Whether you're participating in the couch to 5k, training for the marathon or taking advantage of all your newfound spare time to really hone your fitness routine, nutrition plays a vital role.
The importance of nourishing your body before, after and during cannot be underestimated, particularly as you start to build on the intensity and rack up those additional miles.
Protein bars are often hailed as the easiest and quickest way to refuel especially when you are on the go but if not done right, they can do more harm than good.
Ashly Volkert, product nutritionist at Eat Natural explains, “Protein is essential for all of us. It’s both fuel and building material, powering some of our body’s essential functions. It is required for building and repairing muscle and plays an important role in how the body responds to exercise.”
In the last year alone, the market has exploded with protein bar variations, growing by 82 per cent according to IRI Worldwide. Now brands are aiming to create protein-rich snacks that give you the replenishment that you need but actually taste good. It is so easy to go wrong.
Some options on the market can be rock solid, extremely dense and contain so much sugar, there was no point in doing the workout in the first place. Chemical flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, E-numbers and sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol may have a lower calorie count but aren't considered to be as healthy as less processed options.
According to Volkert, the bars should contain “around 200 kcal (850 kJ) per snack for women and 250 kcal (1050 kJ) per snack for men to satisfy you without promoting unwanted weight gain”. She advices, “There are lots and lots of protein bars out there now, but a large majority contain, extra fat, added sugars, salt and artificial ingredients – always read the labels, choose carefully and keep portion sizes sensible.”
These bars don’t need to be simply functional, it is actually possible to enjoy their taste as well as reap the nutritional benefits. We’ve done the hard work for you and sampled an endless selection of protein bars to find the most palatable among them. There are gluten-free, vegan, keto and paleo options available.
See the best.
Barebells Cookies & Cream
Protein: 20gSugar: 1.7gContains gluten and dairy
If you consider protein bars to be a tough and unpleasant experience, Barebells is here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken. The brand offers a range of completely delicious bars and shakes that make it tastier than ever to reap the benefits of the appetite curbing post workout snack.
The functional food label have eight flavours of bars, each as delicious as the next. Crunchy Fudge, Lemon Curd, Hazelnut & Nougat, White Chocolate Almond, Salty Peanut, Caramel Cashew, Coconut-Choco and our favourite — the Cookies & Cream.
With all the bars, but particularly the latter, you really wouldn’t know it was a protein supplement. Not overly heavy or chewy, but very filling and actually enjoyable to finish. As a low sugar, high protein option — this is a tough one to beat.
If shakes are more of your thing, the brand have newly launched a range of creamy options in Vanilla, Strawberry, Banana and Chocolate that will rival your favourite Nesquik.
Huel Bar v3.1 Raspberry and White Chocolate
Protein: 12gSugar: 8.2g Vegan, dairy and gluten free
Huel has designed these protein snacks to give you balanced nutrition with every bite. The plant-based bars contain carbs, fats, protein and 26 vitamins and minerals, while being vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-free.
There are a range of flavours; chocolate, chocolate orange, coffee caramel, salted caramel, peanut butter and the latest - and our personal favourite - raspberry and white chocolate. In contrast to dense protein goodies of time gone by, these have a more biscuity texture that is soft and chewy.
They are very filling and crafted from sustainable ingredients like oats, peas, rice, and more.
The Protein Bakery Millionaires
Protein: 11gSugar: 9.4g
These are not your typical protein snack. For starters, each of the bars are crafted as fan-favourite treats like Millionaires Shortbread, Brownie and Jaffa Slice.
Indulge yourself with these guilt-free snacks that have a delicious flavour, while being brimming with protein, fibre, and low in sugar.
For the Shortbread, you will find the signature caramel taste layered between a protein-packed biscuity base with a chocolate topping. The caramel is replaced with a Jaffa Jam for the classic cake, while you can expect chocolatey goodness with rich Belgian chocolate for the Brownie with a white chocolate drizzle.
RXBAR Peanut Butter Chocolate
Protein: 12gSugar: 14gDairy-freeGluten-freeNo added sugar, no soy
The RX bars use only a few simple ingredients detailed on the minimalistic packaging to create its ever-growing range of bars. There are five flavours; Chocolate Sea Salt, Blueberry, Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate and Coconut Chocolate. Gluten free and suitable for vegetarians, the bars are made up of natural protein sources likes nuts, egg whites and dates without artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
The texture is quite dense and very chewy, but the bars are tasty and avoid any artificial sweetness commonly found in protein snacks. Our personal favourite is the Peanut Butter Chocolate — very filling and worth considering for work and travel when you need a densely packed pick-me-up.
Eat Natural Protein Packed Bars
Protein: 11.7gSugar: 8.3gGluten-freeContains honey
In our taste tests these bars proved to be a substantial tasty, nutty snack that resembles a classic cereal bar, while the salted caramel and chocolate bits made good work to satisfy our sweet tooth.
They are fairly high in protein at just over 11 grams and are suitable for vegetarians but not vegans due to the inclusion of honey. However, the brand has launched a 100% gluten free and vegan option.
For your much-needed protein boost, Eat Natural use loads plant-based sources, nuts, seeds and grains that also offer up a hit of fibre, vitamins and minerals. There are three flavours to choose from; Peanuts & Chocolate, Salted Caramel & Peanuts and Chocolate & Orange.
Vive Peanut Butter
Protein: 10gSugar: 10gâGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan
Not your typical health product, the Vive bars are coated in dark Belgian chocolate to satisfy your sweet treat fix, while also containing 10g of protein and 6.8g of fibre.
There are three flavours, Hazelnut, Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel that taste more like a chocolate bars and make a welcomed break from some of the other, denser products in the market. They are made from dates, nuts, and organic cacao from the Peruvian Amazon with pea and rice protein to build muscle growth (and has been found to lower blood pressure).
Our favourite is the Hazelnut with its silky smooth texture and the added bonus of a nutty crunch.â
Clif White Chocolate Macadamia Bar
Protein: 10gSugar: 21gâDairy-freeVeganContains Soy
The bars are very substantial with a cereal like texture and are extremely filling. They combine plant-based protein as well as fat, fibre and carbohydrates and are suitable to consume before and after a workout.
These are designed for high energy and so the sugar content is much more elevated than some of the other protein bars on this list but they also have the most expansive of flavours.
You can pick between the Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Blueberry, Peanut Butter Banana with Dark Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Almond Fudge, Alpine Muesli Mix or our personal favourite, the White Chocolate Macadamia — which contains organic oats, Vitamin B, fibre and of course protein with the delicious combination of roasted nuts with the subtle, sweet addition of white chocolate chunks.â The range has extended to the coffee and the sweet and salty collection with the perfect balance of flavours.
TREK Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Protein Nut Bar
Protein: 10.3gSugar: 11.7gGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan
At Trek, our favourite of the protein-packed snacks come in two varieties; the Nut bars and the Flapjacks. Turning the traditional British treat on its head with gluten-free oats and a two to one carb-to-protein ratio that aids in muscle recovery — these are very tasty indeed.
The Protein Nut Bars are vegan, low in sugar and get their hit of protein from the likes of roasted peanuts and the slow release of Omega-6 — which help cut your cravings and keep you fuller for longer.
They both contain natural ingredients with plant-based protein, fruits and nuts. While there are many varieties in both ranges, our personal favourite has got to be the Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt that contains the complimentary flavours of roasted peanuts, almonds, chocolate chips and a dash of sea salt. Yum.
Myprotein Birthday Cake Bar
Protein: 20gSugar: 2.4gContains gluten and dairy
Treat yourself before or after your workout to a tasty snack that will always put a smile on your face like the Birthday Cake bar from Myprotein. When you first look at the bright pink and yellow snack bar, you will be surprised to learn that there is actually only a minimal amount of sugar and a hell of a lot of protein so you can enjoy it guilt-free. The delicious bar is coated in frosting with sprinkles, while also aiding your body in its post-workout recovery. Delicious and perfect for those with a sincere sweet tooth. The brand is also offering Chocolate and Cookie Dough, White Chocolate & Raspberry, Rocky Road, Oats & Whey Protein Bar, Vegan Carb Crusher and Pea-Nut Square.
Kind Nuts & Spices Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar
Protein: 5.6gSugar: 5.4gGluten-freeDairy-freeKosher
A treat for your tastebuds, the delicious and nutritious Kind bars have 40 per cent less sugar than their counterparts and are also high in fibre with 7 grams total per bar. Our flavour favourite? The Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt flavour is the perfect mix of sweet and salty where almonds and peanuts, a sprinkle of sea salt, honey and a chocolate drizzle combine to create a mouth-watering treat.
The bars are gluten and dairy free, have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and are also kosher.
The Primal Pantry Double Espresso Bar
Protein: 15gSugar: 21gâGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan 146mg of natural caffeine
The Primal Pantry have replaced the need for artificial sweeteners and questionable ingredients that do more harm than good with the inclusion of hemp in their bars — nutritious plant protein that helps the body build and repair post-workout. There are a huge range of flavours available; Coconut & Macadamia, Hazelnut & Cocoa, Almond & Cashew, Cocoa Brownie, Coconut, Lemon & Poppy Seed, Cocoa Orange, Mixed Berry, Cocoa and Double Espresso, all of which are vegan, gluten-free and paleo friendly without the use of preservatives or additives.
The Double Espresso bar is like a sweet, sticky coffee — a bit dry at first but after a few seconds the coffee flavour takes over you and it all goes down a smooth treat. Overall, the flavours are strong throughout the range, particularly in the coffee-flavoured variation.â
Getting your protein fix need not be an unpleasant experience and Barbells delicious, low sugar protein bars have proven that it’s possible to make tasty treats that are still high in protein and low in sugar and so have earned our best pick acclaim.
For a gluten-free option the Vive peanut butter bars are a great find and a tasty fix — they're also vegan.