The 9 Best Protein Bars of 2020, According to a Dietitian

Fuel yourself with these handy options

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Woman eating a protein bar at the gym
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Our Top Picks
"Made with fewer than 10 ingredients, including whole pumpkin seeds."
"The number one ingredient in this bar is heart-healthy almonds, which have been shown to improve cholesterol levels."
"Easily digestible protein from nutrient-dense ingredients such as quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds."
"Full of plant-based protein and important antioxidants, like Vitamin E."
"Free of common allergens but not filled with excess junk."
"A satisfying post-workout snack or on-the-go mini-meal that's high in protein and fiber."
"Only 2 grams of sugar and 9 grams of carbs per bar."
"These bars are almost as high in fiber as they are high in protein."
"Ideal for taking with you on the go or for grabbing before a workout when you want something light."

Protein bars can be the perfect bridge to get you to your next meal as well as a nutrient-dense fuel to replenish tired muscles after a workout. However, a large portion of them are devoid of nutrition and often filled with sugar, additives, sodium, and highly processed ingredients. In fact, many bars on the market don't contain much protein at all. If they do provide a ton of protein, it may be in a form that is hard for the body to digest or be full of artificial sweeteners to mask the flavor of processed protein powder.

Choosing a protein bar made from natural protein sources—such as nuts, seeds, and other whole foods—is best for keeping your energy up and intake of questionable processed ingredients down. Depending on your individual needs and preferences, many bars on the market vary in calories, sugar, fiber, and particular allergens if that is a concern. Our nutritionist rounded up the best options available to help you select a nutritious protein bar for your needs.

Best Overall: Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed Protein Bars

Many protein bars and packaged snacks contain highly processed ingredients such as sweeteners, protein powders, and preservatives that may do more harm than good. Even when a bar contains real, whole food ingredients, you can hardly recognize the healthy components in bar form. Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed bars are as close to whole foods as you can get. Plus, you can see the full pumpkin seeds, which are the number one ingredient, or largest component of the bar. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of stress-reducing magnesium as well as mood and immune-boosting zinc.

Each Dark Chocolate flavor bar contains 170 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 6 grams of sugar. It checks all boxes: more protein than sugar, fewer than 10 ingredients, and digestion-promoting fiber. If you prefer other tastes, the bar also comes in Honey Sea Salt, Maple Sea Salt, and Dark Chocolate Peanut.

Best Budget: KIND Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond Bars

Thank goodness for KIND Bar’s 5 grams of sugar option. These bars are affordable and available almost everywhere. From drug stores to gas stations, these bars are fabulous for those moments where you need a snack and are stuck with limited options. The crunchy bars are made without genetically modified ingredients and are also gluten-free.

Try this bar if you want a sweet, satiating snack without the extra sugar. One Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond bar packs 5 grams of protein, 170 calories, and 7 grams of fiber. The number one ingredient in the delicious bar is heart-healthy almonds, which have been shown to improve cholesterol levels.

Best for Women: Naturally Clean Eats Vegan Protein Bars

For women, choosing a bar that is satisfying, delicious, and hormone-balancing is key. Hormones affect everything from mood to hunger, so keeping them regulated with healthy fats is helpful to boost energy and general well-being. The variety of nuts and seeds in Naturally Clean Eats bars provides satiating fats that support the regulation of insulin, a hormone that keeps blood sugar in check.

In addition to healthy fats, each plant-based bar contains sustaining protein to power women through an action-packed day. The Peanut Butter + Greens flavor packs 7 grams of protein, 220 calories, and 7 grams of natural sugar from dates. It also contains 10 grams of fiber, partially from chicory root, a known prebiotic that supports gut health by feeding the good bacteria in the body.

The easily digestible protein comes from nutrient-dense ingredients such as quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds, making this non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free bar an excellent choice for women on-the-go. Plus, the bars don't require refrigeration, so you can stash them in your bag for a healthy snack anytime and anywhere.

Best Gluten-Free: Raw Crunch Organic Dark Chocolate Bars

If the ideal gluten-free snack existed in a package, Raw Crunch Bars would take a gold medal. These delicious handmade bars are full of wholesome nuts, seeds, honey, and fruit. These raw ingredients are soaked and dehydrated in small batches—rather than being cooked—to maintain the nutrients and enzymes. If allergens such as gluten are a concern, Raw Crunch's facility is gluten-, dairy-, and peanut-free. The bars are free of gluten, soy, dairy, and grains.

The organic bars are full of plant-based protein and fiber from a variety of nuts and seeds. They also contain a critical ingredient that many Americans do not consume enough of—Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant which helps prevent cognitive decline, coronary artery disease, and cancer. One Raw Crunch bar contains 15% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E, plus 5 grams of easily digestible plant protein, 5 grams of natural sugar, and only 150 calories.

The bars come in a variety of flavors, including Blueberry Lemon, Cranberry Orange, Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Cherry, and Goji Berry.

Best Allergen-Free: Elemental Superfood Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Seed Bar

Bars that are free of common allergens but not filled with excess junk are hard to come by. Enter Elemental Superfoods. These bars were created out of the founder’s need for on-the-go snacks that would fit her daughter’s dietary restrictions.

Free of soy, egg, gluten, and dairy, these bars are great for anyone following an anti-inflammatory or allergen-free diet or merely looking for snacks that support a whole food, plant-based style of eating. The non-GMO Project Verified, raw ingredients are easy for the body to digest and absorb.

The inventive flavors—including Dark Chocolate + Peanut Butter, Currant Cacao + Hemp Seed, and Mulberry Cacao + Spirulina—will keep your tastebuds excited and body fueled with energy-boosting protein and nutrient-rich superfoods. With 230 calories, 8 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein, the Dark Chocolate + Peanut Butter bar is an indulgent and incredibly nutritious snack. Note that these bars do require refrigeration.

Best for Men: Papa Steve's No Junk Raw Protein Bars

Looking for a bar with some extra oomph? Papa Steve’s No Junk Raw Protein Bars can be consumed as an on-the-go mini-meal or as a satisfying post-workout snack. Depending on the flavor, these bars contain anywhere from 12 to 20 grams of protein from raw whey or vegan protein sources, over 50% of the recommended daily intake for fiber, and less than 10 grams of sugar. In fact, the sugar in each bar comes from raw dates and fruit.

Each bar is handmade in Southern California from non-GMO, wheat-free, and soy-free ingredients. They last for 45 days at room temperature, two to three months in the refrigerator, or up to six months in the freezer.

Papa Steve’s offers a variety of products to satisfy a wide array for consumers, including those who eat a vegan diet, follow a paleo lifestyle, or are highly active.

Best Keto: Primal Kitchen Protein Bar

Finding a keto-friendly bar that is low in sugar and high in real food ingredients can be a challenge. Primal Kitchen's Protein Bars are paleo- and keto-certified, with only 2 grams of sugar and 9 grams of carbs per bar. The five delicious flavors—Almond Spice, Chocolate Coconut, Coconut Lime, Mint Chip, and Peanut Butter—satisfy any sweet snack craving thanks to a bit of honey and monk fruit extract.

Protein from nuts, seeds, and cage-free eggs makes this Primal Kitchen bar a smart snack any time of the day. Each bar contains 8 grams of protein with 16 grams of healthy fats, primarily from coconut oil. The combination of fat and protein helps to keep energy boosted, especially if you follow a keto diet. The smooth, soft texture is decadent, and the convenience of a packaged keto treat is unmatchable.

Best for Fiber: ALOHA Organic Plant-Based Protein Bars

Many bars are lacking in dietary fiber, which helps to keep you satisfied and can help to lower your risk for various chronic conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Aloha’s Organic Plant-Based Protein Bars are almost as high in filling fiber as they are high in protein. For example, the Chocolate Mint bar contains 14 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber, or nearly 50% of the recommended daily intake of fiber.

The high fiber content comes from tapioca fiber, which is an indigestible starch extracted from the roots of the cassava plant. Tapioca fiber is a soluble fiber that can help slow blood sugar spikes from a high carbohydrate intake as well as regulating the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol.

They're made from whole food ingredients, including brown rice and pumpkin seed protein with no artificial ingredients or stevia. Whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla, there is a tempting flavor for every taste preference, including Caramel Sea Salt, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Vanilla Almond Crunch, and Chocolate Mint.

Best 100-Calorie: Health Warrior Chia Bars

When you want a small protein snack but don't want a bar with a ton of calories, Health Warrior Chia Bars are an excellent choice. With only 100 calories and 3 grams of sugar, Health Warrior's Chia Bars are the perfect small snack for an active lifestyle. The tasty, convenient bar is ideal for taking with you on the go or for grabbing before a workout when you want something light.

Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based protein source that also contains fiber and heart-healthy ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that chia seeds can absorb enough water to equal 12 times their own mass. Each bar provides at least half of the recommended daily value of ALA—a plant form of omega-3 fatty acids.

The gluten-free, non-GMO Project Verified bars are filling, delicious, and an excellent choice for kids. With a variety of flavors—including Acai Berry, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Vanilla Almond, Apple Cinnamon, Mango, and Banana Nut—there's something for everyone.

What to Look for in a Protein Bar

Ingredients: The fewer ingredients, the better. Aim to select a bar with fewer than 10 ingredients. When possible, choose bars made from whole food ingredients that you can recognize like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dried fruit.

Protein: When searching for a protein bar, look for a bar with more grams of protein than grams of sugar. Also, consider the source of the protein. If you prefer plant-based or vegan products, a nut or seed-based bar is likely best for you. If you want a higher-protein bar, choose one that includes a protein powder such as whey, hemp, pea, or brown rice protein.

Sugar: Avoid bars that use artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, as these can cause stomach upset. Choose a bar that uses natural sweeteners like fruit, maple syrup, or honey. Aim to select a bar with 10 to 15 grams of total sugar at most.

Fiber: Aim to choose a bar with 3 or more grams of dietary fiber.

Calories: Protein bars range in calories from approximately 100 to 250 calories. Consider your needs when selecting a bar. If you're choosing a bar as a small snack, you may want a lower calorie option, whereas if you are using a bar as a meal replacement, you may want a bit more.

What Experts Say

"A protein bar is a great on-the-go option for a quick breakfast or post-workout snack when there isn't time to get in a full meal. Athletes may find them particularly helpful after a hard workout or long run when the appetite may be suppressed, and fuel is needed to jumpstart muscle recovery. For snacks, look for a bar that contains at least 10 grams of high-quality protein. For a meal replacement, look for one with a bit more protein—ideally 20 to 30 grams of protein."—Allison Koch, MS, RD, CCSD, LDN

Why Trust Verywell Fit

A personal note on my recommendations written above. As a dietitian, I am cautious to recommend protein bars, as many options on the market contain lots of added sugar and questionable ingredients. That said, there are many great products available, such as the products above. In writing this article, I also looked at multiple products and brands and consulted with trusted peers in dietetics. I believe the products in the round-up are made by trusted brands and are composed of high-quality ingredients. I would recommend the above products to friends, family, and clients, and have personally tried the majority of the products. You can currently find Health Warrior Chia Bars and Elemental Superfood Bars in my pantry. Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN

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Article Sources
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