Protein bars have come a long way in the last few years.
When they first hit the market, they were little more than high protein candy bars, and the taste was questionable at best.
Now, you have low sugar/low carb bars, vegan bars, and protein sources ranging from whey to vegan.
Not to mention, many of them taste amazing!
If you’re looking to lose body fat, the low sugar/low total carb options are a great addition to any weight loss diet.
If gains are your goal, there are protein bars with 30g of protein and more carbs. This means more quality calories to help you in your quest for gains.
Curious to know more?
Let’s dive right in the best protein bars for weight loss and muscle gain on the market.
In a Hurry? Here is our top pick:
- Wide Range Of Delicious Flavors
- Only 1 Gram Sugar
- 20 Grams Of Premium Quality Protein
The One Protein Bar is one of the best tasting bars on the market.
Not only that, it contains only 1 gram of sugar. Depending on flavor, ONE Protein Bars contain approximately 210 calories, 10g fiber and 20g total carbs.
What about protein?
How does 20g of whey and milk isolate sound?
It should sound pretty good, that’s two exceptional sources of protein. This nutrient profile makes the One Protein Bar a great choice for both weight loss or lean muscle gain.
Due to their protein content, they make a great on the go snack, and a great option if you miss a scheduled meal.
With flavors such as Blueberry Cobbler, Almond Bliss, Peanut Butter Pie, Glazed Donut and Birthday Cake, you can’t go wrong.
The best part is, they taste as good as they sound, and the texture is soft and easy to chew.
- Good Choice For Those Following A Vegan Diet
- Low Sugar
- Three Of Seven Flavors Are Not Vegan Friendly
Here’s a protein bar for those individuals who are following a vegan lifestyle.
Based on flavor, NuGo Slim protein bars contain 180 calories, only 3g of sugar and 18g total carbs.
They contain 7g of fiber and provide 17g of plant protein from soy and rice.
NuGo Slim Protein Bars are a low glycemic bar, which means they help maintain even blood sugar levels. This is important for anyone attempting to lose weight.
One of the problems of the typical mainstream diet is the high sugar content found in many foods.
The high sugar causes an insulin spike, and one of the things insulin does is convert excess carbs into stored bodyfat.
For those who don’t know, insulin is one of the body’s natural hormones. It’s generally considered to be an anabolic, or metabolically positive, hormone. Yet, it’s like a double-edged sword in that it can promote the storage of excess carbs into fat.
You can help control that by following a low sugar diet and keeping total carbs in check.
If you’re a dark chocolate fan, NuGo offers seven flavors, all gluten-free. Four flavors are vegan: Crunchy Peanut Butter, Toasted Coconut, Chocolate Mint and Espresso.
You’ll find the texture a little crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
- High Quality Protein
- Low Sugar
- Wide Range Of Flavors
- Inconsistent Taste Quality
- Inconsistent Texture – Some Protein Bars Are Soft And Easy To Eat, Some Are More Chewy
Depending on the flavor, Pure Protein Bars contain 180-200 calories.
They provide 17-21g protein from whey concentrate, whey isolate and milk isolate sources.
They contain only 2-3g of sugar and only 17-18g total carbs, again depending on flavor.
The fiber content is only around 1-2g depending on the protein bar, which is much lower than many of the protein bars in this guide. Yet, they are an ideal protein bar for fat loss due to the low sugar, low total carb content.
The flavor choices include Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chewy Chocolate Chip, and Chocolate Deluxe. They have introduced some new flavors such as Lemon Cake, Birthday Cake, Maple Caramel, and Blueberry Greek Yogurt.
These are a good tasting protein bar for the most part, but some users find some of them can be a little too chewy.
- High Quality Protein
- Low Sugar
- Wide Range Of Flavors
When they came out, Quest Protein Bars were one of the first bars to break from the traditional protein bar.
Up until Quest, your choices were high protein candy bars or cardboard-tasting low carb diet bars.
Finally, here was a good tasting protein bar that was low in sugar!
Quest Protein Bars have a soft, easy to eat texture. Quest has undergone some changes in recent years.
The major change is their source of fiber to soluble corn fiber. Yet, they average 1g sugar or less while keeping total carbs to around 24g depending on flavor. This is offset by 14g of fiber.
Like the ONE Protein Bar, they are great for weight loss, and a good option for those gaining lean muscle.
As with the ONE Protein Bar, it’s all about convenience. Take a bar or two with you and you will never miss a scheduled meal again.
What about protein and calories, you might ask?
There’s 20-21g of whey and milk isolate, depending on flavor and 190 calories. It would be safe to say that as far as taste and a “clean” nutrient profile, Quest and ONE go head to head.
The same is true about flavors. With choices like Cookies N Cream, Birthday Cake, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and seasonal flavors like Pumpkin Pie, there are some great options.
The winner? The one you like the best!
- Vegan Friendly
- Low Sugar
- High Quality Plant Protein Blend
- Wide Range Of Flavors
- Can Be A Little Chalky Tasting
No Cow Protein Bars are a vegan choice and do not contain any dairy ingredients whatsoever.
They provide about 200 calories as well as 20-22g protein from brown rice and pea, based on flavor. This combination has become a standard blend for plant protein-based products.
No Cow contains just 1g of sugar, about 20g carbs depending on the protein bar but about 15g fiber. This makes No Cow ideal for fat loss.
The texture is soft and easy to chew, but they can be a little chalky.
- 30 Grams Of High-Quality Protein
- Delicious Flavors
- Excellent Texture
These protein bars are the creation of Chef Robert Irvine. They are available in two sizes.
The first size is 88 grams. This breaks down to 380 calories, 30g protein from whey isolate, whey concentrate and soy, plus 27g of total carbs, with 6g of sugar along with 2g fiber.
This is a muscle gain protein bar, so there’s also 16g of fat from palm oil and vegetable oils.
The other size is a 46g snack size version. These are a layered protein bar with a crunchy, chewy yet easy to eat texture and yes, they are delicious.
Flavors include Peanut Butter & Jelly, Caramel Peanut, Birthday Cake, Cookies N Cream, and Peanut Butter. The full 88g size is a hefty protein bar, so much so it can be a meal in itself.
- Uses Real Food Ingredients
- Exclusive Whole Food Protein Blend
- Low Sugar Content
- May Be Too Expensive For Some Users
The MRE Protein Bar is a whole food bar that was Redcon1’s response to the original Rich Piana 5% Nutrition Protein Bar. The 5% Bar was one of the first to feature whole food sources of protein, carbs and fat.
MRE stands for Meal REplacement.
One protein bar provides 260 calories, 20g protein, 29g carbs with just 6g sugar and 9g fat. These numbers may vary based on flavor.
Here’s what sets this protein bar apart: The protein MRE Bar uses beef, chicken, salmon, and egg protein sources. The carbs from gluten free rolled oats, yams, and sweet potatoes, and fat from MCT oil. It’s like eating a real food meal.
They taste great and have a soft, easy to eat texture.
They come in several flavors, including Blueberry Cobbler, Crunchy Peanut Butter Cup, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Banana Nut Bread and Iced Carrot Cake.
- High In Whey Protein
- Low Sugar Content
- High Calorie Content That’s Good For Users Who Have Trouble Gaining Muscle
- High In Sugar Alcohols
- High In Sodium
- Limited Flavors
- Hasn’t Quite Let Go Of The Protein Candy Bar Concept
Detour is an old name in the protein bar market. In fact, they were the first to introduce the triple layer high protein bar back in the late 80’s. (1)
Much has changed since then and Detour has had to struggle to keep up.
The Lean Muscle Protein Bar is their answer to the current market. At 420 calories, this is a protein bar meant for someone trying to increase calories and gain mass.
Depending on flavor, one protein bar provides 32-33g whey protein, 3-8g sugar with 30-33g total carbs, about 9g fiber and about 18g fat.
It’s a good tasting protein bar with a chewy texture that will be hard to eat if the bar gets cold.
Flavors are limited to Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch, Cookie Dough Caramel Crisp, M&Ms Chocolate Candy Crunch and M&Ms Peanut Butter Candy Crunch.
Needless to say, this protein bar does not have the cleanest nutrient profile. Yet, for those who need serious calories, it’s a good choice as a high protein meal or snack.
- High Protein
- Low Sugar Content
- Only Three Flavors
- Can Be Very Chewy If Cold
Premier Protein is a company that targets mainstream retail outlets with their shakes and protein bars.
Their original Protein Bar is more of a meal replacement bar with 290 calories, 30g protein from whey and soy, 8g sugar and 33g total carbs. There’s also 3 fiber and 8g of fat.
These protein bars have a good flavor with an easy to eat texture. They can be very chewy if they get cold, so make sure they are room temperature before eating.
Currently, there are only three flavors: Chocolate Peanut Butter, Double Chocolate Crunch and Yogurt Peanut Crunch.
When considering proteins bars, you should keep the following in mind:
The key to weight loss is to understand that the goal is not so much to lose “weight” but to lose fat while at the same time maintaining muscle mass.
To lose “weight” means to lose water, muscle and fat. To lose fat means just that, you’re losing fat.
Yes, there will be some water loss, and as you cut carbs you will see glycogen depletion.
Your goal should be to hang on to as much mass as you can while getting as lean as possible.
The key to muscle gain is to gain lean muscle, not to “eat big to get big”.This means you want to gain lean mass while keeping fat gain to a minimum.
In both cases you should be limiting sugar and keeping an eye on total carb intake while maintaining an optimal protein intake.
What does that mean?
It means several things.
First, it means you should be taking in more protein than those that do not work out. (2)
Second, it means you should be ingesting protein every few hours. (3,4,5)
This is because protein is not stored in the body like carbs and fat, it needs to be replaced daily. (6)
Since protein is the most abundant component (after water) of our bodies, and since the body uses protein for literally hundreds of functions every day, it’s important to maintain a consistent protein intake.
It’s also because if you’re trying to maintain muscle for weight loss, or to gain muscle, you want to be in an anabolic environment.
Anabolic means “to build up” and refers to a positive metabolic state. This is the place you want to be if you want to hang on to your mass or add lean mass.
Third, protein consumption leads to protein synthesis.
This process is the biological process of replacing cellular proteins. One of the things this leads to is muscle growth. (7)
This takes us to protein quality.
Most protein bars use protein sources such as whey, milk, sometimes soy, and high-quality plant proteins.
All of this means that a high-quality protein bar that supplies at least 15 grams (the best protein bars supply 20-30 grams) can be taken once or twice per day to help you meet your protein requirements.
Just take a protein bar or two with you and you’re good to go. It can’t get much easier.
Regardless of your goal, you’ll want to keep sugar to a minimum.
All of these protein bars are low sugar.
The rest of the carbohydrate content comes from complex carbs. These are slower digesting carbs. They are important because the body uses carbohydrates for energy. (8)
The fat content in most of these protein bars comes from healthy sources. This is important because healthy fat provide such benefits as helping to lower cholesterol and supporting heart health. (9)
Fiber is important because it helps maintain even blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps you feel full. (10)
This is your reason for adding protein bars to your nutritional program.They offer convenience, just take 1-2 with you and you will have a fast, easy to eat protein/calorie source anytime of the day.
If you work long hours, or are in college classes all day, and you can’t get to a planned meal, a protein bar is the perfect solution.
When choosing a protein bar, it comes down to taste and goals. No one wants to eat something they don’t like, so taste is huge.
Also, your protein bar of choice has to fit your goals. The best protein bars in this guide provide some excellent options.
Are there other protein bars available?
Sure. Some protein bars are merely different versions of the same thing.
Some taste terrible.
Several contain insane amounts of sugar.
The protein bars in this guide represent excellent choices and a few popular options.
Try them and enjoy a delicious high protein snack while knowing you’re helping yourself reach your goals!
- Bohe, J., Low, J.F.A., Wolfe, R.R. & Rennie, M.J. Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. J Physiol., 532(Pt 2): 575-579. April 2001.
- Anthony, J.C., Lang, C.H., Crozier, S.J., Anthony, T.G., MacLean, D.A., Kimball, S.R. & Jefferson, L.S. Contribution of insulin to the translational control of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle by leucine. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab., 282: E1092-E1101, May 2002.
- Norton L.E., Layman D.K., Bunpo P., Anthony T.G., Brana D.V. & Garlick P.J. The Leucine Content of a Complete Meal Directs Peak Activation but Not Duration of Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling in Rats. J. Nutr., [Epub ahead of print] April 2009.
- Nutrition and Diet Therapy, Cataldo, DeBruyne and Whitney, “The Chemists View of Protein” p.80-81
- What Is Protein Synthesis. (2015, December 27). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.proteinsynthesis.org/what-is-protein-synthesis/