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Promising to deliver muscle-maintaining protein in a handy, prepackaged snack, protein bars are a convenient option for gym goers, athletes, and anyone looking to increase their protein intake.
We tested the most popular protein bars and snacks on the market, and asked our nutritionist for her tips on how to include them in your diet safely. Read on to see her advice.
Once you’ve researched whether a protein supplement is right for you, discover which protein bars are best. You might also enjoy our review of the best protein powder.
Best protein bars 2019
Vive natural protein dark chocolate hazelnut snack bar
Best vegan protein bar
If you’re after a plant-based bar, this is an appealing option. Coated with dark chocolate, it has a really moreish texture. The hazelnut butter filling is studded with chunks of roasted nuts for crunch, and the taste is very natural without being sickly. The sugar content is higher than some of the others on this list, but they’re a good option for an occasional treat.
Each bar contains 10g protein, which comes from the included hazelnuts, peanuts, pea protein and rice protein. It also contains 227 calories, 14g fat (4.4g sat fat), 13g carbohydrates (10g sugar), 6.3g fibre and 0.17g salt.
Amazon (£17.38 for 12)
The Protein Works loaded legends choc fudge fandango
Best protein bar to rival a dessert
It’s difficult to believe that these vegetarian-friendly bars are low in sugar. With different layers of contrasting textures and a crispy soy ‘nugget’ topping, the overall experience is more like indulging in a dessert than a snack bar, albeit with a satisfying, slightly chewy edge to each bite. They look small and unassuming but are impressively filling, earning them a big thumbs up from us.
Each bar contains 15g protein from a blend of soy, whey and wheat proteins, and clocks in at 185 calories. It also contains 7g fat (3.5g sat fat), 13.5g carbohydrates (2.5g sugar), 7.5g fibre and 0.3g salt.
Boost Ball coconut fudge cake
Best all-natural protein bar
These balls are a great option if you’re after a snack made with all-natural ingredients, but bear in mind that the included dates and grape juice means they’re higher in sugar than some others.
That said, they’d be a quick and easy energy booster before intense exercise. They have a satisfying, chewy texture, just the right level of sweetness, and a lovely dusting of desiccated coconut on the outside of each ball.
Each pack of three balls provides 9g protein, which comes from whey protein and peanut butter, and contains 170 calories. A pack also contains 7g fat (5g sat fat), 16g carbohydrates (14g sugar), 2.1g fibre and 0.2g salt.
Protein World The Slender Blend bar
Best protein bar to rival a flapjack
Available in three flavours – chocolate chip, cranberry & pumpkin seed and golden oat – these snack bars by Protein World will be popular with flapjack fans. Packed with oats and deliciously soft, they’re a source of fibre, which helps fill you up. Pumpkin seeds add some healthy fats and a pleasing crunch to the cranberry variety.
The chocolate chip flavour provides 9.2g protein from whey protein concentrate, and contains 184 calories. It also has 10.7g fat (6.4g sat fat), 17.6g carbohydrates (2.3g sugar), 7.3g fibre and 0.26g salt. They’re also gluten-free.
MyProtein lean protein chocolate & cookie dough bar
Best high-protein bar
If packing in the protein is your main priority, these bars supply an impressive 18g each. They have a fluffy, chewy texture with contrasting crispy pieces throughout, and while they do contain artificial sweeteners – isomalt, sucralose, maltitol and steviol glycosides – they aren’t overly sweet and have a relatively low sugar content.
Each bar provides 18g protein from soy protein isolate and whey protein concentrate and contains 152 calories. It also has 4.6g fat (2.1g sat fat), 11g carbohydrates (1.2g sugar), 5.7g fibre and 0.33g salt.
Pulsin orange choc & cashew protein booster
Best free-from protein bar
This product ticks a lot of free-from boxes: it’s dairy-, gluten- and soya-free, as well as vegan. Even better, these plant-based bars are really enjoyable to eat – each bite contains plenty of chocolate chips, while orange oil adds a lovely zestiness. The ingredients list is reassuringly easy to understand, with lots of natural items. However, it’s worth nothing that they do include xylitol – a naturally present substance found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables that is processed into a sweetener.
Each bar contains 12.3g protein from cashews, rice protein and pea protein as well as 224 calories. They also have 11.6g fat (4.5g sat fat), 15.5g carbohydrates (6.2g sugar), 4.5g fibre and 0.21g salt.
Protein health advice
How to use protein supplements safely
Dietary supplements such as protein bars should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, and not used as a substitute for whole food.
Nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains, ‘Protein supplements, such as bars, are highly processed and lack the micronutrients and other beneficial nutrients of whole, natural food. We should all aim to achieve our protein requirements from a well-balanced diet, but for short-term use or in certain circumstances, protein supplementation may be considered.’
Although protein bars may have healthier credentials than a chocolate bar, it’s important to remember that they are a concentrated source of energy and can be high in sugar, carbohydrates and fats. Consider your individual health and fitness goals, your personal dietary requirements and your reason for including protein bars in your diet when deciding which product to buy and how often to eat them.
Who could benefit from using a protein supplement?
If you’re regularly getting enough protein from your diet, adding a supplement might not make a noticeable difference to your health. However, those who are either unable to regularly eat enough protein due to decreased appetite or illness, or who have increased protein needs as a result of high-intensity exercise might benefit from taking a supplement.
Kerry explains, ‘One example, which is probably not an obvious one, is the elderly. This group often has a greater need for protein, but a lower appetite. Increasing protein intake in a form that is palatable and suits their lowered appetite may be effective in protecting against muscle loss. That said, in this group other aspects, such as kidney health and osteoporosis, need to be considered and monitored – it’s worth checking with a GP that protein supplements are safe and suitable for each individual.’
Who shouldn’t take protein supplements?
Children shouldn’t take protein supplements unless directed by a dietitian. The NHS advises that consuming too much protein in the long term is linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, and may worsen existing kidney problems. Some people find protein bars difficult to digest – it’s best to include them gradually into your diet, and see how you get on. Although allergens should be stated on the label, anyone with allergies should be cautious about using a new supplement, as there is an obvious risk of cross-contamination in factories. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or being treated for existing medical conditions should consult their GP before starting new supplements.
Is it possible to take too much protein?
Yes. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55g for men and 45g for women). Always read the label of any protein supplement carefully, stick to the recommended serving size, and be mindful of other protein sources in your diet. If you’re concerned that you might be consuming too much protein, speak to your GP.
How to choose a protein bar
Choosing a suitable protein bar will depend on your personal requirements and goals. For example, if you’re looking to gain weight or build muscle, you might want to consider a ‘mass-gainer’ product that is higher in calories and carbohydrates. Look for a product to fit your dietary requirements and double-check allergen labelling on the packet.
When choosing a protein bar, make sure that you buy from a reputable company, ideally based in Europe, as those that are based outside of Europe may not pass the same safety standards as those within. If you’re in any doubt about the safety of a product, speak to your pharmacist or GP.
What we looked for in protein bars
Taste and texture: is the flavour pleasant? Is the texture palatable?
Type of protein: whey or plant-based? Concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate?
Nutrient profile: how much protein per serving? What about calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sugars?
Type of sweetener: does it contain sugars, artificial sweetener or neither?
Dietary requirements: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free?
Value for money: how does it compare to others on a cost-per-bar basis?
All bars were taste tested on the same day, with notes made according to the testing criteria. We included 25 samples from a range of manufacturers with differing nutritional information, protein types and price points for this review.
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This review was last updated in November 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.