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Protein bars have been a staple for decades—and with good reason. “They’re convenient, portable options for snacks and meal replacements,” says Andrea Goergen, MHS, RDN. They can be especially beneficial options for on-the-go snacks, as well as a protein-rich bite before or after workouts. But of course, as with any packaged food, options abound—which is exactly why we asked registered dietitians for their top picks so you can choose the one that works for you.
Ahead, learn more about the best protein bars for women.
Meet the Expert
- Andrea Goergen, MHS, RDN, owner of Cultivate Healthy in the Washington, DC area.
- Mona S. Cabrera, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian based in Mission Viejo, CA.
- Tamar Samuels, RD, NBC-HWC, co-founder of Culina Health.
- Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, and author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook.
- Toby Amidor, MS, RD, a nutrition partner with Clif Bar and Company.
- Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, author of The Nourished Brain.
- Carrie Gabriel MS, RDN, owner at Steps2Nutrition.
What to Look For in a Protein Bar for Women
As far as the quantity of protein goes, Mona S. Cabrera, MS, RD, suggests aiming for at least 4 grams of protein, but ideally 10 grams or more—preferably from sources such as nuts, seeds, whey protein, pea protein, or egg whites (opting for whole food-based ingredients).
It’s also important to check the fiber content: “Both fiber and protein help us feel full, which is key for nutrition bars because they’re usually used as on-the-go snacks between meals. Fiber has the bonus of supporting a healthy digestive system, so go for protein bars that have at least 5 grams of fiber,” suggests Tamar Samuels, RD, NBC-HWC.
Make sure the bar you choose isn’t packed with sugar—many have so much sugar that they could easily be called a candy bar, warns Cabrera—or artificial sweeteners, which can often cause tummy troubles.
Best Overall: Health Warrior Honey Sea Salt Pumpkin Seed Bar
Contains allergens (coconut)
With 8 grams of vegetarian protein and 9 grams of unsaturated fat per bar, you’re getting a solid protein bar pick. “This combination of plant-based protein and fat is ideal for keeping you fueled, energized, and satisfied throughout the day,” says Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, and author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook. Plus, the bar has a really minimal ingredient list—just roasted pumpkin seeds, honey, quinoa flour, coconut oil, and sea salt.
Key Ingredients: Organic roasted pumpkin seeds, organic honey, organic quinoa flour, organic coconut oil, and sea salt. | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (35 grams) | Certified: USDA Organic, non-GMO
Best Budget: CLIF Bar Duos Cool Mint Chocolate + Chocolate Chip
Made with organic rolled oats
Contains allergens (soy)
“I recommend this smaller energy bar that provides 180 calories and an optimal blend of plant protein, fat, and carbs,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD. “As a competitive tennis player who also does HIIT workouts, reformer Pilates, and hiking, I find that this bar is a great pre-workout option that helps fuel my everyday fitness routines. I also love the pairing of two classic flavors in one energy-packed square.” FYI, each bar contains 17 milligrams of caffeine, so be mindful when consuming.
Key Ingredients: Brown rice syrup, rolled oats, cane sugar, and soy protein isolate | Age Range: Adult 18+ | Dosage: 1 bar (47 grams) | Certified: Rainforest Alliance Certified
Best Value: Nature Valley Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Protein Bars
Contains allergens (peanut, soy, and milk)
If you’re looking for a chewy protein bar that's also a great value, this one might be your top pick. “I often use this myself as a pick-me-up snack,” says Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, author of The Nourished Brain. “I also recommend it to my clients with diabetes. This delectable-tasting bar has just the right balance with only 15 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of hunger-squelching protein, and 6 grams of fiber to slow digestion and help prevent blood sugar spikes.”
Key Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, soy protein isolate, chicory root extract, semisweet chocolate chips | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (40 grams) | Certified: N/A
Best Meal Replacement : Perfect Bar Peanut Butter
Contains allergens (peanuts, milk, and eggs)
Perfect Bar is a fan favorite of registered dietitians. “Most people might look at this bar and gawk at the calories or fat content,” says Carrie Gabriel MS, RDN, owner at Steps2Nutrition. “However, as a dietitian who is also super active and participating in mile swims or beach runs almost daily, I need something that tastes good and sustains me for more than an hour!” It's made with 17 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 340 calories with whole-food ingredients. “Plus, it tastes like frozen nut butter, and who doesn’t love that?” adds Gabriel.
Key Ingredients: Peanut butter, honey, nonfat dry milk, and dried whole egg powder | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (71 grams) | Certified: Non-GMO, USDA Organic
Best Vegan: GoMacro Lemon + Lemon
Contains allergens (cashews and coconut)
GoMacro prides itself on clean and raw ingredients—and indeed, the bars are made with whole foods like cashew butter and sunflower seed butter. “I like GoMacro bars not only for the 10 grams of plant protein they provide but also for their ingredients,” says Harland Adkins, RD.
Key Ingredients: Organic brown rice syrup, organic cashew butter, organic protein blend, and organic sunflower seed butter | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (65 grams) | Certified: USDA Organic, vegan, gluten-free, Pareve, non-GMO, C.L.E.A.N, R.A.W, Sustainable Food Trade Association membe
Meet the Expert
- Harland Adkins, RD, founder of Fast Food Menu Prices.
- Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook.
- Christine Byrne, a nutritionist and virtual intuitive eating coach in Raleigh, NC.
- Rachel Nannola, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Houston, TX.
- Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at WellnessVerge.
Best Eco-Friendly: LivBar Coffee Maple Cacao
Contains allergens (coconut and sesame seeds)
Handmade in Oregon, this bar has a compostable wrapper! It’s also gluten-free, dairy-free, and organic. “I love these bars for so many reasons,” says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook. “They don't melt, so I can keep them in my purse without worrying about getting messy when I eat them. They are also packed with good-for-you ingredients like pumpkin seeds and quinoa to help give me sustainable energy without loading up on sugar and artificial ingredients.” Per bar, you get 6 grams of protein.
Key Ingredients: Organic pumpkin seeds, organic honey, organic sunflower seeds, organic coconut, and organic sesame seeds | Age Range: Adult 18+ | Dosage: 1 bar (44 grams) | Certified: USDA Organic
Best with No Added Sugar: RXBar Chocolate Coconut
Minimal ingredient list
No added sugar
Contains allergens (eggs, almonds, cashews, and coconut)
These bars contain minimal ingredients—just dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, chocolate, natural flavors, sea salt, and coconut. “There's so much to like about RXBars,” says Christine Byrne, a nutritionist and virtual intuitive eating coach based in Raleigh, NC. “Their dense, chewy texture means you can't just mindlessly eat the whole bar. You really have to chew! Not every flavor is a winner, but I love Coconut Chocolate. It has a subtle coconut taste, plus rich pieces of chocolate. One bar has 12 grams of protein, plus 5 grams of naturally occurring fiber and zero added sugar.”
Key Ingredients: Dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, and chocolate | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (52 grams) | Certified: Kosher
Best Heart-Healthy: OatMega White Chocolate Raspberry
Contains EPA and DHA omega-3s
Contains allergens (milk, fish, tree nuts, and soy)
“This bar is a great source of protein with a low sugar content of just 5 grams,” says Rachel Nannola, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Houston, TX. “I recommend utilizing it as a snack during the day. Since it’s not coated in chocolate, it won’t melt in the summer heat!” The bar contains responsibly-caught fish oil for a healthy dose of EPA and DHA omega-3s.
Key Ingredients: Grass-fed whey protein concentrate, chicory root fiber, whey protein crisp, and gluten-free oats | Age Range: Any | Dosage: 1 bar (50 grams) | Certified: Gluten-Free, non-GMO
Best Organic: Orgain S’Mores Protein Snack Bar
Contains allergens (tree nuts) and sugar alcohols
Here’s another gluten-free protein bar option. “The bars only contain 150 calories, are free of artificial sweeteners, and are packed with 10 grams of high-quality plant protein,” says Melissa Mitri, MS, RD. “It's not easy finding a higher protein, lower-sugar combination in a bar.” Take note, though, that this product contains 3 grams of erythritol, a sugar alcohol that can cause stomach upset for some people.
Key Ingredients: Organic protein crisps, organic tapioca syrup, organic almonds, and organic chocolate chunks | Age Range: Adult 18+ | Dosage: 1 bar (40 grams) | Certified: Plant-Based, USDA organic, kosher
Protein bars can be a staple part of any woman’s diet—so long as you choose right. Plant-based pick Health Warrior Honey Sea Salt Pumpkin Seed Bar won the all-around best-in-bar award from Team Byrdie, as it boasts an impressive amount of protein as well as a clean ingredient list. If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, opt for Nature Valley Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Protein Bars, at a price of just $.57 per bar.
Meet the Expert
What are the benefits of protein bars for women?
“If you're trying to lose weight, protein can help keep you satisfied between meals and therefore avoid mindless snacking or overeating,” says Breanna Woods, MS, RDN.
In addition to weight loss, protein bars can help with nutrition-specific goals. “If you’re an active individual, a well-chosen protein bar may help you reduce body fat,” says Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD, CPT.” Case in point: A small study in the Journal of Biological Sciences showed that combining consumption of whey protein bars with resistance training over four months helped improve lean body mass.
Plus, protein bars gone right are convenient, balanced snacks. “Whether you're trying to increase your overall protein intake or you need something to hold you over between meals, a protein bar is easy to take on the go or eat when you're short on time,” says Woods.
Do protein bars for women expire?
They do—and you should go by the expiration date printed on the bar. “Expiration is dependent on the ingredients,” says Kathy LaBella, RDN, ACE-CMES/CPT, a sports nutritionist in Old Saybrook, CT. “Every bar is different, depending on its formula. Bars can also go bad if left out in a high temperature, so it is best not to leave them in your car.”
When should you eat a protein bar for women?
“Protein bars as snacks are great for between meals or can be used to keep your calm your growling stomach if you know your next meal is too far in the future,” says Goergen. “The carbohydrate content of protein bars can provide pre-workout fuel and recovery fuel, in addition to protein for post-workout recovery. If you need a boost to keep you going through an endurance workout, try having a snack protein bar before a workout.”
“Just beware of the fiber and fat content to prevent GI issues during your run or workout,” Goergen adds. If your post-workout meal is planned for more than 30 to 60 minutes after your workout, consider a post-workout protein bar snack to support your muscles, she adds.
Higher-calorie bars can be eaten alone or paired with fruit, vegetables, yogurt, or string cheese as a meal replacement—but only when you aren’t able to prepare a meal. “Protein bars should not be your only meals, so please remember they should be a supplement to a regular meal,” says Goergen. “If you’re dealing with kidney issues, concentrated forms of protein can lead to consuming too much, which can be dangerous for damaged kidneys. And consuming too many protein bars can lead to excessive intake of the vitamins and minerals added to the bars and toxic levels of certain nutrients in the bloodstream.”
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Amy Gorin, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and has over a decade of experience in the nutrition industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She specializes in plant-based nutrition and is one of the most recognized nutrition experts in America. For this article, she consulted 14 additional experts to share their insights, as well as their go-to protein bars for women.