As an athlete and a foodie, I have come to appreciate how versatile and yummy protein bars can be. Unfortunately, most of the protein-bars on the market are made with whey: a byproduct of milk production. This means that many of these options are not accessible to people with dairy allergies or conflicting dietary preferences. 

Many companies have recently come out with plant-based protein bar options to satisfy a growing consumer demand for wider protein options. These plant-based options are often made with pea protein, nuts, or soy instead of milk derivatives. They can come in a variety of flavors from traditional chocolate/vanilla to cookie dough, carrot cake, and cinnamon roll.

Why eat protein bars? 

Protein bars are a good snack option for anyone who needs a boost in the middle of the day. Unlike other snack options, protein bars often contain more fats and (you guessed it) protein. This means you'll be more satisfied and feel more full than if you were to have a handful of potato chips. 

Protein bars gained popularity as an after-workout food because they supply the body with the protein it needs to rebuild muscle and refuel. They're also wicked convenient, so you can leave one in your backpack to enjoy on your way to class.  

When should you eat a protein bar? 

Protein bars can be enjoyed by everyone: from those with super-intense workout regimes to those who want a little more oomph in their snack game. But how important is it when it comes to timing? 

Even nutritionists and sports scientists are mixed on the exact answer. While some people prefer to forgo eating before exercising, other people need a steady supply of calories to keep them going though-out their workout. If you're going to eat a protein bar before your workout, I would recommend leaving at least a half-an-hour before your protein bar and the start of a vigorous workout (1-2 hours is more preferable). For cardio-intensive workouts, such as running or cycling, consider opting for a protein bar with more than 20g of carbohydrates. You can crack open a protein bar after your workout as well- just be wary of how your body responds to eating after exercise (it can make some people feel sick)! 

You can also enjoy a protein bar in lieu of a carbohydrate-rich breakfast option (i.e. sugary breakfast cereals, toast, and baked goods). If you're not the type of person to eat a big breakfast but still need some fuel to keep up your energy, I recommend trying a protein bar for breakfast with your cup of coffee. 

It should be noted that protein bars should not replace actual food in your diet, but rather act as a supplement to existing proteins, carbs, and fats. Protein bars can supply some of the nutrients, but you still need to eat whole grains, fruits, and veggies to meet the rest of your nutritional needs. If you are concerned with your nutrient balance, contact your doctor or a nutritionist. 

What to Look For in a Plant-Based Protein Bar

First, always check the label on your protein bar to make sure it doesn't contain milk/caesin/whey- this ensures it's a vegan option! Many of the popular brands in convenience stores and gas stations are made with animal byproducts, so reading the label is essential. 

I also typically opt for protein bars that have less than 220 calories per serving; some of them can be down-right decadent, but not pack a lot of protein per calorie. This means that many of the protein bars I eat have less than 5-6g of added sugar each. If there is added sugar in my protein bar, I prefer it comes from maple syrup, honey, or agave rather than refined sugar. 

The protein concentration of plant-based options varies. Some bars can have as little as 2g or as much as 15-16g per serving. In many cases, as protein concentration increases so does calories. 

My Plant-Based Protein Bar Recommendations

ONE Plant Bar

I'm a big proponent of low-sugar, low-calorie protein bars. Luckily, ONE Plant makes four yummy plant-based protein bars with 11-12g of protein and 1g sugar each. My personal favorite is the chocolate peanut butter flavor; it has 175 calories and doesn't have a chalky, gummy texture like many other protein bars on the market. ONE Plant bars are made with pea and rice protein as well, making them a good option for anyone who is gluten-free. 

ONE's full line of protein bars also offers 20g protein bars with whey/milk protein and fun flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough, maple-glazed doughnut, almond bliss, and blueberry cobbler. I hope the company offers more vegan flavor options in the future (because who doesn't like feeling good about eating something that's both healthy AND tastes like cookie dough?

Bobo's Protein Bars (contain honey) 

For a slightly more indulgent protein bar, try one of Bobo's four gluten-free protein bar flavors. Their company combines organic oats, dates, and honey to make delicious options for anyone looking for a sustainable protein-bar option. I love the nutty undertone of these bars (because they're all made with peanut or almond ingredients); it's especially satisfying when I feel tired and need a boost of healthy fats. Bobo's also offers bites, bars, and toaster goodies that will help boost your mood and make for the perfect morning treat. 

BHU Vegan Protein Bars

BHU's protein bars have surged in popularity in recent years- and for good reason. Each of their vegan bars comes in at over 8g of protein including fun flavors like cookie dough (white chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate chip, and more), apple chunk, and chocolate/tart cherry/pistachio. If you're not a traditional "bar" person, you can also order a container of their protein cookie dough in chocolate chip, chocolate coconut, double chocolate, or peanut butter chocolate chip. I love that their products are sweetened with monkfruit and contain very little sugar- it means I don't get a sugar crash right after I finish working out. Many of their products are also gluten-free and keto-friendly!