Protein bars are an effective way to hit your daily protein goals or as a lifestyle choice to eat healthier.
Many people carry them everywhere for snacking and for a better alternative to eating bad carbs or junk food. They’re also great for breakfast, post workout, or for out on the trails (since they’re more portable than a protein shake).
Whether you are looking to put on muscle, lose weight with a meal replacement, or just need a snack to stash in your car, there’s a protein bar out there for you. We ranked the best protein bars on the market all in one place.
1. Built Bar
Built Bars are some of the cleanest and best tasting protein bars on the market. Every single delicious flavor is free of gluten, GMOs, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and fillers.
The protein is only derived from whey isolate and casein, including all nine essential amino acids to support recovery and performance. Built Bars are also very low calorie, containing just 110 calories per serving. Bodynutrition’s #1 choice, by far.
2. NuGo Slim
Here’s a new idea: a protein bar that’s low in carbs but doesn’t dump in a bunch of sugar to make up for it. That’s what NuGo is.
Instead of artificial sweeteners, it uses chicory root and just a touch of chocolate to flavor its bars. The result is 17 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fiber: pretty impressive stats for something with no sugar alcohols.
3. Optimum Nutrition Opti-Bar
Targeted at bodybuilders, this protein bar strives to provide a lot of protein but stay lean when it comes to carbs. It delivers an impressive 20 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber, but only one gram of sugar.
Though there aren’t sugar alcohols, the second ingredient is isomalto-oligosaccharide, another non-caloric sweetener. Your call on whether that’s an issue.
They say “don’t reinvent the wheel” but that’s more or less what RXBar did: they rebuilt the very idea of a protein bar from the ground up.
Want simple? How about six ingredients? Dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, chocolate, and sea salt. Put those together and you get tons of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and a moderate 15 grams of sugar (none of it added).
5. Epic All-Natural Meat Bar
The whole reason protein bars were invented was because it isn’t very convenient to carry around high-protein meals when you are on the go.
Apparently, until Epic came along, nobody realized you could just preserve some lean meat, season it with spices, and pack in some chia seeds good measure. Fifteen grams of fiber and zero sugar–can you complain? Well, yes, if you want fiber: there isn’t any of that in an Epic Bar, either.
6. ONE Bars
They call it the ONE bar because there’s only one gram of sugar per bar. With that, 21 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fiber, the stats are pretty impressive.
The ONE bar is heavy on saturated fat, so if that’s an issue for you, take note. It also uses 10 grams of sugar alcohols to improve the taste. Again, depending on what you are looking for in your protein bar, that may or may not be a problem.
7. Pure Protein Bar
Want tons of protein and almost no sugar? One option is a Pure Protein Bar. 21 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar! How do they do it? Artificial sweeteners. All the sweetness is provided by a sugar alcohol, so if that’s not your thing, steer clear of this one.
8. thinkThin High Protein Bars
Marketed directly as a meal replacement bar, thinkThin has that too good to be true feel to it: 20 grams of protein and zero sugar? The catch is…there is a ton of sugar alcohols in it. Twenty-one grams, to be exact! No fiber either, so though it’s got a lot of protein, it’s not going to fill you up like a meal replacement bar should.
9. Atlas Bar
Atlas Bar takes a keto-friendly approach: the protein content is solid, at 16 grams, but the sugar content is very low, at only 3 grams. There is a moderate amount of total carbs, but they are offset by an excellent fiber content (13 grams). It’s a favorite among the keto crowd, but this bar is applicable to anybody who wants a high protein and low carb snack on the go.
10. Julian Bakery Primal Thin Protein Bar
Julian Bakery makes a protein bar that’s focused specifically on weight loss. The macro stats are pretty good, with 20 grams of protein, one gram of sugar, and sweetening provided by monk fruit. The main drawback is that the taste is only mediocre, and they have a viscous, gooey consistency.
11. BSN Protein Crisp Bar
BSN is a big name in protein powder, and their products are well-known for their great taste. This one is no exception, though purists definitely won’t like the artificial flavoring and coloring used to achieve this great taste.
Who should buy protein bars?
Protein bars are stereotypically connected with weightlifters and bodybuilders, and indeed they are very useful for adding on muscle mass if you are an athlete, but that’s not the only kind of person who can benefit from a protein bar.
Protein has incredible benefits for weight loss, and if you want something more substantial than a meal replacement shake for a mid-day meal, a protein bar is a great way to go.
On top of that, even if you aren’t looking to lose weight, a protein bar can be an easy way to get a boost in energy while on the go, without dealing with the unhealthy sugars and refined carbohydrates that you’d find other processed foods.
If you know you have a busy, unpredictable lifestyle, it never hurts to have a supply of protein bars in your office, your car, or your backpack. Watching out for your own wellbeing in this way in particularly important if you are trying to gain muscle or lose body fat, because both of these endeavours are reliant on your ability to consistently take in healthy food and avoid overindulging in processed carbohydrates, low-fiber foods, and sugary snacks.
How we ranked
In keeping with the overall goals of people who tend to eat a lot of protein bars, we had a few specific criteria for our protein bar rankings. First, we only looked at protein bars that provided at least 15 grams of protein.
While other macronutrient configurations are appropriate for a more generic energy bar, a protein bar simply needs high levels of protein. Anything with less than 15 grams of protein per bar was dropped.
After that, we started to take a look at specific ingredients. We heavily punished or completely eliminated products that were high in sugar, particularly those that used added sugar. That’s why, despite their popularity, you won’t find Clif Bars on our list. They have way too much added sugar to be considered as a serious option for a protein bar.
Some products, like RX Bars, manage to deliver a good serving of protein and a moderate amount of sugar, but in this case it’s the sugar that’s naturally present in dates, not added in the form of cane syrup or molasses.
We made allowances for protein bars that use sugar alcohols or other artificial sweeteners, but preferred products that keep things natural. As a secondary criteria, we also looked at the fiber content of each protein bar. While fiber is not so important for building muscle, it’s a big part of dropping body fat.
A higher fiber protein bar will fill you up for longer and make you less likely to overeat at your next meal.
Finally, we took stock of any particular benefits, such as all-natural or organic ingredients, and the particular kind of protein used. After considering these properties, we came up with our final rankings of the best protein bars on the market right now.
You need protein to put on muscle mass, and strangely, you also need it if you want to lose fat. It’d be great if you always had fresh-cooked lean protein meals ready to go, but most of us don’t.
That’s where protein bars come in. Pioneered by sports-focused companies like PowerBar and Clif Bar, the category has a giant market size today.
Protein bars are useful primarily for three things: gaining muscle, losing weight as a meal replacement, and as a versatile, all-around snack when you are on the go.
The ingredients of a protein bar dictate, more or less, to what extent it’s useful for each of these categories.
The main benefit of a protein bar (a good one, at least) is, obviously, the protein content. What does protein do for you? It’s no secret it helps you build muscle.
That’s been so universally accepted as doctrine now that it hardly needs proof. But in case you had any doubt, plenty of science has demonstrated that supplementing with protein works definitively. Here’s something you might not know–it works for everyone, not just young, fit-looking lifters.
A 2012 study published by scientific researchers in The Netherlands demonstrated that protein supplementation helps frail elderly people add muscle during a weightlifting program (1).
This study used a twice-daily supplement of 15 grams of protein, which is right in the ballpark of what you’d find in a decent protein bar. So, if adding muscle mass with protein works for 80-year-old elderly people, it’s definitely going to work for you.
If you want to add muscle mass, your number one priority is its protein content. So check that nutrition label and get a bar that packs in as much protein as possible.
Protein is useful for weight loss too. For weight loss, it’s a little different. Oddly, you still want a good amount of protein. This was demonstrated in a 2008 study in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism (2).
In the study, one group of subjects was given a protein supplement drink to take daily, while the other group was given a similar carbohydrate-only drink.
During the course of the study, the subjects who took the protein supplement were able to lose more body fat while maintain their lean muscle mass. If you want to progress more quickly to your desired body shape, this is definitely the way to do it.
At first, it seems a little off: how could eating more protein help you lose weight? We know protein helps build muscle, so the muscle mass maintenance makes sense. But what about losing fat?
Protein induces a feeling of satiety. The best explanation has to do with satiety, or the feeling of fullness you get after a meal. It’s a well-known phenomenon that protein increases fullness to a much greater extent than an equal amount of calories from carbohydrates.
Some possible mechanisms for this were laid out in a 2008 scientific article by European researchers (3). The details of this aren’t important; the bottom line is that protein fills you up, so keep the protein content high.
A protein bar with fiber is great for weight loss. The other part of the weight loss equation is fiber content. Dietary fiber is also known to increase satiety, and one repeated observation that obesity researchers have made is that people who eat more fiber tend to weigh significantly less.
As far back as 2000, nutrition researchers were outlining the function of dietary fiber in increasing fullness and fighting weight gain (4).
What’s this mean? If you want to use a protein bar as a meal replacement, look for something that combines high protein and high dietary fiber content.
Lastly, if you want to lose weight, you should also keep the sugar content low. From the looks of the epidemiological research, sugar is public enemy number one in the fight against obesity.
Multiple large-scale long-term studies have found an association between sugar intake and weight gain, as well as the negative health effects associated with it, like metabolic syndrome and type two diabetes.
An influential paper published in 2001 in the Lancet by Dr. David Ludwig and other researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital found that each additional serving of sugar-sweetened drink per day, body mass index increases by 0.24 kg/m2 –and remember, it only takes a few points of BMI to tip you from healthy to overweight, or from overweight to obese (5).
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 37 grams of added sugar per day for men, and only 25 per day for women (6).
Considering that some protein bars have over 20 grams of sugar per serving, it’s pretty hard to stay below this limit if you are eating a sugar-laden protein bar.
So, the upshot of all this is that, for optimal muscle-mass benefits, focus on protein. For weight loss, keep the protein and fiber high, and the sugar low.
For an all-around snack, the same weight loss constraints are pretty good ones: this will help you maintain your weight and metabolic health, as well as satiating your hunger.
Incorporating a protein bar as part of a high-protein breakfast can help control type two diabetes. Breakfast has long been suspected to play a role in weight loss and the maintenance of metabolic health, but recent research has provided experimental evidence that consuming a high-protein breakfast that includes whey protein (a key source of protein in most protein bars) can lead to improvements in the symptoms of type two diabetes (7).
By designing a breakfast intervention that used whey protein to deliver 28 grams of protein, the researchers were able to examine the effects of this type of intervention compared to a similar breakfast that was not high in whey protein.
They found that the intervention created more favorable changes in indicators of metabolic function and inflammation, concluding that a high protein breakfast aided by whey protein could be a useful addition to a treatment strategy for type two diabetes.
In the context of protein bars, a high-protein and low sugar protein bar could be a great way to achieve these beneficial metabolic changes, especially if it replaces an unhealthy breakfast that’s high in sugar or refined carbohydrates.
One of the nice things about protein bars is that they are, for the most part, just food. So they don’t really have any distinct side effects outside of their nutritional constituents.
Of course, eating too much of the wrong kind of protein bar isn’t going to be the best thing for your long-term health. Too much sugar, or not enough fiber, could have an impact on your metabolic health, so watch your proportions and watch your nutrition labels. This applies to everything else in your diet, too, not just protein bars.
One notable exception to this rule are protein bars with a lot of sugar alcohol in them. In high doses, these can cause stomach pain, bloating, and other gastrointestinal side effects.
A scientific article in the International Journal of Dentistry by Kauko K. Mäkinen describes in detail the uncomfortable side effects that some people experience when consuming sugar alcohols (8). If you know you get gastrointestinal troubles from artificial sweeteners, steer clear of protein bars that use them.
How often you want to take a protein bar is going to be contingent on what you’re trying to accomplish. For muscle building purposes, you’ll want to calculate your goal for your additional daily protein intake, then divide it by the amount of protein in your protein bar of choice.
In any case, you probably don’t want to eat more than three a day; otherwise that probably means you are getting lazy with your actual meals.
As a meal replacement for weight loss, you are looking at one or maybe two a day, either replacing lunch or functioning as a late brunch and mid-afternoon snack (without any lunch in the middle).
Even while on a diet, you still want a real breakfast and dinner, since that’s the best way to get your fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet. Those are important for losing weight, too.
If you are just looking for a snack, the protein content is not quite so important, but don’t forget to keep the sugar content low and the fiber content high–otherwise you’re just eating a glorified candy bar.
As we saw in the research earlier, protein and fiber fill you up, making you feel more full. This is exactly why people use protein bars as a meal replacement.
If you are taking a protein bar for adding muscle, you know that adding muscle mass requires at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, and perhaps as much as 2.0 grams per kilo per day or more.
Concretely, an 80 kg person looking to bulk up would want to shoot for 130-160 grams of protein per day, total. A high-quality protein bar can fill about 15% of this daily requirement.
Of course, you don’t want to rely on protein bars for your only dietary source of protein, as other sources like chicken and salmon are high in protein and have additional benefits.
For weight loss, most research indicates that supplementing with around 50 grams of additional protein per day can help you capitalize on the thermogenic and appetite-suppressant effects of protein. That might be two protein bars per day, or a protein bar plus a protein shake.
For best results, you’ll want to consume protein early in the day if you are shooting for weight loss. Protein at night won’t be as helpful, because the appetite suppressant effects won’t be as useful.
Moreover, we’ve already seen research earlier that indicates that protein in the morning can be helpful for improving metabolic health. So, consuming at least one protein bar per day at breakfast or soon after is likely a good strategy for weight loss.
Q: Are protein bars actually good for you?
A: A lot depends on the specifics of the protein bar. If we are talking about a protein bar that supplies 15 or 20 grams of protein, some dietary fiber, and barely any sugar, then yes, a protein bar is a great way to add protein to your diet and swap out for a potentially less healthy meal if you are on the go.
On the other hand, a protein bar that provides a mediocre amount of protein, no fiber, and a lot of sugar is not much better than a candy bar in terms of health.
Q: Do protein bars make you put on weight?
A: Protein bars can seem a bit paradoxical because they are touted as a way both to lose weight and to put on muscle mass. Which of these effects they will have depends entirely on the context of your diet and lifestyle when you are taking protein bars.
If you are taking a protein bar as part of a high calorie, high protein diet and are doing a lot of weight training or other resistance training, you’ll find that you’ll put on muscle mass fairly easily.
On the other hand, if you are using protein bars as a part of a diet that is generating a caloric deficit, and you are focusing more on aerobic exercise, a protein bar is more likely to help you lose weight.
It’s also worth considering what, if anything, a protein bar is replacing in your diet. If you are swapping out a fast food lunch for a protein bar, you’re definitely trending towards weight loss territory. However, if you are using a protein bar to cram in 20 extra grams of protein on the drive home from the gym, gaining weight (in the form of muscle mass) is the more likely outcome.
Q: Are protein bars good for weight loss?
A: When used correctly, a protein bar is a great way to assist with a weight loss program. For maximum success, use a protein bar in lieu of a less healthy meal, like a sugary cereal for breakfast or a mediocre cafeteria lunch.
Protein has two primary advantages for weight loss: first, it induces a thermogenic effect compared to an equal amount of calories from carbohydrates or fat. Second, it induces the feeling of satiety, or fullness, to a much greater extent than other macronutrients.
This second effect means that high protein meals and snacks are particularly well-suited for consumption earlier in the day, since the satiety effect will make you eat less at future meals (i.e. lunch and dinner). So, protein bars are good for weight loss, but only when used intelligently.
Q: Can you get a pure protein bar?
A: You can get somewhat close with some of the offerings on the market. For example, the Optimum Nutrition Opti-Bar contains 20 grams of protein and only one gram of sugar.
That being said, it still has a fairly high amount of carbohydrates overall. It’s hard to hold a protein bar together without some kind of carb-based or fat-based binder (even something natural, like dates, will work), so as a result, even the purest protein bars tend to have a moderate amount of fat and carbohydrates.
In terms of purity of ingredients, our research team likes RX Bars, which scored highly in our rankings in no small part thanks to their incredible purity and simplicity: with only a handful of ingredients, all of them natural, it’s hard to get much better when it comes to a pure protein bar.
Q: When should you eat a protein bar?
A: For building muscle mass, you want to take some protein within about half an hour of finishing your workout. That protein could come in the form of a protein shake, or it could come in the shape of a protein bar.
Regardless, to kick-start your post-workout recovery and to maximize your muscle mass gain, you want to get protein in ASAP. For weight loss, the story is a little different.
You should eat a protein bar for weight loss earlier in the day, perhaps even as part of your breakfast. A high protein breakfast improves metabolic health and also kick-starts the dual processes of thermogenesis and satiety, which help you burn more calories and eat fewer calories later in the day.
Q: What is a good protein bar for weight loss?
A: Our research team combed through dozens of protein bars, rating them based on quality. Our top overall pick was NuGo Slim thanks to its high protein content and low sugar content, but it also happens to be an excellent choice for weight loss specifically.
On the same front, we also like Epic All-Natural Meat Bars and Pure Protein bars for similar reasons. They’re very high in protein and fiber, and make no excuses for sugar content.
Q: What should you look for in a protein bar?
A: The most important criteria should, of course, be protein: when formulating our rankings, we looked for products that had at least 15 grams of protein per bar.
Any less than that and you’re in energy bar territory, not protein bar territory. Second, and nearly as important, watch the sugar content. A lot of second-rate protein bars mask the taste of protein with high amounts of added sugar, which will wreck any plans for weight loss and can add unnecessary body fat if you are trying to build muscle mass.
Beyond that, you can use your personal preferences to inform your choices: if you want simple, natural ingredients, you’ll find plenty of options; likewise if your priority is minimal carb content. We kept these first two criteria in mind when building our rankings of the top protein bars on the market, so our top products are a good starting point.
When you are busy or on the road, it’s hard to beat a protein bar when it comes to a quick pick-me-up that fills you up and gets you the protein you need.
The ideal protein bar has lots of protein and fiber, and as little sugar as possible–while still tasting good. It’s that last part that often proves tricky once you’ve found the nutritional value that you want.
For Bodynutrition‘s #1 protein bar recommendation, click here.