If your dorm room bookshelf doesn’t prominently feature a box of protein bars and a 5lb tub of protein powder, do you even lift?
But which to buy? I’ve eaten a lot of protein products over the years, especially before I learned to cook. I’m embarrassed to say that maybe 20% of my total calorie intake from 2017-2020 came from protein bar-like products. Well, a thousand bars later, I have a lot of opinions, so stay tuned for the scoop on what the best bars are for your needs. I also have some thoughts & tips on protein powders, at the end. And no, these aren’t paid opinions, but @OptimumNutrition let me know if you want to change that.
In case you just want the winning picks:
We’ll start with protein bars, since they tend to vary a lot more than powders. I’m going to address most of the bars in Amazon’s top 50 bestsellers, grouping different flavors of the same bar into a single entry. Then I’ll discuss any other bars outside of the top 50 that I’ve tried – my favorite bar actually isn’t in the top 50. The reviews are ordered by Amazon popularity as of some maybe not-so-recent date.
Bars will be rated on taste, nutrition, and value for money. Keep in mind that nutrition ratings are subjective: I’m generally assuming people are trying to get lots of protein while keeping calories in check. This would be the aim if you’re trying to lose weight, or even gain muscle mass while maintaining weight. But use your discretion if your goals differ.
[*Starred entries are vegan. I’m abbreviating macronutrient values using the following scheme: “200cal, 20P 10C 9P” would represent 200 calories, 20g protein, 10g carbs, and 9g fat, for example. I’ve listed other nutrient values like fiber or sugar alcohols, if they are particularly high and worth noting.]
Macros: 200cal, 20P 18C 5F, 5g sugar alcohol; Price: $1.10/bar
Taste: 2/10; Nutrition: 8/10; Value: 9/10
I can’t believe these bars are the most popular on Amazon. I don’t see how a reasonable fraction of the population can eat these. If you don’t have taste buds, these would be pretty ideal – they do have some great macros and are about as cheap as protein bars go. Or maybe just feed them to your dog and get your dog jacked. (if you must buy these bars, I’d say go with the birthday cake or red velvet flavors.)
Macros: 190cal, 20P 21C 9F, 14g fiber; Price: $1.90/bar
Taste: 4.5/10; Nutrition: 9/10; Value: 4/10
Quest Bars strike a competitive point along the taste-health curve. They’re more than edible (especially when warmed up a bit), and at ~20g protein on 190 calories, you don’t get much better macro-wise. They also pack a nice 14g of fiber, doing more favors for your bowels than the many erythritol-packed protein bars. However, since Quest is a pretty well-established brand, these bars aren’t cheap.
Macros: 210cal, 12P 24C 9F, 5g fiber; Price: $1.60/bar
Taste: 8.5/10; Nutrition: 3/10; Value: 5.5/10
RXBARs taste amazing. I really like their unique approach to the protein bar game: it’s a date & nut-based bar with egg whites for protein. They’re a welcome change from all of the artificially-sweetened chocolate & whey blends in other bars. However, you pay a nutritional cost for the novelty, getting only 12g protein on 210 calories (and there’s also a bunch of sugar from the fruit). Make sure you don’t overpay for them on the RXBAR official website. Also, if you’re allergic to nuts you’re in trouble - I can only eat the few flavors that are limited to peanuts and almonds, since I’m allergic to all non-almond tree nuts. (yeah, I’m not sure how my immune system managed that either)
Macros: 180cal, 10P 14C 14F, 7g sugar alcohol; Price: $1.50/bar
Taste: 7/10; Nutrition: 3.5/10; Value: 5/10
These bars taste pretty good, but only 22% of their calories come from protein. RXBARs have the same ratio and taste way better. I guess these bars are useful if you’re on keto (4g net carb), but why are you on keto? (post on my critiques of diet programs coming soonTM)
Macros: 290cal, 11P 39C 11F; Price: $2/bar
Taste: 8/10; Nutrition: 2/10; Value: 6/10
I mean, these bars taste good, but it’s also not that hard to put 11g of protein into 290 calories. Just put some eggs on toast and accidentally get more protein than that. The only real use case I can think of here is like a meal replacement for vegans.
Macros: 200cal, 13P 10C 12F; $1.50/bar
Taste: 9/10; Nutrition: 3.5/10; Value: 6/10
These bars are basically protein kitkats. The texture is great, they have no shitty aftertaste, and there’s a solid selection of flavors. Sadly, they don’t pack a huge protein punch and aren’t that filling, so I probably wouldn’t eat these while seriously cutting. I keep ‘em around when I have a little more macro freedom. Important Con: You kinda need a plate to eat these bars. Their crumbly wafers produce many droppings.
Macros: 210cal, 20P 22C 7F, 9g fiber, 5g sugar alcohol; $2/bar
Taste: 6/10; Nutrition: 8.5/10; Value: 4/10
ONE Bars strike a very similar profile to Quest Bars. I’d say they taste better. Some of the flavors can have slightly higher calories, but at 210 cal, Birthday Cake ONE Bars are a very competitive option. Personally, I don’t like the sugar alcohol aftertaste, but these bars could be pretty good on a cut.
Macros: 200cal, 15P 27C 11F, 11g fiber; $2/bar
Taste: 7/10; Nutrition: 5.5/10; Value: 4/10
The Hero Bars definitely taste a lot better than standard Quest Bars. With higher carb, these could be good as pre-workout bars even on a cut, for example.
Macros: 190cal, 16P 14C 8F, 8g sugar alcohol; $1.50/bar
Taste: 6/10; Nutrition: 6/10; Value: 6/10
Surprisingly, the sugar alcohol in these bars doesn’t really seem to damage taste that much. These bars are pretty filling for the number of calories they have. However, they don’t really knock it out of the park in any category. Pass from me.
Macros: 180cal, 12P 21C 6F; Price: $0.92/bar
Taste: 5.5/10; Nutrition: 4.5/10; Value: 9/10
Super high-value bars. However, they taste mediocre and aren’t quite nutritional bangers either. Drop.
Macros: 220cal, 14P 25C 7F; Price: $0.99/bar
Taste: 4/10; Nutrition: 4/10; Value: 9/10
Also very cheap, but they taste pretty awful. If you don’t have taste buds and are bulking, these bars could be good pre-workout (high carb).
Macros: 360cal, 20P 41C 13F; Price: $1.50/bar
Taste: 8/10; Nutrition: 3.5/10; Value: 9.5/10
These bars are very cheap ($1.50 isn’t much for how big & calorically rich they are) and taste amazing. Macros are trash. Really makes no sense to be eating this bar while trying to maintain or cut, but if you’re bulking, great option.
Macros: 240cal, 20P 23C 10F, 10g sugar alcohol; $1.25/bar
Taste: 6.5/10; Nutrition: 6/10; Value: 8/10
Some of their flavors are actually pretty fire. This was one of the first protein bars I started to eat way too many of in high school. Sadly I think they’re beat out on taste by some recent additions to the protein bar game that have equal or better macros.
Macros: 140cal, 10P 20C 5F; $1.50/bar
Taste: 6/10; Nutrition: 4/10; Value: 3/10
Macros: 190cal, 8P 28C 6F; ~$1/bar
Taste: 5/10; Nutrition: 2/10; Value: 6/10
These are like adult Quaker ‘chewy’ bars. Spoiler, they’re still way too sweet, don’t fill you up at all, and have bad macros.
Macros: 290cal, 20P 29C 11F; ~$1.50/bar
Taste: 6.5/10; Nutrition: 4.5/10; Value: 7/10
Pretty satisfying option, especially if you can find them at a good price (sometimes $1 - $1.25 per bar). They’re high sugar (20g) but pretty good for pre-workout or a lunch replacement.
Macros: 290cal, 30P 25C 8F; $1.60/bar
Taste: 3.5/10; Nutrition: 8/10; Value: 6/10
These bars give me Pure Protein vibes. Taste pretty shit, but have a lot of protein and are filling. Friendly for taste bud-less populations.
Macros: 230cal, 20P 23C 6F, 6g sugar alcohol; ~$1.50/bar
Taste: 8/10; Nutrition: 6.5/10; Value: 5.5/10
Probably my favorite bar. They taste like Rice Krispy treats. At 20g/230cal, they have a competitive protein ratio. They’re fun to eat and relatively satiating. They don’t break the bank. I’m not sponsored, but I’ll definitely come up with more positive adjectives if you want @BSN. All flavors are good, Birthday Cake and Peanut Butter are my favs. Credit to @Jason Zhao for introducing me to these bars.
Macros: 220cal, 15P 29C 7F, 11g fiber; $1.67/bar
Taste: 8/10; Nutrition: 4/10; Value: 5/10
Holistically pretty good, and probably your best bet if you’re vegan. Approved by a reputable animal product avoider (@Eleanor Xiao). Peanut Butter / any non-fruity flavors are ideal.
Macros: 170cal, 16P 17C 5F; $1.50/bar
Taste: 0.5/10; Nutrition: 6.5/10; Value: 4.5/10
These bars aren’t even popular (in the #800s or so of Amazon). I just put them on my list to vent my frustration. When I first attempted to munch on this bar, pretty sure I almost chipped a tooth. Not sure if I got a bad batch or something, but shit was hard as a rock. Couldn’t even return them, can’t believe jeff bozo profited off my dental pain
Macros: 150cal, 15P 15C 6F, 9g fiber; $2/bar
Taste: 9.5/10; Nutrition: 6/10; Value: 2/10
This bar is actually just a Rice Krispy treat, not “like a Rice Krispy treat” à la BSN. Miraculously, it also has a good amount of protein. Unfortunately they’re way too expensive for their tiny size so I can’t justify buying them :(
That was a lot of bars. To sum it up, here’s what I would consider buying, depending on your needs and goals.
Winner: Quest Bars (Recommended Flavors: Vanilla Almond Crunch, Choc. PB) Runner-Up: ONE Bars (Recommended Flavors: Peanut Butter Pie, Birthday Cake)
PowerCrunch Protein Energy Bars (Recommended Flavors: Peanut Butter Fudge, Triple Chocolate)
good! Snacks Vegan Protein Bar (Recommended Flavors: Choc. PB, PB)
RXBAR (Recommended Flavors: “Peanut Butter & Berries” ← yes that’s one flavor, if it seems weird think again, it’s basically PB&J energy) (Disclaimer: As a tree nut-allergic, I have not tried other flavors.)
BSN Protein Crisp Bars (Recommended Flavors: Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter) (Disclaimer: the bars are kinda expensive on Amazon at the moment, guess demand’s been high lately. you can typically find at least one of the flavors for $1.50/bar if you wait for a bit.)
I have weaker opinions about powders than bars. I don’t think it matters as much what powder you buy. While macros, taste, and texture can vary dramatically for protein bars, these variables tend to be similar for the top few brands of protein powder. However, there are a few key points I’d like to convey:
Taking these points together, my personal recommendation is to buy MyProtein Impact Whey Isolate. They’re always having some discount or the other, so make sure you find at least a 45% off code before buying. Once you do, a 5.5lb bag is 2¢/gram compared to e.g. 2.8¢/g for Optimum Nutrition (probably the most popular bro brand). Also, MyProtein isolate has a very high protein percentage (around 90% calories from protein), mixes well (I’ll typically use almond milk, but water’s fine), and has no weird aftertastes, so that’s why it’s my pick.
Please vocalize any disagreements with these takes. I can argue about this stuff all day.