We all need protein. Every cell in the human body contains protein, and it is the building block of our bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. The USDA recommends 0.8 grams of good- quality protein per kilogram of body weight daily for both men and women. This averages to 46 grams daily for women, 56 grams for men. Healthy protein bars can help you reach that goal.
“When a daily nutrition plan is deficient in protein, protein bars can be extremely useful to ensure the right amount of protein is consumed,” says sports dietitian Bob Seebohar, R.D.N., owner of eNRG Performance in Colorado. “I always like to take the food-first approach and do everything possible with real food when addressing protein intake, but I realize that we are all busy and sometimes it is not possible to have real food at each meal or snack time. That said, I would definitely choose more of the ‘natural’ protein bar options instead of the highly processed, sugar-laden ones.” Read on for some natural, healthy protein bar choices.
Protein Bars and Exercise
When is the best time to eat a protein bar when exercising? “It will depend on the type of workout, the goal of the individual, their age and, to some degree, gender,” says sports dietitian Bob Seebohar. “Generally speaking, we like to see a protein-and-carbohydrate-combined source both before and after strength training and perhaps before and after endurance-based training. However, it is much more important for strength, because we are trying to have a positive effect on the net protein-synthesis rate, which is affected more by strength versus endurance exercise.” As for during a workout, Seebohar says that before and after exercise is a much more important time frame for most people, depending on their goals.
Quest Protein Bar – Chocolate Peanut Butter
Bar size: 2.12 ounces | 20 g protein
210 calories | 1 g sugar
What’s inside: Protein blend of milk and whey protein isolates. Plus, peanuts, soluble corn fiber and unsweetened chocolate. Sweetened with stevia and erythritol.
Our tasters say: “Very dense. If you like bitter chocolate, this is a good choice.”
Bonus points for: Only 1 g sugar
Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar – Peanut Butter Créme
Bar size: 1.4 ounces | 13 g protein
200 calories | 5 g sugar
What’s inside: A proprietary hydrolyzed whey and milk protein blend for easier digestion. Creamy peanut butter filling, lightly sweetened with sugar, fructose and stevia.
Our tasters say: “Really like the cream-filled wafer texture; not too dense or heavy. Tastes great.”
Bonus points for: Only 5 g sugar
truth Bar – Chocolate Almond Crunch
Bar size: 1.76 ounces | 10 g protein
200 calories | 5 g sugar
What’s inside: Whey protein isolate is the bulk of the protein. Also contains omega-3-laden milled chia seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, rosemary flavors and a bonus 1 billion CFUs of Bacillus coagulans (probiotics).
Our tasters say: “Not overly sweet; easy to eat. Creamy texture with crunchy cacao nibs. Like the added probiotics.”
Bonus points for: Gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO, only 5 g sugar
Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie – Snickerdoodle
Bar size: 4 ounces | 16 g protein
400 calories | 22 g sugar
What’s inside: Enriched wheat flour and a protein blend of wheat gluten, pea and rice proteins. With molasses, cinnamon and other natural flavors.
Our tasters say: “Rich, soft and dense. An energy version of a cookie.”
Bonus points for: Vegan, kosher, non-GMO
Kind Nut Butter Filled Snack bars – Honey Almond Butter
Bar size: 1.3 ounces | 4 g protein
170 calories | 8 g sugar
What’s inside: Almond butter leads the ingredient list for protein, followed by 100 percent whole grains (oats, quinoa, sorghum), cane sugar, honey, almonds and spices.
Our tasters say: “Really like the flavor and texture; just the right-sized bar for a snack or workout.”
Bonus points for: Gluten-free, kosher
thinkthin Plant-Based High Protein Bar – Sea Salt Almond Chocolate
Bar size: 1.94 ounces | 13 g protein
230 calories | 5 g sugar
What’s inside: A plant-based protein blend of pea, pumpkin and brown rice proteins. Plus, roasted almonds and pea-protein crisps. Sweetened with stevia.
Our tasters say: “Appreciate a plant-based protein bar option. Like the chocolate coating and little crisps.”
Bonus points for: Vegan, gluten-free, kosher, only 5 g sugar
gomacro Macro Bar – Everlasting Joy Coconut + Almond Butter + Chocolate Chips
Bar size: 2.3 ounces | 10 g protein
270 calories | 12 g sugar
What’s inside: Almond butter, sprouted brown rice and pea protein comprise the protein in this bar. Sweetened with brown rice syrup and coconut sugar, plus Fair Trade chocolate chips.
Our tasters say: “Really like the flavor. Reminds us of the classic Almond Joy bar, but much healthier.”
Bonus points for: USDA Organic, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO, kosher
Health Warrior Organic Pumpkin Seeds Bar – Honey Sea Salt
Bar size: 1.27 ounces | 8 g protein
170 calories | 7 g sugar
What’s inside: Simple, natural ingredients, including organic pumpkin seeds, organic wildflower honey, organic milled quinoa, organic coconut oil and sea salt.
Our tasters say: “Like the salty-sweet combo and short ingredient list. If you like seeds, this is a great option.”
Bonus points for: USDA Organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO
Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bar – Apple Pie
Bar size: 1.58 ounces | 12 g protein
210 calories | 4 g sugar
What’s inside: Organic cashew butter and collagen protein from grass-fed cows. Also includes Bulletproof’s proprietary keto-friendly XCT and Brain Octane oils to curb cravings and support mental focus. Sweetened with stevia.
Our tasters say: “Very sweet. Different spin on a protein bar, with collagen for bones, joints and skin.”
Bonus points for: Gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, kosher
Grab the Gold Snack Bar – Peanut Butter & Jelly
Bar size: 2 ounces | 11 g protein
193 calories | 12 g sugar
What’s inside: Thick-cut organic oats and natural peanut butter, with
apple-juice-infused dried cranberries, non-GMO brown rice syrup and vanilla.
Our tasters say: “Really like the texture; similar to a no-bake cookie. Not too sweet; actually tastes like a PB&J.”
Bonus points for: Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, kosher
Clif Builder’s Protein – Chocolate Mint
Bar size: 2.4 ounces | 20 g protein
270 calories | 21 g sugar
What’s inside: Protein comes from a soy protein isolate. Sweetened with beet, organic brown rice and organic dried cane syrups. High daily values for vitamins C and E (50%), calcium (35%), vitamin A (30%), vitamin B6 (25%) and magnesium (20%).
Our tasters say: “Crunchy inside from oats; nice touch of mint. Like the chocolate coating. Not overly sweet.”
Bonus points for: Uses Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa
Meat Bars, Too
Some of us just want our protein straight from meat. Dried jerky has been the go-to for ages. But all-natural meat bars have become a mainstay option, minus the jaw-muscle-testing texture of most jerky. Brands like Epic, Country Archer and Krave combine grass-fed and humanely raised or sourced meat, poultry and fish with spices, veggies and fruits for flavors like Epic’s Chicken Sriracha, Krave’s Wild Blueberry Beef and Country Archer’s Herb Citrus Turkey. These meat-based healthy protein bars typically have around 10–15 grams of protein and fewer than 200 calories, depending on the protein source.