All protein bars have one thing in common: A solid dose of protein. Most protein bars also have something else in common: They are terrible.
When the first of those iconic gold foil-wrapped, dense-as-a-brick Power Bars was released back in 1986, there wasn’t much competition out there, so athletes, adventurers, and those hungry and on-the-go choked down bar after bar of the chalky, waxy, and really rather awful first-generation energy bars. As the legend (or brand About Us page) goes, the founder of Clif Bar decided to create a better protein-packed bar during a long bike ride in the year 1990, this after finding himself unable to consume another of some mysterious, unnamed brand’s energy bars.
Both bar makers have not only since developed ever tastier and more specialized protein bars (and other products), but they have also been joined by dozens upon dozens of other protein bar brands. In just over three decades, the market for these bars has gone from essentially nonexistent to positively cluttered.
That’s where I come in. After chomping on — in some cases chowing down, in others choking down — a dozen or more protein bar brands in the last couple of years, I’ve settled upon eight brands whose bars I consistently enjoy. (At least, when I’m really hungry and/or miles into a hike, bike ride, or trail run.) Because let’s be honest, if I’m home, I’m going to make a club sandwich.
What these protein bars have in common is at least eight grams of protein per unit and flavors you’ll be able to tolerate. Each also has a little something special that sets them apart from one another. Maybe you’ll find one protein bar brand and become a diehard fan, or maybe you’ll want to stock your hiking pack, desk drawer, or pantry with myriad options so you can keep things fresh. Your call — now it’s bar talk time.
Right now, these are my favorite protein/energy bars, and that’s primarily because their texture is nothing like that of a traditional bar. Rather than being chewy and dense, they’re crunchy and rather light in feel. And depending on which variety you choose, they’re sweet enough to taste like a treat, yet still pack 10 grams of protein into a 210-calorie package (this in the Maple Brown Sugar varietal specifically). Also, because there are two slender bars in each pouch, you can easily share with your hiking buddy, split them between the kids, or save half your energy snack for later.
ONE Bars come in flavors as wild as Maple Glazed Doughnut, Churro, and Birthday Cake, and to be honest, some of their flavors, like the latter there, are frankly too sugary for me. Most, though, are surprisingly nuanced in flavor (Peanut Butter Pie, e.g.), and given that these bars deliver 20 grams of protein each, even if a given flavor isn’t your favorite, they’re great to have on hand. These are the bars I tucked into my pack when running a 40k in the Swiss Alps, because when every ounce counts, you want a dense bar that delivers big.
To be honest (and to maintain journalistic integrity), I don’t care for half of the bar flavors offered by this brand, whose name stands for Radiant Energy, Deliciously Delivered. So I can’t 100% speak to the “delicious” part and I also can’t speak to the “Radiant” of it all, but I will say this: The Peanut Butter flavored R.E.D.D. bars are about the most compact bar I know of that delivers more than 200 calories and 10 grams of protein, and they taste just fine. And sometimes, a bar you can eat in three big bites and then get on with the hike, ride, or day, in general, is a fine bar indeed. Just chew your three bites well: Remember, proper digestion starts in the mouth.
Rather on the opposite end of the spectrum from the R.E.D.D. bar, PROBARs are big, beefy bars. Except that they’re plant-based, not actually beefy, of course. Delivering 20 grams of protein and nearly 300 calories, these are a decent meal replacement option that will leave you full and fueled for the next couple hours or several miles, whatever comes first. Add a banana or an apple beside your PROBAR and you’ll be genuinely fed.
Yes, these may look like cookies, they may taste like cookies, and they may in fact best be classified as cookies, as the name rather suggests, but a Complete Cookie can absolutely stand-in for a protein bar. One of these massive treats has 16 grams of protein and 420 calories, so if an active adult male were to eat five of them daily, he would need no other source of protein, carbs, iron, or calories, for that matter. But don’t do that.
Is this just delicious beef jerky in bar form? Yes, yes it is. But when the meat comes in a bar shape and packs eight grams of protein into a 70-calorie package, I say go. Think of the math there: That 290 calorie PROBAR has 20 grams of protein, so that’s 14.4 calories per protein gram. Here we’re talking 8.75 calories per protein gram. So if you’re looking for a protein-rich post lift session snack that won’t also offset the time you spent on the bike or treadmill, meat may be the best answer.
Delicious, sweet without being cloying, and with plenty of protein but not many calories, these bars are a must-try. The primary ingredient is honey, and the second is peanut butter, and FYI those complement superbly. Also, because honey is a low glycemic food, you get energy without a sugar crash later.
If you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re eating, you may want to be eating GoMacro bars. These things have an average of 11 grams of protein per unit and you can count on them to be USDA-certified organic, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO (a bit redundant given the organic), R.A.W. Certified (gotta look that one up), C.L.E.A.N. Certified (ditto), nut-free and … so on. The good news? They’re actually quite tasty, too.
Why “Honorable Mention?” Because most of the bars from this brand top out at seven grams of protein, and we set our bar at eight. But as they just taste so damn good, I couldn’t in good faith leave them off. We’re talking the coffee-flavored Smooth Caffeineator, Cinnamon Roll’n, and other flavors you would seek rather than simply tolerate. And anyway, the bars are under 200 calories each, so you can eat two without any self-loathing.
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