You are probably not a multisport athlete if you have never had a protein bar before. These easily accessible and extremely convenient bars are in every super market, corner store, athletic website, race expo, and usually — athlete’s pantry.
But why do we eat them? Why don’t we just eat something more natural like nuts, beans, meat, dairy, or eggs to get out protein fix?
The answer to that question can be different for everyone. Some just don’t have the time and need something quick. Some don’t have access to the necessary equipment to prepare or store those food sources.
Maybe their work doesn’t have a kitchen or fridge. Maybe the place they work out is too far from anything and they need to consume the protein in 30 minutes.
The bottom line is that we as athletes need protein after working out. As multisport athletes we especially need a good protein source for optimum recovery after long and strenuous workouts day after day.
Most of you who eat protein bars have come across two types of bars. Super modified and protein packed bars that are tailored towards fitness buffs and weight lifters. Others with a moderate amount of protein that seem to be tailored towards the aerobic inclined athlete.
These bars are filled with names big brands like Clif, PowerBar, Gatorade, Larabar, Luna, and more. If you are like me you tend to grab big boxes of these without ever questioning whether they were actually the best.
It’s a big name so it has to be the best right?
Well, that’s what I wanted to find out.
Being the naturally curious individual that I am, I knew that I wanted to only look at the protein bars that most people have never heard of. The ones that may not have big marketing budgets and connections to big retailers but have a true passion for what they make.
I also knew I needed to look at this from many angles. What works best for one person may not work best for another.
I knew I needed to look at taste, ingredients, price, accessibility, and more. So I got to work and started looking.
I searched endlessly on search engines, social media sites, and local health stores. Then I expanded my searching to Canada just in case there was something I was missing.
I tried to look in every corner of the the protein market and leave no stone un-turned.
What I found was incredible. There is an entire world of various protein bars that have small devoted followings and great companies but simply can’t rival the big names in the market.
I needed to try them all — so I did.
After acquiring the entire product lineups from as many protein bar companies that I could find, I ended up with nearly 20 different offerings.
Since most of them were tailored to different types of people with different needs, I decided to approach my testing from a couple angles.
I knew taste was a huge deciding factor for most so this would play heavily in the results.
While I knew I needed to try every single protein bar from every single company, I also knew that I needed consistency.
I couldn’t test one company’s peanut butter protein bar against another’s plain chocolate bar when I like peanut butter better to begin with. It simply wouldn’t be fair.
So I decided that since nearly every protein bar company produced a peanut butter or chocolate peanut butter flavored bar, I would use those to evaluate the taste of each one.
From there I would taste each company’s entire product lineup so I could be well versed in talking about them if they made the cut.
I also knew that the ingredients were extremely important to nearly everyone. So I needed to take all of that into account too. To do this I studied the labels and ingredient lists of each bar very detailed.
I took notes on everything from the health benefits of cashews to how hydrolyzed whey differs from plain whey protein. Everything needed to be documented and compared if I was to do this properly.
The last big piece to this was the protein source. As my wife has explained before, there are many different sources of protein. From crickets, to whey, to pea, to soy, and many in between.
While they are all protein and will have roughly the same impact, they are all handled by the body slightly differently.
Some get absorbed faster than others.
Some protein sources have a tough time on your GI tract.
All of these factors play a role in determining what is best for your athletic endeavors so I combed through as many scientific journals and articles that I could get my hands on to get to the bottom line.
Price, accessibility, convenience, texture, and all other little details were taken into account but played only minor roles in the evaluation.
After all, I was searching for the best protein bar that you haven’t heard of so I needed to truly get the best one for your performance. Not the best for the money or convenience.
The Best Overall Protein Bar You’ve Never Heard Of
Okay so this is a little unfair but I honestly couldn’t decide between these two so I had to give them a tie. Wella Bar and SoLo were both packed with nutrition, tasted great, and had the best source of protein to round them out enough to claim the top overall spot.
However, these 2 protein bars differ in many ways so let me help explain why they both took the top spot but why someone may want to chose one over the other.
These protein bars were truly a diamond in the rough. In a market filled with processed ingredients, unnatural ingredients, and ultra sweet products, Wella Bar has decided to take the road less traveled.
Wella Bar only uses pure, organic, whole food ingredients in their protein bars. Every one of their bars contains the USDA certified organic seal so you can be rest assured that everything in them in non GMO and free of antibiotics, hormones, and other toxic chemicals.
The protein contained in them comes from both purely natural means and natural protein derivatives. Naturally they get a good deal of protein from the nuts used. Peanuts, almonds, cashews, and sesame seeds are all used in these bars.
To add even more protein they add in protein derivatives from organic milk and eggs. These are two of the best proteins for athletes.
To sweeten these bars they add a little bit of organic honey instead of sweeteners or processed sugars.
The taste of these bars is exceptional. They aren’t hard or chewy and instead feel like something you made at home. They have a very strong nut-butter type mouthfeel with a little bit of an added chewiness.
The biggest con here and why it didn’t take the overall spot by itself is because of the fact that these bars need to be refrigerated. Without refrigeration you can expect a pretty soupy bar that only lasts about 2 days.
I know I said I wasn’t going to take convenience and accessibility into the equation too much but being that most multisport athletes are constantly on the go and short on time, having to keep a protein bar refrigerated can be a massive pain.
The scientific reason that these bars need to stay in the fridge is because the nut butters they are made with are all natural and don’t contain emulsifiers.
Basically those are the things that make sure your Jiff peanut butter is always creamy and can sit in your pantry for a year while your all natural peanut butter stays soupy and has that layer of oil on top. They make peanut butter a solid at room temperature.
So I understand that to some this reason can actually be more of a “pro” rather than a “con” but as someone who works out at lunch and requires a bar between the gym or pool and work having a refrigeration required bar was simply not going to work all the time.
The only other “con” for this bar was the lack of flavors and the reliance on nuts. If you are allergic to nuts then these are obviously not for you.
However, even if you aren’t allergic to nuts, you sometimes want a different flavor and with this bar you are pretty consistently getting a nut flavor no matter what.
PRICE: $14.98 for 12 bars ($1.25/bar)
These protein bars are unique on a couple fronts. The first is that they are marketed not solely as a protein bar but rather an energy bar. Thanks to the ingredients that make them up they are great as a pre-workout snack or post-workout recovery.
The other is that they are specifically designed as a low-glycemic energy source. SoLo Bars were designed using a unique blend of slow release carbohydrates, proteins and fibers that provide a lower glycemic response than other leading energy bars.
What that means is that it was designed so you don’t experience the “highs” and “lows” that normally come with an energy or protein bar that is filled with simple carbs and simple sugars. Your blood sugar levels won’t go up and down like a roller coaster when you consume these protein bars so you remain smooth and steady.
SoLo Bars are are actually certified low glycemic (GI of 23-35) by GI Laboratories in Toronto, Ontario and have been used in scientific studies such as one on children with Type 1 diabetes. And to top it all off, SoLo Bars are also gluten-free certified by the Canadian Celiac Association and Kosher OUD.
The protein contained in these bars comes from their proprietary “SoLo GI protein blend” which contains whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, and soy crisps. You also get a little natural protein from the peanut butter and soy nuts but those aren’t included in every bar like their protein blend is.
The only con I could come up with for these bars is the fact that they can come across pretty sweet tasting to some people. I found them perfect but then again I love all things sugar.
My wife found them a bit too sweet for her taste. The good news is that they have a lot of flavors to chose from so if one is too sweet for you there is a good chance that you will be able to find one that isn’t.
PRICE: $29.99 for 12 bars ($2.50/bar)
The Best Protein Bar For Those With A Gluten Sensitivity/Allergy
This company was founded by two brothers with a passion for food but a problem with gluten. Both brothers have issues with gluten and after trying to find a high protein bar with no gluten with no luck, they decided to make their own. The rest is history as the GFB may be the most highly recognized option on the list.
One of the great things about this protein bar isn’t just the fact that it is gluten free. A few of the bars we tested were gluten free but there is usually a problem with most protein bars that make this claim.
Usually they are produced in large food production facilities that make a variety of products with gluten in them. So while that particular bar may not have any direct ingredients that contain gluten, they may be contaminated with some gluten from the production of a previous food item.
These bars own and operate their own production facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan so they control the entire process of making these bars.
Their entire facility has been certified gluten free and their production only makes these bars and their other gluten free snacks. Therefore you know you are getting the purest form of gluten free protein bar possible.
While their name suggests they may only be gluten free, these delicious little bars are actually viable options for many people with strict dietary needs. Every single one of their products is:
This actually isn’t really a con but could be for some people. These bars were fairly light on flavor but in a great way (in my opinion).
You could tell that there was no mass quantities of sugar or sweeteners added, no thickening agents or unnecessary chemicals to produce a “good mouth-feel”.
It was fairly light, had great texture, and delivered the perfect amount of sweetness and flavor.
My personal favorite of these protein bars was the Coconut Cashew Crunch but they also have 5 other flavors so everyone should be able to find one they like.
PRICE: $28 for 12 bars ($2.33/bar)
The Best Protein Bar For Vegans
This protein bar was actually a top contender for the overall win. This company was started by a meat-eater turned vegan after watching a couple Netflix documentaries about the impact of the meat and food industry.
In developing Planet Protein he knew he needed a product that was:
- Responsibly sourced ingredients
- Optimal doses of high quality protein
- Nutrient dense whole foods as the primary formula
- Without Palm-Oil – which has been evidenced to wreck havoc on the environment
Their focus was less on the vegans who never worked out and more on those elite athletes who chose to live a plant-based lifestyle but still demand high levels of nutrition. After signing multiple professional athletes, it seems that this company is en route to something special.
The only reason that Planet Protein didn’t take the top spot was two-fold. One, the taste was lacking just a bit. It wasn’t nearly the worst but not as good as the top 2.
The texture was absolutely perfect and I loved the little pea protein crisps that added a little cruch factor. Crunch factor is always appreciated in a world of chewy and mushy protein bars!
The second reason was strictly due to the type of protein used. Unlike most vegan protein bars on the market, Planet Protein uses pea protein instead of nuts and seeds. Don’t get me wrong – pea protein is an incredible source of protein.
It is technically considered a complete protein which can’t be said for some other plant-based proteins like rice. Basically that means that pea protein contains all 9 essential amino acids necessary for humans.
However, peas and pea protein contain a fairly high content of molecules called purines. Basically these little organic molecules help produce more uric acid in your body.
Higher levels of uric acid can lead to things like Gout and hinders your body’s insulin response. Obviously this protein bar isn’t going to give you Gout or diabetes. So don’t think that!
However, being an endurance athlete, your constant strenuous workouts will produce more uric acid than many other athletes. Coupling that with a high intake of pea-protein and your uric acid levels may be fairly high.
Since endurance athletes also rely on a strong insulin response to quickly break down sugars for fuel, the last thing you probably want to do is hinder this in any way.
I am not a scientist or researcher, nor do I know all of your uric acid production systems enough to say any of those things will happen to you. Most likely it won’t have any impact at all.
Since the competition for the top spot was so close I just had to analyze things this closely.
With all that being said, I can safely say this option is the best option for any vegan athlete.
Out of all the bars I tested, this one had the highest protein content per serving at a whopping 20 grams. That level of protein content can cover the needs of an athlete post-workout.
PRICE: $26 for 8 bars ($3.25/bar)
Honorable mention: Go Macro
The Best Protein Bar For Unstable Blood Sugar Levels/Managing Sugar Intake
If you have unstable blood sugar levels who better to trust your dietary nutrition to than a doctor? How about 2 doctors?
Stabilyze was created by a bio/nutrition industry leader and 2 naturopathic physicians with extensive experience formulating products. They had noticed that almost every nutrition bar on the market contained high amounts of carbohydrates, refined sugars, poor-quality oils, artificial preservatives, and they didn’t taste great.
Every bar provides high-quality protein amounts, 8 grams of a prebiotic fiber, high levels of 21 vitamins and minerals, and low net carbs.
While most endurance athletes want a fair amount of net carbs to refuel, those with unstable blood sugar levels run a constant balancing act. These bars do a great job of providing the perfect solution.
The flavors of these bars were great. The texture was exactly what you would expect from a protein bar. They tasted sweet but not overly sweet and didn’t seem to taste too artificial.
My favorite was the Dark Chocolate Thin Mint Cookie. You can never go wrong with something flavored after a Girl Scout Cookie.
PRICE: $12 for 12 bars ($1/bar)
The Best Protein Bar For A Sustainable Planet/Dairy Free
What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say “crickets”? Probably not “delicious!” or anything relating to food right?
Well what if I told you that crickets are extremely high in protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and Omega fatty acids?
What if I also told you that per pound of protein, crickets produce 100 times less greenhouse gases than cows? Are you starting to think about it now?
Good! Logically thinking, crickets are a great source of nutrition. Besides what I mentioned before, crickets are a complete source of protein.
Technically that means you could eat crickets as your only source of protein and not miss out on any essential amino acids.
They also require far less water than any other animal protein. Since crickets become hydrated just from the food they eat, they only require about 1 gallon of water per pound of protein.
To put that in perspective, cows require about 2,000 gallons per pound of protein, pigs 700 and chickens 567.
Last but not least, crickets require far less land per pound of protein than cows. While cows require about 200 square meters of land per pound of protein, crickets only require about 15.
Now if that’s not a good solution for a more sustainable planet then I don’t know what is.
Coast Protein produces cricket powered protein powder and bars. I haven’t tested the powder and this article is about the bars so I will just talk about those.
They produce two flavors:
- Peanut Butter
- Dark Chocolate Raisin
Both flavors are gluten free and dairy free. They contain all Non-GMO ingredients and use simple ingredients.
Now let’s talk about the taste of these insect fuelled protein bars. I preferred the Peanut Butter flavor the best but the Dark Chocolate Raisin one wasn’t bad either.
The Peanut Butter one had a decent peanut butter flavor and was choc full of peanuts. Even with only being 7 ingredients I couldn’t taste anything that resembled a cricket in this bar.
- Not extremely flavorful like other bars
- They only come in 2 flavors
- Fairly expensive
PRICE: $36 CAD for 10 bars ($3.60/bar)
The Best Protein Bar For Uniqueness
Similar to the cricket powdered protein bars produced by Coast Protein, the folks at Mad Macro immediately got my attention with their choice of protein in their bars.
While they do use things like nuts and seeds which offer some protein content, their main source of protein is grass-fed bovine collagen. For those of you that are unaware bovine means cow.
Collagen is a structural protein that resides between connective tissues in animals. So basically it is found in the cartilage, bones and hides of cows. Sounds disgusting right?
Well it’s actually an extremely healthy form of protein. While it may not be absorbed as easily as whey or other protein sources, it has some benefits that far outweigh the whey.
It can help with osteoarthritis, gut health, inflammation, skin quality and more! So don’t shy away from the collagen!
These bars came in a variety of interesting flavors and although they didn’t have to be refrigerated, it came recommended.
When opening these bars you will notice they have a ton of oil. They are kind of slimy and greasy which is extremely unappealing at first glance. However, when you ignore the look at first sight and take a bite, you will sing a different tune.
The bars aren’t extremely flavorful but there was something about them that got me hooked. The flavors weren’t powerful because they were raw.
The ingredients are extremely fresh and unaltered so when they put coffee in the bar, you taste raw coffee and not some mocha-latte version.
And the chew. These bars are very chewy. At first this was a huge turn off, but after the first bite I found myself craving that dense chew more and more. It was addictive.
- The biggest con here is the fact that the Mad Macro protein bars are slimy and greasy. I don’t mind a protein bar with a little oil residue but these bars seemed to be dripping in oil. Not exactly the most convenient option when you want to eat them at work or in the car.
- They also came recommended to be refrigerated so that is the only way I ate them. I can’t imagine how oily they would have been if not refrigerated.
PRICE: $35.88 for 12 bars ($2.99/bar)
The Best Protein Bar For Someone Who Hates Sweets
A lot of you have probably heard of these animal-based protein bars before reading this article. They have been known to be in a number of health food stores and are beloved by crossfitters and paleo-dieters alike.
These bars are based on the paleo diet and contain meat, fruit and nuts primarily. Don’t know what the paleo diet it?
Basically just imagine yourself as a caveman. You wouldn’t be cultivating crops, baking bread, eating cheeses, or anything else that a more developed brain would require, right?
The paleo dieters believe that since our ancient cave-dwelling ancestors only ate what they could hunt and/or gather, that this is what we should still be consuming. They may have lacked the IQ necessary for cultivating crops, cooking breads and making dairy products, but hey! They definitely trump all the food scientists and nutrition experts around the world!
Are the genes in our bodies relatively the same as they were during the paleo times? Yes and no. The paleo cheerleaders will use arguments like the gene one or the fact that our bodies weren’t adapted to eat processed things.
That’s true but also false. Our genes change way faster than paleo lovers want to admit. A great example is that less than 8,000 years ago humans were incapable of breaking down and digesting dairy past adolescence. Today over 80% of the world population can break it down thanks to our “incorrect diets”.
With all that paleo stuff behind us, let me explain the best part about these. You don’t have to follow the paleo diet to eat them!
Thats right! Because their bars features high quality ingredients and good protein sources, they are actually a great choice for a protein bar.
Sometimes you aren’t in the mood for another sweet protein bar and just need something with some salt and flavor. These are the bars for you.
They have a huge lineup of flavors to choose from:
- Bison Bacon Cranberry
- Smoked Maple Bacon
- Chicken Sesame BBQ
- Beef Apple Bacon
- Turkey Almond Cranberry
- Beef Habanero Cherry
- Chicken Sriracha
- Lamb Currant Mint
- Smoked Salmon Maple
- Venison Sea Salt Pepper
- Wild Boar Bacon
PRICE: $30 for 12 bars ($2.50/bar)