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Not all protein bars are created equal. If you’re a woman, then you must consider your health, fitness goals, and even your lifestyle choices when you are shopping for protein bars.
The truth is, some protein bars are better for nutrition, others for weight loss, and still others for muscle building.
The good news?
We’ve done the research to help you choose the best protein bars for women.
Whether you’re looking to build muscle, lose weight, or boost your energy, we’ve got you covered. To start, we will explore six factors to look for when choosing a protein bar.
Then we will talk about when you should eat them. And finally, we will give nine recommendations of the best protein bars for women.
Let’s get to it!
Don't have time to read the entire review?
If you're a busy person who doesn't have time to read this entire review, we've simplified everything. Here is a table to provide you with a quick rating of our favorite protein bars for women.
|Best Overall Choice Protein Bar for Women: Built Bar||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Runner-Up Option: Quest Bar by Quest Nutrition||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best Clean-Eating Protein Bar: ALOHA Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Plant-Based Protein Bar||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Most Budget-Friendly Option: KIND Bars, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best Vegan Protein Bar: GoMacro Protein Pleasure Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best for Gluten-Free, Paleo, or Keto Diets: One Protein Bars||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best Tasting Protein Bar: RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best for Meal Replacement: ZonePerfect Nutrition Snack Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
|Best for No-Added Sugar: Naturally Clean Eats Protein Bars||CLICK HERE FOR PRICE|
What to Look for in a Healthy Protein Bar
Rule of thumb: The fewer the ingredients, the better.
1. High-quality protein.
Protein gives your body energy, regulates your mood, and improves your cognitive function. While protein is very common and is in many of the foods that you eat, it can still be a misunderstood part of one's diet. The truth is, when it comes to making the healthiest protein choices for your overall well-being, quality trumps quantity.
When it comes to protein bars, because you are not eating protein from whole-food sources, it is important to be sure that the protein in the bar is derived from high-quality sources like milk (which comes in the form of whey or casein) or eggs.
While some people find soy to be a high-quality protein (especially people who follow a vegan diet), others believe that soy products in general are too contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and hormones. Organic soy is preferred, but some people still prefer to stay away. If you are a vegan and want to avoid soy, nuts, brown rice protein, and hemp protein are good options. Low-quality sources of protein include collagen and gelatin.
2. Low sugar content.
Some protein bars contain so much sugar that they are essentially glorified candy bars. Nobody needs to add sugar to their diet, and most people actually should eat a lot less sugar than they do. If you are health conscious, want to maintain a healthy weight, and want your teeth to remain healthy, make sure you eat protein bars that do not contain added sugar.
Food manufacturers use a lot of different names for sugar, which can make it difficult to spot it on an ingredient list. Some common alternative names for sugar are sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, and glucose.
Sugar can also disrupt your energy levels, make you hungry, and make you sick. There is a clear relationship between sugar and several diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Sugar is also full of empty calories that may give you short-term energy, but don't provide your body with any vitamins or minerals. The truth is, your body has to use vitamins and minerals to digest sugar, so you're actually robbing your body of nutrition when you eat sugar.
3. Low calorie content.
Consider the total calorie count in your protein bar. If you are trying to lose weight, eating a 400-calorie protein bar on a regular basis isn't going to help you too much. You'd be much better off saving those 400 calories for whole foods such as fish, brown rice, and vegetables.
But if you are trying to build lean muscle mass and you want to increase your caloric intake, a 400-calorie protein bar might be right for you. It's important to always look at the amount of calories in your protein bar because of the high variability between products. Mistaking one bar for another could quickly undo any fat loss progress for the day, or offer you minimal benefit when it comes to building muscle.
4. Low carb content.
You also want to look at the carb content of your protein bar, especially with all of the low-carb options out there today. If you want to lose fat, you don't want to get a bar that has over 30 grams of carbs in it. If you're eating the bar right after you work out, then you can bump up the carbohydrates a bit since your main goal at this time is to replenish carbohydrates.
When it comes to carbs, you also want to look at the carb-to-protein ratio because you want to make sure that the protein content is high enough in comparison to the carb content. If your bar has a low protein-to-carb ratio, you aren't benefitting your body much more than if you were to eat a cereal bar.
Your best scenario for fat loss is to have a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs. If you want to build muscle or use your bar as a post-workout recovery snack, you'll want a bar that is closer to a 1:2 ratio.
5. Contain healthy fats, with very minimal saturated fats.
You want to find a bar that contains some healthy fat because this will make the carbs release more slowly into your bloodstream, so the bar will keep you satisfied for longer.
But you want to watch the amount of saturated or trans fat that the bar contains, ideally keeping those amounts at zero. Having a good bar with a healthy amount of fat will benefit your diet plan, and will be a smarter option than eating a granola bar that that may contain trans fats.
6. No artificial sweeteners and no sugar alcohols.
Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can have adverse side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and gas. These chemicals are also not a real food source, so your body becomes confused when it tries to digest them.
Because you want to stick with bars with the fewest ingredients, aim for those that come naturally sweetened by ingredients that you recognize, such as honey or dried fruit.
When Is the Right Time to Eat Protein Bars?
Remember that protein bars are not supposed to totally replace the “real food” in your diet.
It is commonly said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Those who take the time to eat breakfast are more likely to be in a healthy weight range than those who skip breakfast. Eating breakfast also prevents you from having mid-morning hunger and food cravings.
But many people claim to not have time for breakfast. Instead of skipping this important meal, you can eat a protein bar on your commute. This way, you can start your day in a healthy way, no matter how rushed you are. Also, the boost of protein in the morning will help you get going with your day and keep you satisfied for hours.
The truth is, most snacks are pretty unhealthy. People tend to reach for candy, chips, donuts, and other simple carbs, which will all harm your healthy eating habits. But eating a healthy protein bar can help reduce your hunger and carry you over until your next meal.
It can be tough to make healthy food choices when you're hungry, but if you have a protein bar on hand, you can have a healthy snack that will keep you satisfied until you can eat a more substantial meal.
You can eat a protein bar in place of a meal, but it is important to not do this for every meal. Because protein bars are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, and also contain vitamins and minerals, they can be considered to be a small yet healthy meal if you are in a pinch and can't get a meal of whole foods in.
But it is always best to get your protein, vitamins, and minerals from whole-food sources if you can. Protein bars are a great substitute if you are out and about or low on time.
4. Before Exercise
If you want to have some extra energy before a workout, a protein bar can be a good option. Eating a protein bar one to two hours before you exercise will allow you to work out longer and harder than if you were to try to work out on an empty stomach. In this case, a higher-carb bar may be the best option, so look for bars with 20 or more grams of carbs for this purpose.
5. After Exercise
Once you finish working out, your body needs something to help with recovery. Because exercise leads to muscle breakdown, the quicker you can give your muscles protein, the sooner they will begin to repair themselves. In order to not delay your recovery after a workout, keep a protein bar in your gym bag to have on hand for as soon as you're finished exercising.
Now that you know what you're looking for in a protein bar, and when you can eat them, let's look at the nine healthiest options that are on the market today for women.
9 Best Protein Bars for Women (the Healthiest Options for 2023)
1. Best Overall Choice Protein Bar for Women: Built Bar
Built Bar focuses on exceptionally nutritious protein bars that have incredibly delicious flavors. Built Bars taste more like your favorite candy bars than like a typical protein bar. They are high in protein and fiber, low in carbs, calories, and sugars, and have no GMOs or artificial ingredients. They are a great choice for women with sensitivities, because they are gluten-free, and have delicious flavors with or without nuts. You can choose from dozens of incredible flavors, or order combination boxes to try a variety of flavors, knowing you are getting great protein and taste with every bar.
Built Bars use whey protein isolate to fortify their bars, because it is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, is highly digestible, and has a mild flavor. Built Bar's whey protein isolate does not contain casein or lactose, so it's a dairy product that is perfect for people who are sensitive to dairy.
Whey protein isolate also blends well with other flavors, rather than having a taste that needs to be masked by other ingredients. When mixed with the high quality, perfectly tempered dark chocolate used in Built Bar's chocolate flavors, the whey lends a delicious flavor similar to a high quality dessert.
While chocolate does add some sugars to a protein bar, the amount of fiber and protein in each bar lowers the glycemic index of the sugars, reducing or eliminating blood sugar spikes. The bars are made with natural flavors, with no coloring, wax, or artificial preservatives.
Built Bars are backed by a satisfaction guarantee and will refund the price of your first box if you don't like the flavor. However, because there are so many flavors and people have different preferences, it's a great idea to start by ordering a mixed box. You can get a mixed box with 18 bars of 15 of their most popular flavors or build your own box of 18 bars with whatever flavors you want to try.
2. Runner-Up Option: Quest Bar by Quest Nutrition
These are the best bars for people who are trying to lose weight. These protein bars are known for tasting great and still maintaining their nutritional integrity. Each flavor has at least 20 grams of whey protein and under seven net carbs. They are made with ingredients that are both scientifically beneficial and metabolically sound.
Every bar also has at least 13 grams of fiber, which is important in keeping your appetite satisfied and slowing down your digestion. Quest bars can give you up to 25% of your recommended daily fiber intake. They're a great snack for anyone, and the best option for people with serious fitness goals.
3. Best Clean-Eating Protein Bar: ALOHA Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Plant-Based Protein Bar
This is the best choice if you’re looking for a value-for-money protein bar that provides clean ingredients, great flavor, and support for your daily nutritional needs.
ALOHA’s protein bars are made from high-quality ingredients that are USDA certified organic and plant based. This product is great for vegans and vegetarians. This is also an awesome snack or meal replacement for those who are sensitive to gluten or on a paleo diet.
The company is committed to helping the planet and promoting better health. They have pulled out all the stops to provide you with a great-tasting protein bar that’s organic, high in fiber, free from dairy products, and without artificial sweeteners.
This product’s protein comes from only two organic sources: brown rice and pumpkin seeds. Everything is natural. The protein bars from ALOHA get their sweetness from monk fruit, a natural sweetener that offers a host of health benefits.
The bar provides 14 grams of protein and 10 grams of dietary fiber, making it a filling, gut-friendly, guilt-free snack.
Because it’s made from whole foods, this protein bar supplies you with sustained energy longer, minus the undesirable effects of a sugar rush and the corresponding crash common in other protein bars laden with sugars and artificial flavors.
4. Most Budget-Friendly Option: KIND Bars, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt
These are the best overall bars if you are trying to build muscle. They are made with whole ingredients like nuts, fruits, honey, spices, and a drizzle of dark chocolate.
This bar contains plenty of fiber, six grams of protein, and only five grams of sugar. They're gluten-free, GMO-free, and kosher. These bars have no trans fat, have low sodium, and are low on the glycemic index scale. KIND bars are a satisfying and indulgent snack that are perfect to keep in your bag and grab in between meals.
5. Best Vegan Protein Bar: GoMacro Protein Pleasure Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
If you follow a vegan diet, this is the best bar for you. GoMacro's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip protein bar gives you your chocolate fix, minus the fat. The flavor of sweet almond butter with mild carob makes a delicious and guilt-free snack.
The protein blend used in these bars is plant-based and easily digested, allergy-friendly, and vegan. GoMacro bars use only ingredients that are healthy for you and good for the planet, which is a commitment this company has made to the community.
6. Best for Gluten-Free, Paleo, or Keto Diets: One Protein Bars
One Brands was founded in 1999 by Ron McAfee. At that time, it was known as OhYeah! Nutrition. The company is based in Charlotte, North Carolina and is a pioneer in protein snack bars. It is committed to providing great-tasting protein bars made from high-quality ingredients. One Brands believes in giving you desert-level indulgence when it comes to protein bars.
These bars are the best option for women looking for nutritional support for a gluten-free or low-carb diet. Every One Bar is packed with a whopping 20 grams of protein. These bars easily provide support for lean muscle mass and physical strength. Plus, they contain only one gram of sugar, giving you a low glycemic index snack or meal replacement. You can easily indulge without the guilt, knowing that your One Bar has no adverse effects on your blood sugar levels. And with eight grams of fiber, it is ideal for healthy digestion.
This bar is great for a pre- or post-workout snack, providing a quick energy boost. The variety pack comes in several decadent flavors, such as birthday cake, peanut butter pie, and maple glazed donut.
7. Best Tasting Protein Bar: RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar, Maple Sea Salt
This is the best-tasting option. These bars combine sweet, all-natural maple flavor with sea salt, resulting in a bar that has just eight whole-food ingredients and 12 grams of protein. Each bar also has three grams of fiber and does not contain gluten. This specific flavor can be a healthy substitute for pancakes. They make a convenient breakfast, snack, or pre- or post-workout energy source.
The clean, simple ingredients in these bars include egg whites, dates, nuts, maple water, and sea salt. They are free from dairy, soy, artificial flavors, preservatives, fillers, and GMOs. RXBARs are great for people who are following a Whole 30 or kosher diet. Each bar has 220 calories, and all of the ingredients are laid out on the wrapper.
8. Best for Meal Replacement: ZonePerfect Nutrition Snack Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
If you are looking for a protein bar that will give you a boost of vitamins, this is the best bar for you. These taste great and offer an excellent source of protein for people who are on the go. ZonePerfect bars are designed by expert nutritionists to be both flavorful and rich in protein.
These bars do not contain any artificial sweeteners or flavors, and are made with almonds, dark chocolate, and real cocoa. Each bar has 12 grams of protein, plus 18 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, E, and selenium to help support immune health.
9. Best for No-Added Sugar: Naturally Clean Eats Protein Bars
Naturally Clean Eats is on a mission to create all-natural, real-food protein bars that taste as good as they are nutritious. Their bars have zero processed ingredients, flavors, sugars, sweeteners, additives, protein powders, or supplements. All their bars also have prebiotic fiber and spinach to add vitamins and promote digestive health. Naturally Clean Eats foods are vegan, kosher, verified non-GMO, gluten free, and C.L.E.A.N labeled. They are a no-added-sugar protein bar you can really trust and feel good about.
The Naturally Clean Eats Protein Bars are plant-based, kosher, and vegan, made with all real food. They have no gluten, no added sugar, no flavors, no additives, and no artificial ingredients.
These bars don't require refrigeration, and come in delicious flavors like peanut butter chocolate chip with hidden spinach, spiced chocolate chip cookie dough with hidden spinach, peanut butter and greens with hidden spinach and kale, salted dark chocolate brownie with hidden spinach, almond blueberry crumble with hidden spinach, and oatmeal raisin cookie with hidden spinach. You can also order a “rainbow box” which contains all 6 flavors.
Some protein bars are just better than others, and the right protein bar for you makes a great addition to a healthy diet. Try a protein bar from the list above and choose one depending on your fitness goals.