Getting enough calories and protein can be a challenge during endurance training. Here are some of our favorite options for refilling your tank.
As an endurance athlete, packing in enough protein and calories to keep up with my training has always been a challenge. Constantly on the move, I’m all about quick snacks that will sustain me throughout my longest and toughest workouts.
Over my years as a competitive runner, I’ve experimented with a number of different nutrition plans over the years and regularly consult my doctor about the healthiest ways to stay fueled as a distance runner.
Protein bars have always been my go-to because they’re a quick snack I can eat before, during, or after a workout for an energy boost. Like many athletes, I’m careful about what I put into my body and want to make sure I’m setting myself up for success with food that is energizing and nutritious. With so many bars to choose from, it can be difficult to find what’s right for you.
I’m currently training for a marathon and have taste-tested a number of different protein bars — here are seven of my favorites.
The Best Protein Bars for Endurance Athletes
Best for Health Nuts
During training, I’m hyperaware of the foods that I put in my body. Where many protein bars are packed with sugar and artificial ingredients, RX Bars are made from clean, plant-based ingredients I know and recognize. Common ingredients include nuts, dates, egg whites, and chocolate, and the bars are flavored with oils, essences, and extracts from natural sources.
Packing 12 g of protein, RX Bars don’t offer as much protein as a traditional protein bar, but they are made with clean ingredients, so you’ll have to weigh which is most important to you. I’ve found that RX Bars are good straight from the cupboard but when you pack them along for a long run or an adventure, they tend to melt and don’t taste quite as good.
RX bars have become my go-to for a healthy snack. But when I’m looking for a protein boost before, during, or after a long workout, I tend to look elsewhere.
Best for Taste
It doesn’t get much more classic than a Clif Bar. Clif Bar was founded in 1992 to satisfy a need for tasty, nutrient-rich trail snacks, and it’s been a leading protein bar ever since.
At Clif Bar, they’re dedicated to sustaining the planet and as a result, 82% of all ingredients used are organic and/or certified sustainable. Also, 90% of their waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators from their bakeries, and they use 100% green power for electricity at their facilities.
Their bars are also designed to sustain athletes on the go and are packed with energizing carbohydrates, functional fats, 9 g of plant-powered protein, and authentic flavor. While 9 g of protein isn’t a ton, these bars are one of the more filling options and taste amazing, making them easy to get down.
They are flavored with traditional sugars, which means they’re not as healthy as some other options, but when you’re packing on the miles, sugar isn’t the worst thing. Readily available and offered in a wide variety of flavors, Clif Bar is a solid option for everyone.
Keto, vegan, and paleo-friendly, IQ Bars are plant-based protein bars that are good for both your brain and your body. As the name suggests, IQ Bars contain six nutrients that are scientifically shown to support cognitive energy, performance, and health: omega-3s, MCTs, lion’s mane, flavonoids, vitamin E, and choline.
Additionally, they contain 12 g of protein with just 3 g net carbs and 1-2 g of sugar. I’ve never heard of a protein bar that was created to support brain health, but I think it’s a great concept and makes a lot of sense.
Running and endurance sports are largely mental, so making sure your brain is in top shape is a great way to set yourself up for success. IQ Bars contain a lot of nuts and coconut, so they’re not particularly allergen-friendly, but they are good for anyone that’s trying to stick to a keto-type diet. Not only do IQ Bars taste good, but they also provide long-lasting energy while remaining low in sugar and carbs.
Best Snack Size
Claiming to be “perfect” is a pretty bold statement, but Perfect Bar is one of the best protein bars I’ve come across to date. Perfect Bars are certified USDA Organic and non-GMO. They contain organic honey, whole food protein, and over 20 superfoods. The original refrigerated protein bar, Perfect Bars contain no artificial preservatives, so you know they’re clean.
Besides the fact that they taste amazing, my favorite thing about Perfect Bars is that they are calorie-heavy and contain 15 g of protein, meaning they can serve as a pre-workout meal or a calorie reload after a long run.
As a refrigerated bar, Perfect Bars are one of the freshest in the game, but keeping them cool can be challenging during or race or long training sessions. I’ve let mine go unrefrigerated for the day and haven’t had any issues, but Perfect Bars are best suited for snacks at home or when you have access to a cooler.
Best for Chocolate Lovers
Boasting 17 g of protein, Built Bars are macro-balanced protein bars that offer essential nutrients without being loaded with sugar or artificial ingredients. Made from whey protein, gelatin, erythritol, glycerin, chocolate, and maltodextrin, these bars are available in a wide range of delicious flavors.
Each bar is coated in 100% real chocolate, giving it a candy bar taste and feel. As someone who doesn’t eat a lot of nuts or meat, I really appreciate that these bars are a quick and easy way for me to get a solid dose of protein.
However, Built Bars aren’t made with as clean ingredients as some other bars out there, so I tend to only reach for them on days when I really need a protein boost. Fun fact: If you order online, you can order a case of your favorite flavor or mix and match to your heart’s content.
Best High Protein
With a whopping 21 g of protein and less than a gram of sugar, Quest Nutrition Protein Bars are a staple of the fitness community. Made from a blend of milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate, soluble corn fiber, erythritol, palm kernel oil, almonds, and sodium caseinate, these bars come in a wide range of tasty flavors like Peppermint Bark and Mint Chocolate Chunk.
Our favorite is the Birthday Cake, with its sweet but not too sweet flavor and oddly festive vibe, but Cookie Dough and Pumpkin Pie are close seconds. If you’re looking for natural ingredients, this won’t be the bar for you. But if you’re looking for a tasty protein boost right after a long run, you could do a lot worse.
Crafted Energy believes there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training. This is why its bars for athletes are sport-specific, tailored to climbers, runners, and cyclists.
Crafted’s bars are made with plant-based, whole ingredients, and we love the boost they give after a workout — no matter how you are working out, these bars are great fuel. Flavors include cherry walnut, blueberry cashew, and ginger berry nut.
Better yet, each ingredient serves a function specific to a certain type of athlete. Crafted notes ingredients like oats, cashews, and pumpkin seeds are slow-burning energy; dates, coconut, and berries serve for quick-burning energy; and a variety of other fruits and nuts serve to deliver antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and more.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a clean-ingredient, plant-based bar that can deliver a nice kick, Crafted should be on your list.