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These days, it’s not just jacked up bodybuilders focusing on their protein intake. The essential nutrient is buzzier than ever, the superstar of Whole30 and paleo diets. But setting the fads and trendy diets aside, there’s no denying that protein is essential, the key building block for healthy muscle, skin, and more. And when it comes to upping your protein intake, there’s perhaps no easier way to do so than with a protein bar. (Because, let’s face it, whipping up egg whites or grilling a chicken breast just isn’t always feasible.)
“Protein bars can be great when you’re short on time and looking for something to hold you over between meals,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. The big caveat here? Not all protein bars are created equal, as you might have guessed by perusing the wall of options found at pretty much any grocery store these days. When it comes to choosing, reading the ingredient label is key. Feller recommends people search for ones with a limited ingredient list with few additives. Tamar Samuels, RD, NBC-HWC, agrees: “Protein bars tend to be highly processed, so choose options that are made from whole foods. If you can't pronounce an ingredient or have no clue what it is, then opt-out.”
Ahead, more factors to consider when shopping for protein bars.
Meet the Expert
• Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nationally recognized nutrition expert. Maya is dedicated to promoting nutrition education that helps the public to make informed food choices that support health and longevity. She is the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes for a Healthy Life.
• Tamar Samuels, RD, NBC-HWC, is a registered dietitian and national board-certified health and wellness coach). She’s also the co-founder of Culina Health, a non-intimidating space for BIPOC in the field of nutrition.
• Mona S. Cabrera, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian based in Mission Viejo, CA. She specializes in disease prevention, weight management, and helps clients identify the connection between lifestyle habits and health and wellness to make sustainable, positive changes.
What to Look For in a Protein Bar
As far as the quantity of protein goes, Mona S. Cabrera, M.S., R.D., 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, she says (per the point about 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 added bonus of supporting a healthy digestive system, so go for protein bars that have at least five grams of fiber,” suggests Samuels.
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.
Ready to get snacking? Good news: We did the hard work for you with this round-up of the best protein bars for women that check off all the boxes. Check them out, below.
Best Overall: RxBar Protein Bars
Cabrera and Samuels recommend this bar, complimenting the clean and minimal ingredient list that boasts things such as almonds, dates, and egg whites, delivering 12 grams of protein. They come in a wide array of flavors; Cabrera likes the chocolate chip, Samuels prefers the coconut chocolate and dark chocolate sea salt, while we’re partial to the blueberry and mixed berry options. (Bottom line: There’s something for everyone.)
“Although the sugar is higher than the protein, it comes from dates, a natural source of sugar. They provide a large amount of potassium, which is an important electrolyte to replenish after a sweaty workout,” says Cabrera.
Best Value: KIND Protein Bars
Not only are these bars affordable, but they’re also available almost everywhere, from convenience stores to drugstores, says Cabrera, the perfect snack when your options are limited. “They’re gluten-free and made without genetically-modified ingredients, and are high in both fiber and protein,” she adds.
Best Vegan: GoMacro Organic Vegan Protein Bars
Both Cabrera and Samuels like these plant-based bars, which rely on seeds and nuts to pack 10-12 grams of protein. (Extra important for vegans, for whom getting enough protein can often be a challenge.) Cabrera says the balance of good carbs and fats, along with said protein, also makes this a good option post-workout; Samuels points out that the bars are also made with organic ingredients.
Best Protein-Packed: Perfect Bar Original Refrigerated Protein Bar
“Not only are these bars packed with a whopping 15 grams of protein, the most I’ve seen in a clean protein bar, they also contain veggies, an added bonus,” says Samuels. She lauds them as a great option for anyone looking for a whey protein-based bar. Personally, we’re big fans of the delicious flavors, think blueberry cashew and dark chocolate chip peanut butter (our two personal faves). Just FYI, they do have to be refrigerated, but in our experience that only improves the texture and taste.
Best for Mid-Day Snack: KIND Energy Bar
When that 3 pm slump hits, resist the urge to pound another cup of coffee and reach for this bar for a quick pick-me-up instead. “The combination of gluten-free grains—oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth—provides a nice source of sustained energy,” says Feller. Plus, like with the other KIND bars, it’s an easy-to-find, affordable option.
Best With Fiber: Oatmega Protein Bars
Another one of Cabrera’s recommendations, this one boasts an impressive seven grams of fiber to help keep you fuller, longer. She loves the sweet and salty flavor, low sugar content, and the addition of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that come from the addition of fish oil.
Best With Collagen: Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bars
Ingestible collagen is all the rage for both its beauty and health benefits. TL; DR: It’s a great source of protein for hair, skin, nails, and gut health, says Samuels. The 12 grams of protein in this bar comes from both grass-fed bovine collagen, as well as cashew butter and cashews. There’s also MCT oil in the mix to help keep you full and energized, she adds, noting that she’s partial to the vanilla shortbread and chocolate chip cookie dough flavors. Plus, “the texture is a nice change from the usual chewy and sticky nutrition bar,” she says.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Along with writing about beauty, she also frequently covers health and wellness. A big fan of protein bars, she both interviewed dietitians and vetted the options included on this list (an even ate a Perfect Bar as she wrote this story).