re wondering whether the amount of protein that is within a protein bar is enough to stimulate protein synthesis, a study in 2013 found that 20g of protein is sufficient to maximally stimulate protein synthesis (7).
Just make sure that your protein bar contains at least 20g (or eat two).
2. Protein bars can increase strength and power. This is such a well-established benefit that you’d think that the evidence would be overwhelming. On the contrary, the evidence is rather mixed. Some studies have found that increasing protein can lead to increased strength and power, but the difference was not significant (8).
Another study found that increasing protein intake helped improve a 1 rep squat by 22% and a 1 rep bench press by 42%, but concluded that the differences were also not significant (9).
A further study found a small increase in hypertrophy and muscular strength in men who increased protein by 25g over the course of 14 weeks (10).
On the other hand, one study found no difference in strength or power gains (11).
Nor did a study in 2009, though this was only on a 10-week training program which may have been a little short to truly assess changes (12).
While the evidence does support the belief that taking adequate protein increases strength, there does not seem to be much evidence that increasing protein will lead to huge gains in strength and power.
3. Protein bars can improve your recovery after an intense workout. Due to the high intensity of resistance exercise, your body can take a while to recover. Studies have shown that protein can play a key role in post-exercise recovery (13).
A study in 2005 found that whey protein and leucine were more effective than a carbohydrate solution at maximizing protein synthesis (required for recovery) (14).
4. Protein bars can lead to a reduction in body fat. There are three different ways that protein can help lead to weight loss, and more specifically fat loss. It can increase your metabolism slightly to create a calorie deficit. It can increase satiety which will prevent hunger. Protein may reduce ghrelin levels, which is known as the hunger hormone.
Studies such as a 2003 study have found that when reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing protein your body composition will improve (15).
A study in 2004 found that a high protein diet can increase thermogenesis, satiety, and improve weight loss (16).
Another study found that a combination of resistance exercise and increased whey protein intake led to greater fat loss results (17).
A 2011 study found that whey protein (but not soy protein) led to significant weight loss and improved body composition in overweight and obese adults (18).
Another study in The Journals of Gerontology found that increasing protein while in a calorie deficit led to improved body composition, this was because the protein prevented muscle loss and increased fat loss (19).
This last point is why protein is so important during weight loss, studies have continually shown that high protein levels during a calorie deficit diet can protect lean mass while fat is reduced (20).
Another study found that twice as much protein as recommended was optimal for the protection of lean mass during a diet (21).
5. Protein bars reduce appetite (by decreasing ghrelin and increasing satiety). A study in 2011 found that whey protein had a small but significant effect on ghrelin (known as the hunger hormone) (22).
By lowering ghrelin, you are reducing your appetite and preventing further snacking. Of course, whey protein can also increase satiety (how full you feel after eating). Combine these two together and that one protein bar can make a big difference to your diet.
6. Protein bars can lead to increased muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is essential for anyone exercising (or not exercising) due to it providing muscle growth, repair, and maintenance. When you exercise your muscle fibers can become damaged and inflamed.
The body transports protein to the muscle cells to fuel recovery, while recovering the fibers are rebuilt stronger and bigger than before.
There are many ways to increase muscle protein synthesis, bodybuilders use insulin and growth hormone to stimulate protein synthesis (23).
But none of these are as important as raised protein intake. A protein bar can contain between 10 and 30g of protein in a single serving. Eating one either before or after a workout will lead to increased muscle protein synthesis.
7. Protein bars stabilize blood sugar. Stabilizing blood sugar is important for many reasons, it can prevent overeating (binging), and can help diabetics. It can also improve concentration, and help you feel better generally. A 1997 study described the benefits of whey protein and its effect on blood glucose levels, finding that it stabilizes blood sugar after consumption (26).
8. Protein bars can help improve heart health and reduce the risk of diabetes. Studies have found lots of evidence to support the theory that milk protein can help reduce the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, stroke risk, and similar conditions (27).
A 2013 study found that whey protein can help combat obesity and type II diabetes through the benefits we mentioned earlier: increased satiety, increased thermogenesis (raised metabolism), and reduction in blood glucose (28).
9. Protein bars that are high in fiber can help reduce blood pressure. A 2001 study shows that a diet high in protein and fiber can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension (protein bars contain both) (29).
Another study in 2012 found a slight reduction in cardiovascular risk factors among overweight subjects and a slight reduction in blood pressure – but only when combined with resistance exercise (30).
Another study failed to find any difference in blood pressure after a high protein meal, but they were only studying the acute effects (immediately after a meal) rather than looking at long term change, so these results should be taken with a pinch of salt (31).
10. Protein bars may help lower LDL and total cholesterol levels. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is known by many as “bad” cholesterol. Lowering it can improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease or strokes. Studies have demonstrated that increasing your protein intake can reduce LDL cholesterol, reduce total cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides (32 33 34).
While low protein diets linked to increased bone loss (36).
Another study found that there was a small increase in bone density in men who took whey protein (37).
However not all studies found a connection, this 2011 study found no significant improvement in bone mineral density (38).
12. Protein bars that contain creatine may lead to greater lean body mass gains. While not all protein bars contain creatine (in fact it is quite rare), there are still quite a few brands out there that do. Studies have shown that protein and creatine work synergistically to promote greater strength and muscle gains than whey protein alone (39).
What are the side effects of protein bars? There aren’t any really. It’s just a chocolate bar with added whey or casein (or both) protein powder. There’s also a lot of fiber in some of them. Each bar will only contain around 20g of protein as a maximum, so even if there were issues around high protein diets, this would hardly qualify!
1. Protein bars may contribute to a high protein diet, which might lead to increased mortality risk. The only real issue with high protein diets that haven’t been completely debunked (like renal issues) is the link between high protein diets and death in younger people. A 2014 study found that high protein diets in people under 65 led to an increased risk of mortality (40).
But people over 65 actually benefited from the increased protein, so what do we do with that information?
Ideally, a high protein diet should be followed for a short to medium-term time while dieting or looking to build muscle. But afterward, drop down to a slightly lower protein diet. But even this advice has hundreds of issues with it, and more evidence definitely needs to be found before we can say anything definitive.
2. Protein bars may cause smelly excess flatulence. Compared to carbs and fat, your body processes protein a lot slower – giving it a longer opportunity to ferment in the digestive tract. The bacteria that ferment the protein can produce sulfur – which produces the extra smelly farts.
For the general population, 1 protein bar per day is enough. If your protein bar contains 5g of protein, then you’re going to need more than one to maximally stimulate protein synthesis. If your bar contains 25g per serving, then you’ll probably be best sticking to just the one.
Another factor determining the recommended dose is how much protein the rest of your diet contains. If you are already consuming lots of protein, then one bar would be sufficient. On the other hand, if you find that you are constantly well below the recommended daily allowance, then two bars might be a good idea.
In one of the best studies in years, Eric Helms, Alan Aragon, and Peter Fitschen laid out how much protein is required for a natural bodybuilder based on current studies (41).
They estimated that you would need 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of lean body mass (your current body weight minus body fat). Examine.com recommends around 1.5-2g of protein per kg (42),
Other studies have recommended around 1-1.2g of protein per kg of body weight (43).
As you can see, there is a lot of debate around this subject. Obviously, the natural bodybuilding recommendations are not aimed at regular people, but the 1-1.2g of protein seems much lower than any other recommendations. You should probably aim for the 1.5-2g allowance that examine.com recommends, with more if you train regularly.
For a 70kg person, this would equal between 105-140g of protein per day.
One thing that you should consider is how well spaced out your protein intake is, a study in 2014 found that most people tend to eat the majority of their protein at dinner, while barely having any at breakfast or lunch (44).
Considering most people work out before dinner, you should think about evening this out a bit.
A protein bar is a good option here because it can be eaten with breakfast or with lunch, or as a pre/post-workout snack. At around 20g of protein, it is also perfect for maximizing protein synthesis.
Are protein bars healthy for you? It depends. There are healthy protein bars, and then there are some that might as well be a Snickers — considering how much sugar they contain, Their wrappers make it easy to think that they’re healthier than a candy bar, but sometimes they’re not. In reality, they could have even MORE calories
Can I replace a meal with a protein bar? You might substitute a protein bar for a meal, hoping it will help you trim calories and lose weight. Popular diet plans may actually direct you to substitute a protein bar or meal for whole foods at lunch or breakfast. Some choose a protein bar as a meal replacement after a muscle-building program at the gym, for convenience.
Are protein bars bad for weight loss?: Protein bars in lieu of a proper meal may aid in weight loss, but that may be due primarily to a decrease in calories rather than to the bar itself. Many protein bars are less than 300 calories, which is the number of calories typical of a snack, not a meal. Protein bars can help you lose weight by keeping you full longer, due to high protein content, and by helping you burn more calories.
Are protein bars and energy bars the same? Protein bars are not energy bars. Energy bars contain mostly carbohydrates – often in the form of sugar. They give you quick-fix energy but can leave you feeling tired and hungry soon after. Protein bars contain relatively low amounts of carbs – the nutritional emphasis being on protein.
Are protein bars healthy for breakfast? Protein bars can be a quick, nutrient-dense breakfast, but they shouldn’t be your go-to morning meal. Applegate recommends eating real food, such as fruits and vegetables, most of the time and reserving a protein bar for an occasional breakfast meal.
Are protein bars keto? Unless it directly says it on the label, protein bars are generally not keto diet approved.
Do protein bars cause acne? It is that protein bars can cause acne since milk-derived protein has been linked to acne breakouts.
Do protein bars cause kidney stones? Consumers of protein shakes and bars should be aware that these convenient edibles can increase your risk for kidney disease and/or kidney stone formation. They do not, however, guarantee you will have kidney stones.
Are protein bars good for you? Depending on the ingredients, protein bars can be either good or bad. A protein bar that contains more than 15g of protein, is high in fiber, is low in sugar and uses mostly natural ingredients is considered healthy. However, there are many companies out there that just pack their bars with a ton of sugar and little protein, making them unhealthy.
Do protein bars cause weight gain? Yes and no. See by definition protein bars are calories, and if you overeat calories you will gain weight – either in the form of muscle or fat. And some protein bars can be very high calorie, similar to a candy bar. However, protein bars are also packed with protein, which helps you eat less by keeping you full longer. By combining protein bars with a healthy diet and exercise program, weight gain (in the wrong places) won’t be an issue.
Is there a protein bar with just protein in it? It is very hard to find a bar like that because protein does not bind well or taste good by itself. The closest thing to an all-protein bar would be something like beef jerky. There are a ton of companies now that provide all-natural protein bars with less than 5 ingredients.
When is the best time to consume a protein bar? The best time to eat a protein bar depends on your goals. If your goal is to build muscle, a protein bar should be eaten right after your workout. It’ll give the fuel your body needs to repair and build muscle after an intense session. If your goal is fat loss, you can eat it whenever or use it to replace a meal. Some people even recommend eating it earlier int he day to help keep you full as well as turn up your metabolism.
What are protein bars made of? Protein bars are an increasingly popular way to increase your daily protein intake. They are mostly made using whey protein, though some use casein protein or a combination of the two (known as milk protein). For the most part, the benefits will relate to whey protein, but as some protein bars contain creatine, and others contain high levels of carbohydrates we will also look at how the different ingredients interact and what benefits/side effects they have. Most protein bars will contain around 20g of protein, 40g of carbohydrates, and 10g of fat. But this can vary massively between bars.
Do protein bars contain fiber? A lot of bars use high amounts of fibrous carbohydrates as these are seen as calorie-free and means that they don’t have to count them as carbohydrates (which is good for marketing). There are lots of benefits of a high fiber diet though so this is not a bad thing. Considering that protein bars are high in protein and high in fiber, it is understandable that they are seen as a great appetite suppressing food choice. This means that a lot of the benefits that are associated with protein bars are weight loss related. Protein is also effective at increasing muscle size, strength, and recovery, and improving sporting performance.
While perhaps not being as effective as a protein shake, protein bars do have a number of benefits. Particularly the fact that they are actual food rather than a powdered drink, many of them taste nicer too and are a great replacement for regular junk food options. As contributors to a high protein diet, they offer a lot of benefits.
Increased protein synthesis, bigger muscles, increased strength and power, improved recovery. A reduction in the risk of metabolic diseases, and potentially an increase in bone mineral density. Their ability to regulate blood sugar (thanks to high protein and high fiber content) can really help with weight loss, as can their ability to reduce hunger and increase satiety.
The side effects of protein bars are essentially non-existent. Like any food, moderation and control is key. Just because something is designated “healthy” or “high protein” it does not mean that it can be over consumed.
For Healthtrends #1 Protein Bar recommendation, click here.