We know how overwhelming it can be to go to the grocery store and see an entire aisle of protein bar options. You may wonder, “Which ones should I choose to eat before training? After training? During training? Does it even matter?” The short answer is yes it does. With a billion-dollar market size that is only expected to grow through the years, the options for protein bars will only increase. Yet, not all protein bars will contain beneficial ingredients for athletes. Read on for more information on the best protein bars for teenage athletes as well as our recommended choices.
11 Best Protein Bars for Teenage Athletes
The best protein bars for teenage athletes offer high-quality protein, carbohydrates, and important nutrients, while also having a desirable taste and texture. Opt for protein bars with 15-20 grams of protein as snacks or immediately post-workout if you won’t have a meal within 2-3 hours. Carbohydrates and protein are needed together to support optimal recovery from workouts so we recommend bars that don’t boast low-carb claims and contain carbohydrates from whole food sources versus artificial additives. It’s also a good idea to limit ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, most sugar alcohols, and high doses of fibers such as inulin and chicory root, since frequent or high consumption can cause digestive issues. Since most protein bars contain a lower-than-ideal amount of carbohydrates for growing athletes, pair one with juice, a piece of fruit, crackers, or pretzels to help replenish muscle energy stores.
For student-athletes, the best protein bars are also free of banned substances! Choosing bars that have a nutrition facts panel over a supplements facts panel is one way to guard against this. If your favorite protein bar is regulated as a supplement, just be sure it is NSF certified for Sport or Informed Sport Certified. If you’re looking for specific protein bar options, check out our recommendations below.
11 Protein Bars that are Sports Dietitian Approved
Clif Builder – For the best bang for your buck, we recommend Clif Builder bars because they are high in protein and lower in cost compared to other bars. They clock in at 20 grams of protein, which comes mainly from high-quality soy protein, and provide similar amounts of carbohydrates to help replenish energy after exercise. This makes this a perfect bar for a post-workout snack or any time of the day aside from immediately before training.
PRObar Protein Bar – These bars are one of the best protein bars for teenage athletes because similar to the Clif Builder, they provide 20 grams of high-quality soy protein and carbohydrates. This bar can be consumed post-workout to help restore energy after training.
Rx Bar AM – The AM version of the Rx bars provides additional energy from carbohydrates via oats and honey. The texture and taste are fantastic. These bars are great for an hour before morning training or you can pair them with a tall glass of dairy or soy milk to increase protein further and get enough energy for a small on-the-go mini-meal.
KIND Protein Bar – This protein version of KIND’s classic nut bars provides great taste and crunchy texture. They contain 12 grams of protein per bar making them ideal for having as a snack throughout the day (i.e. anything aside from immediately before or after training).
Perfect Snacks Peanut Butter Bar – These bars are tasty and clock in 340 calories and 17 grams of protein. This could be a great snack before bed for those looking to gain muscle since muscle protein synthesis requires both energy and protein, and a key time for it to occur is during sleep. It can also help bridge the time between two larger meals, or be a good option to pair with fruit and milk for an on-the-go breakfast.
Honey Stinger Nut + Seed Bar – These bars contain 14 grams of protein, some sourced from whey but also from nuts and seeds which help offer a great balance of other essential nutrients. Their fruit and mushroom blend also adds additional antioxidants. It has a great texture, in part due to the honey caramel. This is one of the best protein bars for teenage athletes who bring bars around in the car, their backpack, or sports bag since it isn’t coated in chocolate, so won’t melt and get messy.
Garden of Life Performance Protein Bar – These plant-based protein bars provide 20 grams of high-quality protein and carbohydrates. Since they are higher in fiber than most other bars, make sure to consume these after training or give yourself enough time before a workout to digest and avoid any GI distress. They are also made without dairy or soy ingredients, making these a great option for those with milk or soy allergies.
Aloha – These are one of the most delicious-tasting vegan protein bars available, no matter your flavor preference, due to the smooth texture. They provide 14 grams of protein, over 20% of the minimum recommended daily amount, making them one of the best protein bars for teenage athletes among vegan options.
GoMacro Bars – These bars are a great vegan option with an array of flavors that range from 9-12 grams of protein. We recommend the bars with the higher amount of protein, but their carbohydrate content is great for active individuals. Many people love the smooth texture they offer.
Orgain – Although smaller in size, these protein bars still provide 10 grams of vegan protein. They have a very smooth texture and a craveable taste with a size and nutrient profile great for the average generally active person.
Skout Organic Protein Bar – These bars have simple ingredients such as dates, nuts, and seeds and pack in 10 grams of protein. This bar will get you from one meal to the next with several tasty flavors and a satisfying nutrient profile. We recommend trying the Matcha Almond option for a flavor you won’t get from other brands.
Protein Bar FAQ
Are protein bars “healthy”?
No one food or product can be considered healthy or unhealthy as consuming it will not have a marked effect on your short or long-term health. An individual’s health also doesn’t come down to just food and exercise. On top of genetics and microbiome health, acute and chronic stressors as well as social determinants play a large role. Furthermore, what is healthy for one person may be unhealthy for another; health is very individualized and should account for both physical and mental factors.
Having said that, if you’re consuming protein bars on a frequent basis and have an option, we suggest more regularly choosing ones that list whole food ingredients such as nuts, seeds, and sweeteners such as dates or honey. This ensures they’re providing essential nutrients your body needs to function at its best.
A bar that works well for one person may not be best for another, too, so interpret this list of the “best” protein bars for teenage athletes with attention to your personal activity level and protein needs. If you maintain a high level of activity and have goals of gaining muscle or completing a marathon, for example, opt for protein bars with 15-20 grams as snacks. If however, you just exercise for general wellness, one with 10-15 may be fine for you between meals.
How many grams of protein should be in a bar?
At a minimum, we recommend 10 grams of protein for it to be considered a protein bar, but if it isn’t being consumed 60-90 minutes before training or on a competition day, you’ll want another protein source with that bar. For a simple snack, 15 grams may be the minimum, and if it’s after a workout where you won’t have a meal for 3 or so hours, grab one of the 20-gram bars mentioned. Read more here for information on adequate protein amounts surrounding training sessions.
It’s important to spread protein intake throughout the day if your goal is to optimize muscle recovery and repair, rather than just aim for a certain number of grams at the end of the day. This ensures protein can do its job as protein, versus being used as energy, once it is absorbed.
Should protein bars be low-carb?
Since carbohydrates and protein work together to support optimal recovery from workouts, we like to see carbohydrates and real sweetness versus low carbohydrate options and artificial sweeteners. If you eat a bar that contains very few carbohydrates, however, you can pair it with a piece of fruit, crackers, or pretzels to replenish muscle energy stores. Most protein bars do not offer a high amount of carbohydrates, so when working with student-athletes 1-1, we’re always discussing ways to easily add carbohydrates to them as an adequate snack.
Is it healthy to have a protein bar every day?
We recommend student athletes aim to get as much of their protein as possible from whole food sources. Those whole foods will also offer a variety of other nutrients, while also likely being more satisfying and cost-effective! Having said that, it’s better to grab a protein bar than to skip a meal or snack. On your busiest days, if you’re running from a lift to class, or need recovery fuel after an event while waiting for your team to finish, it may be okay in the short term. A protein bar or powder may be a convenient option to increase protein intake when the volume of food that needs to be consumed each day is so high, too.
What should one look for in a vegan protein bar?
For those who consume dairy, whey is a high-quality protein that research shows is effective for stimulating muscle repair and growth. If choosing a protein bar with plant protein, you’ll want to opt for soy or a blend of other proteins. While soy is considered high quality and a good alternative to whey, other plant proteins of a single source may be low in certain essential amino acids or not provide a high enough dose of leucine, the amino acid that has been found to trigger muscle protein synthesis.
What are the best allergen-free protein bars?
If you have a food allergy, it’s important to double-check the ingredients list before consuming any bar. Some bars can be free of most allergens but can still contain one or two known allergens. Garden of Life’s Chocolate Fudge bar is free of all allergens except for almonds and its Peanut Butter Chocolate bar is free of all but peanuts. Orgain’s protein bars are free of all but almonds. ProBar Coffee Crunch bars are free of all but soy. GoMacro’s Sunflower Seed bars are free of all allergens but manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts.