The best protein bars

A high-quality protein bar tastes great without leaving a bad aftertaste, holds up to being tossed around in a gym bag, and has a low calories-to-protein ratio.
The following guide features bars that have a track record of consistent quality, are available in several delicious flavors, and are convenient to have on-hand.
Our top pick, the Optimum Nutrition High Protein Wafer Bars, goes easy on artificial sweeteners, has a strong commitment to food safety, and taste so good you won’t notice you’re eating a protein product.
This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.

As a teen in the ’90s, I remember hitting the weight room hard to bulk up for football season. To get the most gains, I was told, I needed a steady diet of protein. Could I have consumed more chicken? Absolutely. Instead, I decided to choke down these bulky, gold foil-wrapped protein bars. It was a chore. 

There wasn’t a single thing great about these bars, either. The texture was reminiscent of old gum and it took some serious concentration to get through even a few bites at a time. Forget about good taste, too — eating them was a workout in itself.

Thankfully, protein bars have come a long way in the last 25 years. You no longer have to settle for inedible junk. Today’s options taste so good and go down so easy you’ll crave them even when you aren’t trying to make the most of your workouts.

How to shop for protein bars

Whether you’re looking for a meal replacement, to build muscle, or just want to up your protein intake, finding the right protein bar for your needs takes some experimentation. Fortunately, there are options available no matter what your dietary needs are.

If you’re vegan, look for dairy-free alternatives that rely on plant-based proteins. If you’re like me and can’t handle artificial sweeteners, read the ingredients and steer clear of sucralose, a popular added sweetener.

How to calculate proper protein intake

To calculate your recommended daily allowance of protein, take your weight in pounds and divide by three. Your answer is the number of grams of protein you should take in. For instance, you’d want 55 grams of protein per day if you weigh 165 pounds. However, you can still experience benefits taking up to twice that amount.

Before you boost your protein intake, though, check with your healthcare professional since, for example, people with low blood pressure, calcium deficiencies, and other specific ailments could potentially have adverse reactions to whey protein.

Pricing your protein

We recommend getting your protein bars through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program if possible. This saves you up to 15% off the regular price and you’re able to cancel your subscription at any time. The service automatically replaces items you use regularly, so if you always eat a protein bar after your workouts, and you work out six days a week (about 24 days a month), you might choose to have 2 boxes of 12 bars arrive every month.

Each price quoted in this guide is based on the current non-subscription price for the most popular flavor of the bar. Prices are subject to change, and you can usually save a few dollars by subscribing.

You can also figure out the cost per bar yourself by taking the product’s price and dividing it by the number of bars per box. It’s useful to calculate the cost per gram of protein, too, since the protein per serving varies from brand to brand. You get this number by dividing the cost per bar (as calculated above) by the number of grams of protein per bar.

The following guide features bars that have a track record of consistent quality, are available in several delicious flavors, and are convenient to have on-hand. We taste-tested bars from more than 15 brands and narrowed down the field to the five best.  

Here are the best protein bars available: 

Best protein bar overall: Optimum Nutrition High Protein Wafer Bars
Best minimally-processed protein bar: Kind Protein Bars
Best high-protein bar: Quest Nutrition Protein Bar
Best protein bar free from added sugars: RXBar
The best keto-friendly protein bar: RSP Whole Bar

Updated on 8/6/2020 by Rick Stella: Added medical review by Samantha Cassetty and updated the article with her feedback (where noted), added to the section on how to shop for a protein bar, checked the availability of each recommended bar, and updated the prices and links where necessary.

The best protein bar overall
Amazon

If you’re looking for the best tasting protein product on the market, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than Optimum Nutrition’s High Protein Wafer Bars (9-pack).

Full disclosure: I love the Optimum Nutrition High Protein Wafer Bars. After intense workouts, I have trouble stomaching protein shakes. I’d rather just have water. Unfortunately, it’s 2020, and water still isn’t packed with protein. These wafers, however, are the perfect light snack. They taste great, go down easily, and don’t have an awful aftertaste.

I’ve toured Optimum Nutrition’s production facilities outside of Chicago and was impressed with the amount of detail they put into making sure their products are free from contaminants. They go the extra mile keeping ingredients in quarantine before testing and clearing them and regularly cleaning the entire facility between projects.

There are four wafer flavors: vanilla, mocha, chocolate raspberry, and chocolate. There are slight differences in nutritional content between the flavors but they all pack 15 grams of protein. Vanilla, the most popular flavor, has 200 calories, 9g fat, 105mg sodium, and 6g sugar.

The biggest negative is that these wafers are expensive. The vanilla wafers cost $2.55 per package (each package has two wafers). That works out to about 17 cents per gram of protein. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save saves a little per pack, though it’s still a little more spendy than other options on this list.

Pros: Delicious flavors, little to no aftertaste, portable, low calorie-to-protein ratio

Cons: Expensive, not gluten-free, no vegan options, uses sucralose and artificial sweeteners, contains highly processed ingredients

The best minimally-processed protein bar
Amazon

The Kind Protein Bar (12-pack) is your best bet if you prefer to be able to easily identify the food you put into your body.

With most protein bars, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re eating. They’re typically highly-processed with a long list of artificial ingredients only chemists can pronounce. This isn’t the case with Kind’s Protein Bar.

The main ingredient is nuts, which you can see when looking at the bar. I also like that there are no artificial sweeteners since I’m sensitive to sucralose. There are five flavors to choose from, too, including crunchy peanut butter, almond butter dark chocolate, and the popular double dark chocolate nut.

The double dark chocolate nut flavor packs 12g protein, 250 calories, 17g fat (0 trans fats), 125mg sodium, 8g sugar, and 5g fiber. And, it’s the least expensive option in our guide per serving ($1.50) and second-most affordable per gram of protein (12.5 cents).

Pros: Affordable, made from easily identifiable ingredients, 5g fiber, no artificial sweeteners

Cons: Only 12g protein, contains a few allergens

The best high-protein bar
Quest Nutrition/Facebook

If you want one bar that gives you all the post-workout protein you need for big muscle gains, turn to the Quest Nutrition Protein Bar (12-pack).

Many sources suggest that you should get at least 20 grams of protein after a workout to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Despite this recommendation, there are relatively few protein bars that actually reach that threshold. One such bar is the Quest Nutrition Protein Bar, which has 21g protein in each 60g bar. There’s also an exceptionally high level of fiber: 15 grams.

For its sweet taste, the Quest bar relies on a combination of stevia, sucralose, and 2 grams of the sugar alcohol, erythritol. This helps the calorie count stay low at just 200. There are also 8g fat and 280mg sodium in the most popular flavor cookies and cream. The cost per gram or protein of the bar is 9.2 cents, which is the lowest in our guide. However, the cost per serving – $1.94 – is in the middle of the pack.

Quest’s been known to change its recipes at times but according to an article in Bon Appétit, the company learned from these experiments and has decided it will no longer mess with a good thing.

Pros: Affordable, 21g protein per bar, 14 flavors, 15g fiber, delicious taste

Cons: All the fiber and sugar alcohol may cause stomach discomfort, contains sucralose

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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