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The Best Protein Bar

Updated

With so many sugary, chemical-packed protein bars on the market, it can be a challenge to find one that’s both wholesome and tasty. We recruited a panel of judges to blind-taste 19 highly rated, nutritious protein bars under $4 each and single out winners in 4 different categories.

Our Top Choices

Best Tasting


KIND

Bar

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Best for Weight Loss


Mighty

Meat Bar

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Best for Muscle Gain


RXBAR

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Best Clean


Rise

Pea Protein Bar

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With so many sugary, chemical-packed protein bars on the market, it can be a challenge to find one that’s both wholesome and tasty. We recruited a panel of judges to blind-taste 19 highly rated, nutritious protein bars under $4 each and single out winners in 4 different categories.

Our testers selected the gluten-free KIND Bar as the best protein bar. It’s packed with whole nuts, drizzled with dark chocolate and tastes like real food. With a low calorie count and near-2:1 protein-to-carb ratio, the deliciously smoky Mighty Organic – Meat Bar is the best bar for weight loss. The RXBAR is the best muscle-building bar, pairing an authentic chocolate-coconut flavor with nutritious ingredients and a 1:2 protein-to-carb ratio. Our pick for the best clean bar is the vegan, four-ingredient Rise – Pea Protein Bar, which tastes like a slice of lemon meringue pie.

Important features to consider

Goals

Not all protein bars are created equal, and your ideal bar will ultimately come down to your lifestyle and/or fitness goals. Looking for a snack bar to tide you over between meals? Aim for a bar with a lower calorie count — around 150 to 200 calories for women and 170 to 300 for men. For a meal replacement bar, you’ll need a higher calorie count of around 300 to 400 calories.

If you want to lose weight, choose a protein bar with a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs (like the Mighty – Bar). Conversely, a bar with a 1:2 ratio of protein to carbs (such as the RX – Bar) will help with muscle gain.

Nutrition

Protein bars are often packed with sugar, chemicals and additives, so it’s especially important to read the labels on these little nutrient powerhouses. Here are a few guidelines to help you choose the most nutritious bars:

  • Avoid sugar. Since some protein bars contain enough sugar to rival a candy bar, keep an eye out for it in ingredients lists and opt for sweeteners like stevia, honey or monk fruit extract instead.
  • Maximize whole foods. Egg whites, nuts and nut butters, flax seed and grass-fed meats are all excellent sources of quality protein.
  • Minimize trans or saturated fats. Look for bars that contain healthy fats, like nuts and seeds.
  • Fiber is your friend. A bar with a good amount of fiber — about 3 to 10 grams — will keep you feeling satisfied longer.

While protein bars are a great way to add extra protein or carbs to your diet and can make for a convenient snack on the go, it’s important to keep in mind that real food — such as low-calorie, high-protein snacks like hard-boiled eggs and Greek yogurt — is always the healthiest choice.

There are several other ways you can add protein to your diet. Not all beef jerky is bad for you, and we reviewed the best and healthiest. Of course, a protein shake is one of the most popular ways for pumping up your protein intake, using our top pick for best-tasting protein powder or the best protein powder for women, blended together with fruit and/or ice in a blender or personal blender.

1

KIND Bar: Best Tasting

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Protein bars often have a fake, chemical taste, but the KIND Bar actually tastes like real food. It received top marks across the board for flavor and texture, and all of our testers said they would purchase it themselves.

We tested the Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt flavor, which is packed with chunks of almonds and peanuts (the bar is 59% nuts, according to the package) and drizzled with unsweetened dark chocolate. Unlike many of the other bars, the KIND bar has zero chemical taste; the word “authentic” echoed amongst our testers. Though the bar’s sea salt content was too salty for one of our testers, the others liked how the salt balanced out the sweetness of the chocolate. One thing to keep in mind: this bar is quite crumbly, so beware if you’re planning on eating it in the car or at your desk.Read more…

The KIND bar is gluten-free and has 6 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat (presumably from all the nuts) and 16 grams of carbs, though this is balanced somewhat by its generous 7 grams of fiber.


2

Mighty Bar: Best for Weight Loss

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Meat bars aren’t for everyone, but they can be lifesavers for low-carb or paleo dieters who need a quick snack on the go. The Mighty – Meat Bar was a hit with our testers, who gave a unanimous thumbs-up to its smoky, peppery flavor. The bar didn’t get stuck in their teeth or left their jaws tired from chewing. Only one tester noted that this bar was a bit too salty for his taste.

The Mighty bar is made with organic, grass-fed beef and bacon and sweetened with honey and organic apple pieces. Out of the meat bars we tested, this one has the least sodium, though its 300 milligrams is on the high side for a protein bar. The Mighty bar has 70 calories, 8 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of carbs and zero fiber.


3

RXBAR: Best for Muscle Gain

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Judging from the RXBAR’s spartan packaging — which simply lists its four main ingredients on the front, followed by “No B.S.” — we expected the bar to taste rough and raw as well, but we were pleasantly surprised. The Coconut Chocolate flavor we tested is coconutty, a bit fruity and filled with the crunch of almonds and cashews throughout. The bar is chewy and moist and sticks to your teeth a little, but it’s a pleasant stickiness that feels fresh and not pre-packaged. Our testers also noted that this bar is filling and feels substantial.

With 23 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat, the RXBAR aligns well with the 1:2 protein-to-carb ratio generally recommended for muscle gain. Its second ingredient is dried egg whites, which are great for muscle building because they’re high in protein and low in calories. This bar is also gluten-free and contains 4 grams of fiber.


4

Rise - Pea Protein Bar: Best Clean

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Another tester favorite was the Rise – Pea Protein Bar, which we tested in the Lemon Cashew flavor. This clean bar (meaning its ingredients focus on natural foods rather than processed, artificial components) is a pleasant blend of nut and coconut flavors with the tang of natural lemon, and chewy and easy to eat without getting stuck in your teeth. One tester compared the flavor to lemon meringue pie; another noted that he wished the nut pieces were chunkier for added texture.

The Rise bar contains only four ingredients: organic cashews, organic coconut nectar, pea protein and organic lemon extract. The tastiest of the clean bars we tested, it contains 260 calories, 23 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber. This bar holds together well without crumbling, making it great for a filling snack on the go.


5

ONE

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To test the ONE bar, we chose one of the brand’s most popular and indulgent flavors: Birthday Cake. It didn’t disappoint. Our testers said that the bar does, in fact, taste like birthday cake — sweet but not too sweet and with a moist texture. The flavor isn’t fake and has no chemical aftertaste.

The ONE bar has one of the highest protein counts out of the bars we tested — 20 grams, made up of a blend of whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate and casein protein. This mixture, along with the nonfat dry milk listed a little further down the ingredients list, means this bar will most likely not agree with the lactose intolerant. Sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), the 210-calorie bar has 7 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fiber.


6

think! - Protein+ 150 Calorie Bar

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The Salted Caramel think! – Protein+ 150 Calorie Bar has a true salted caramel flavor that most of our testers liked, though a few found it to be cloyingly sweet. The bar has a bit of crunch and is chewy without sticking to your teeth. Although its thin chocolate coating is mostly eclipsed by the taste of caramel, it adds a nice complementary flavor to the bar.

The think! Bar’s ingredients list is similar to the ONE bar’s, though it contains soy protein isolate instead of milk protein isolate, and straight sugar instead of sucralose. This GMO-free, gluten-free bar has 5 grams of fiber and only 150 calories, as well as 20 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fat — a carb-to-protein ratio that’s ideal for muscle gain.


7

Larabar

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The Larabar flavor we tested, Peanut Butter Cookie, won over our testers with its authentic, mildly sweet peanut flavor. The bar tastes almost homemade, as if its ingredients were blended in a food processor and then simply molded into bar form. Our testers noted that the bar had an interesting combination of moist and dry textures, which may have something to do with its peanut content; it’s a bit oily on the outside, but feels dry and crumbly on the tongue.

One of Larabar’s slogans is “Just the Stuff that Matters,” and they aren’t kidding. The Peanut Butter Cookie flavor is made of only three ingredients: dates, peanuts and sea salt. The gluten-free, non-GMO bar has 220 calories, 23 grams of carbs, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.


8

Quest Nutrition

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After reading countless rave reviews about the Quest Nutrition, we were excited to try it out. Though the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor we tried does taste like cookie dough, it is mostly just straight, flavorless sweetness that was too saccharine for a few of our testers. It also leaves a strong aftertaste. The bar does have nice chunks of chocolate that most of our testers enjoyed, and the texture is quite chewy — the chewiest of all the bars we tested — without sticking to the teeth.

The 200-calorie Quest bar has the highest protein content of any of the bars we tested: 21 grams, consisting of a blend of whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate. This bar also contains 21 grams of carbs, 9 grams of fat and an impressive 14 grams of fiber, which means it will keep you feeling full for a long time. The bar is sweetened with erythritol and small amounts of sucralose and stevia.


9

Stryve - Beef Biltong Sticks

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Of the meat bars we tried, the Stryve – Beef Biltong Sticks were our testers’ second favorite. The Original flavor we tested is salty and a little vinegary, but it doesn’t offer much flavor beyond that. However, the sticks are moist, easy to chew and don’t get stuck in the teeth. One tester deemed them “healthy Slim Jims.”

The Stryve sticks are made of top round steak, vinegar and a blend of spices and salt, all wrapped in a lamb casing. Although their sodium content is higher than the Mighty bar’s — 350 milligrams — these sticks contain zero carbs, unlike the other meat bars we tested. With 15 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat, the Stryve sticks are a good option for those who prefer a zero-carb bar with no sweetener at all.


10

Clif - Builders Bar

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The Clif – Builders Bar is tasty and substantial but leaves a dry, minty “protein dust” in the mouth that made a couple of our testers cough. The Mint Chocolate flavor we tested is delicious and not too sweet, giving us York Peppermint Patty vibes. Most of our testers enjoyed its mix of chewy and crunchy textures, with a layer of chocolate coating keeping it all together.

The muscle-building, 280-calorie Builders bar lives up to its name, packing 20 grams of protein, 31 grams of carbs, 9 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber. Unfortunately this bar is sweetened with sugar.


11

Promax

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The Promax bar tastes like your standard, average protein bar: sweet with a bit of chemical aftertaste and only a vague hint of its advertised Chocolate Peanut Crunch. Our testers liked the bar’s chocolate coating, but the bar itself left their mouths dry and didn’t have much crunch, tasting more like Chocolate Peanut Puree.

The Promax bar contains an impressive 20 grams of protein (soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and calcium caseinate). With 300 calories, 38 grams of carbs, 9 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber, this bar wouldn’t be a bad choice for muscle building if it weren’t for its 22 grams of sugar, made up of glucose syrup, fructose and straight sugar.


12

EPIC Bar

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The EPIC bar was the least favorite of the meat bars we tested. The bar has a drier texture than the others and a tangy, vinegary flavor that has a “hint of liver” and is “kind of dog food-ish,” according to our testers. Another tester was unnerved by the fact that she couldn’t tell what kind of meat she was eating.

The EPIC bar we tested is primarily a mixture of the ingredients in its name — Chicken, Egg Yolk and Apple — along with sea salt, various spices and “encapsulated lactic acid,” a pH-regulating preservative that explains the bar’s sharp taste. The 140-calorie bar has 13 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. It also contains a whopping 420 milligrams of sodium, which is more than the other two meat bars we tested.


13

Power Crunch - Protein Energy Bar

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Our testers had a lot of opinions about the Power Crunch – Protein Energy Bar. Made up of creamy peanut butter sandwiched between chocolate wafers, the bar drew comparisons to Kit Kat bars and those orange ToastChee peanut butter crackers. Some loved the bar’s crunchy, layered texture, and others hated that it crumbled into a dusty, wafery mess when they bit into it. None of our testers were fans of the bar’s flavor; it tasted burnt with an odd chemical aftertaste and felt very dry and gluey in the mouth.

The Power Crunch bar is made primarily of peanuts and a protein blend of whey protein and milk protein isolate. It has 215 calories, 13 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbs, 13 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber, and its ingredients list contains both sugar and sucralose.


14

Luna - Protein

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We were looking forward to trying out the Luna – Protein Bar, which contains 4 to 5 more grams of protein than the classic Luna Bar. However, we found the taste to be disappointingly similar to the original bar: overly sweet and too salty. The chewy-crunchy texture of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor fared better with our testers than its taste, reminding one tester of a “healthy Snickers bar.”

The 180-calorie Luna bar contains 12 grams of protein, with soy protein isolate listed as its first ingredient and whey protein concentrate appearing a little further down the list. It also has 21 grams of carbs, 6 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. With cane syrup and cane sugar listed as its second and third ingredients, we can’t recommend this bar as a healthy choice.


15

Garden of Life - Sport

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When tasting the Garden of Life – Sport bar, the very first thing most of our testers commented on was how overwhelmingly dry it felt in their mouths. The bar didn’t have enough crunch for many of our testers, despite the (undetectable) “organic pea crisps” listed in the ingredients. The bar isn’t overly sweet, but it tastes carob-like and has a lasting aftertaste.

Sweetened with erythritol and stevia, the Garden of Life bar has relatively healthy ingredients that include organic almonds, pea protein, brown rice protein and coffee bean extract (amounting to 6 milligrams of caffeine total). The 280-calorie bar contains 20 grams of protein, 36 grams of carbs, 9 grams of fat and a hefty 10 grams of fiber.


16

Whole Earth & Sea - Organic Vegan Greens

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The Whole Earth & Sea – Organic Vegan Greens bar is coated in dark chocolate and has a mossy green filling that reflects its veggie-infused ingredients. Though our testers didn’t mind the bar’s odd green interior, they noted that the chocolate-coated exterior sets you up for a better-tasting bar. Instead, you’re left with a clay-like paste in your mouth that slowly devolves in flavor as you chew.

This 290-calorie bar’s all-organic, gluten-free and GMO-free ingredients list reads like the contents of a green protein shake, with wholesome elements like wheat grass, spirulina, blueberries, broccoli sprouts, chia seeds, beet juice and peanut butter. It contains 15 grams of protein, 38 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. The bar itself is sweetened with stevia, but its chocolate coating, however, does contain sugar.


17

Dang - Keto Bar

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One of the chalkiest bars we tried was the Dang – Keto Bar, in the Lemon Matcha flavor. We wanted to like this almond-heavy pea protein bar, but our testers found it very dry and crumbly and needed a lot of water to wash it down. At first bite, the bar has a true lemon, almond and coconut flavor, but then it begins to taste like room deodorizer in the mouth and leaves a strange, artificial aftertaste. One tester described the bar as “yummy lemon chalk.”

The Dang bar has 210 calories and contains 9 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbs, 15 grams of fat and 6 grams of fiber. This stevia-sweetened bar is made up of relatively clean ingredients, with almonds, chicory root fiber, cocoa butter and pea protein taking the lead. As the name implies, the bar also contains matcha green tea, which only amounts to about 1 milligram of caffeine total.


18

Orgain

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One of our testers’ least favorite bars was the Orgain bar in the Chocolate Almond Sea Salt flavor, which one tester described as tasting like a “sour brownie.” Like the Whole Earth & Sea bar, the Orgain bar looks deliciously fudgy on the outside, which makes its bitter taste even more disappointing. We were also let down by its odd texture, which is somehow simultaneously moist and dry enough to require a lot of water to wash it down.

With an all-organic ingredients list, the Orgain bar has 220 calories and contains 12 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat and 8 grams of dietary fiber. Surprisingly, date syrup and date paste are two of this bland bar’s primary ingredients, along with peanut flour, almonds, almond butter and chia protein.


19

Primal Kitchen

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The Primal Kitchen bar got the lowest ratings from our testers for both taste and texture. The bar’s Peanut Butter flavor tasted nothing like peanuts, even though its first ingredient is . . . peanuts. Instead, the bar had an odd artificial flavor and long-lasting, chemical aftertaste, which was puzzling considering the bar’s relatively clean ingredients list. Our testers were also turned off by the bar’s dry texture that transformed into a gummy mess in their mouths, stuck to their teeth and left an oily coating on their tongues.

Smaller than the average protein bar, the square, 1.34-ounce Primal Kitchen bar contains 9 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber and 16 grams of fat — the most out of all the bars we tested. Though it’s marketed toward paleo and keto dieters, the 200-calorie bar is less than ideal for those diets because of its honey content.


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