11 best protein bars that aid muscle recovery and actually taste good

Boost your energy after working out with a snack that delivers on both nutrition and taste

Alice Barraclough
Monday 10 May 2021 16:00
<p>No longer reserved just for top athletes, protein has crept into every boutique gym and inner-city kitchen</p>

No longer reserved just for top athletes, protein has crept into every boutique gym and inner-city kitchen

Let’s be honest, we’ve all tasted a protein bar at some point in our adult lives and thought, “that is actually disgusting”. 

But protein – which provides the building blocks for essential stuff such as cells, muscles, bone, nails, hormones and enzymes – has achieved a hallowed status in the health and fitness world, mainly due to its ability to help you recover after a vigorous workout and gain muscle mass.

It’s big business. Just look at the supermarket shelves: extra-protein Weetabix, protein powders that come in every flavour you can think of, protein shakes, protein bars, protein yoghurts. We can’t get enough of the stuff.

No longer reserved just for top athletes, protein has crept into every boutique gym and inner-city kitchen alike. Globally, the protein bar market size was valued at $4.66bn (£3.29bn) in 2019 and is expected to reach $7.03bn (£4.97bn) by 2027.

Over the years we have tried many protein bars and, without fail, two things happen. The first is that they taste gross – like a mixture between earwax and chalk. And, second, they get shunned to the back of the snack drawer, never to be seen again (until they go past their sell-by date and end up in the bin, of course).

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On our quest to find a protein bar that actually tasted, well, nice – while also being healthy enough to serve as a filling post-workout boost (and not just a glorified chocolate bar), we tested some of the biggest names in the market to find protein bars that deliver on taste, high protein and low sugar.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Grenade carb killa chocolate chip salted caramel

Grenade’s Carb Killa franchise is well-known and for good reason. Perfect before a spin class or post-strength workout to aid your muscle recovery (or even just with a cup of coffee), this delicious, triple-layered, chocolate-encased bar – with salted caramel and soft nougat filling – is packed with 20g protein and just 1.4g sugar (so it’s an ideal swap to a regular chocolate bar). Plus, Carb Killa bars are certified with the Informed Sport programme – so they’re suitable for use by drug-tested athletes.

We’re slowly making our way through all 12 of the epic flavours – but we just keep coming back to the salted caramel. We can’t believe something this delicious has hardly any sugar in – so if you’re looking for a high protein option, this is truly a tough bar to beat.

Tribe nut butter triple decker Doisy & Dam, 12 bars

If you like dark chocolate, you’ll love this. The Doisy & Dam special has three layers – a dark chocolate rice crispy layer at the bottom, followed by a thick layer of peanut butter and topped with dark chocolate and dark chocolate drops (basically smarties) in fun candy shells. It’s seriously yum for a protein bar – and firm restraint was needed to hold back from eating every bar in the box.

What we love about Tribe – apart from the fact that all its products are gluten free and vegan (this bar uses pea protein) is that 1p from every product sold goes to the brand’s charity, whose mission is to end modern slavery. So you can refuel after your run with a product derived from nature that gives back, too.

Barebells double bite caramel crisp, 12 bars

Barebells was probably the first brand that made us realise that protein bars didn’t have to taste chalky and gross. So if you’re looking for a bar that’s low in sugar (2g) and high in protein (17g) without compromising on taste, this should be your go-to.

We’re already fans of both the creamy caramel fudge flavour (£29.90 for 12, Barbells.co.uk) and white chocolate almond (£29.90 for 12, Barbells.co.uk) but its latest release – the double bite bars in caramel crisp – basically taste just like those Tunnock’s milk chocolate caramel wafer biscuits we used to have at school. They’re also separated into two “bite-size” chunks, which are supposedly for sharing. But we’d rather keep both to ourselves.

Clif Bar white chocolate macadamia nut

Filling and delicious, this oaty plant-based protein bar pairs roasted macadamia nuts with creamy white chocolate chunks. The sugar content might be higher – and protein content also lower – than some of the other protein bars on this list, but on our journey to find bars that actually tasted yum, this came up trumps.

The elevated sugar also means they’re perfect for any high-energy sports – we love chucking them in the back pocket of a jersey on long cycle rides – they’re ideal for that on-the-go pick-me-up.

If you like the brand, but you want more protein for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass then try the Clif builders bar (£25.38 for 12, Amazon.co.uk) which offers a punchy 20 grams of protein instead – but be warned, they definitely don’t taste as nice.

Misfits speculoos protein bar

If you’re a fan of Biscoff spread, you’ll most likely love this. Misfit’s plant-powered, triple-layered, chocolate-coated speculoos bar has an impressive 15g of protein and tastes like those amazing stroopwafel biscuits from Amsterdam. Vegan and with just 1g of sugar, there’s not much to complain about here – it’s truly a treat for the taste buds. Yum.

Science in Sport protein in 20 double chocolate brownie

If you’re an athlete, you’ll already be familiar with Science in Sport (SiS) and its extensive range of electrolyte energy gels, which are incredibly popular among marathon runners. SiS works alongside scientists and athletes to create performance-driven products designed to push your body faster and further. Professional athletes gobble these bars down mainly because they are made to the most exacting sports nutrition standards – they are very low in sugar (0.6g) and pack a hefty protein punch (20g).

So while this bar gets top marks for nutrition, you can definitely taste the difference (and lack of sugar). They’re a bit on the dry side and reminded us a bit more of old-school protein bars texture-wise – great if you’re just looking for something that will provide muscle repair post-workout, not so great if you’re looking for a sweet tooth hit.

Kind dark chocolate orange almond bar

A whopping 53 per cent of this gluten-free bar health bar is made up of nuts – it’s high in fibre and has no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. And it’s delicious as well as healthy. Drizzled with dark chocolate, this nutty treat has a hint of zesty orange peel – we often find ourselves reaching for a Kind bar as a mid-afternoon snack because it’s actually enjoyable to eat. And we all know that when you are satisfied with what you eat or snack on, you are less likely to overeat and you’ll stay fuller for longer. For those looking for a little more than 5g of protein, check out Kind’s crunchy peanut butter protein bar (£1.99, Tesco.co.uk) for a delicious plant-protein hit.

Trek Power millionaire shortbread

We’ve often picked up a chocolate-coated Trek flapjack while waiting in the checkout queue at Sainsbury’s – but did you know that Trek also has a line of protein-packed snacks? The millionaire shortbread is probably our favourite – a gluten-free, plant-based vegan bar with an equal carb-to-protein ratio. It’s tasty too.

Aside from the natural ingredients and comparatively high protein content of these bars, this is an ideal protein bar for people who need a snack that will fill them up, help cut cravings and make you feel full for longer.

RXBar chocolate coconut, 12 bars

Very chewy, sticky and quite dense, these have a very different texture to the rest of the bars on this list, but what they lack in sweet chocolate casing and crunch, they deliver on nutrition. Gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians, the bars – which come in eight different flavours – are made up of only a few ingredients, including egg whites (a high-quality complete protein), dates (for fibre, potassium and antioxidants) and nuts. There are no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives – and we like the minimalistic packaging too.

My Protein flapjack

This flapjack bar is very moreish – it tastes great, the texture is buttery soft and, with 20g of protein, it’s got a lot more protein than many other bars out there. The calorie count is the highest on this list – but that means it’s great for boosting your energy mid-cycle or run.

Those who want something low in sugar should probably look away now, but these oaty golden syrup bars are among the tastiest on sale at the moment – in fact, it’s the kind of snack that you’ll probably want to keep reaching for after demolishing the first packet.

Beachbar chocolate almond crunch, 15 bars

If you like a crunch to your protein bar, the chocolate almond offering from Beachbar definitely gives you that. It’s basically like a Rice Krispy bar – with good consistency and high protein. This bar didn’t blow us away, but some of the flavours are quite enticing – for example, peanut butter chocolate and cherry almond. And we liked that it ticks both the gluten-free and vegan boxes, too. It’s less chewy than the likes of Grenade and Barebell – and less sweet.

The verdict: Protein bars

We found it incredibly hard to rank these in order, as several of these bars met our number-one requirement: a protein bar that doesn’t taste like one. Our favourites include Barebells, Tribe and MyProtein flapjack – but it’s Grenade’s carb killa chocolate chip salted caramel bar that earned our best pick acclaim – proving that it’s actually possible to make delicious treats that are high in protein and low in sugar.

For some animal-friendly favourites, read our review of the 8 best vegan protein powders

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