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Protein bars have been through more evolutions than iPhones. In the early days, you had to take 40 grams of carbs to the chin just to get a few dozen calories of gritty protein. In the 1990s, the carb content was still astronomical, but at least the protein caught up, even if the taste was still like wet chocolate-colored chalk. In the last 10 years, manufacturers dialed in the macronutrients and the flavor profiles improved dramatically. Bars were tasty, loaded with protein, and had a reasonable amount of carbs and fat. They were also loaded with sugar alcohols and a bunch of creepy chemicals. An hour after you ate one, you paid for it, and so did anyone around you.

The bar industry has shifted once more, entering what we think of as The Golden Age of the protein bar. The market is filled with bars that are delicious, smartly formulated, and created with care and precision. Ingredients are carefully curated and meticulously sourced. You’ve heard of the craft beer movement? Welcome to craft bar movement.

With so many high-quality offerings, we decided to sort through the Mylar-wrapping madness and find the best bars on the market. We read labels, perused lab reports,and stuffed our mouths. In Iron Man’s first annual Protein Bar Awards, we present the highly coveted GRAMie to winners in six different categories. And the envelope, please …

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The word “Paleo” has been attached to just about every food- stuff on the market, from waffles to wine, but it actually makes the most sense when it comes to a protein bar. After all, the Paleo diet is mostly about what you don’t eat, so a genuine Paleo bar is trimmed of everything but the white meat. The Julian Bakery Paleo Bar is grain-free, dairy-free, GMO-free, and contains no sugar alcohols, while being loaded with protein (egg white protein) and fiber. Its fat content comes mainly from organic coconut oil, a good source of medium-chain triglycerides, which provide energy and are less likely to be stored as body fat. Each bar also contains probiotics (the good bacteria that populate your intestines and aid digestion) as well as prebiotic fiber, which feeds those beneficial little bugs.

MACROS: 200 calories, 28 g carbs, 20 g protein, 6 g fat, 21 g fiber*

FLAVORS: Almond Fudge, Vanilla Pudding, Caramel, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Brownie, Glazed Donut, Cinnamon Roll, Cookies n Creme, Coconut Shred PRICE: $36 for 12

PRICE: $29.99 ($2.49/bar) + Free Shipping!

MORE INFO: *Varies slightly between flavors

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Sometimes you want something sweet and proteiny, but something that isn’t a bar. Enter the protein cookie. Moist and chewy, it resembles a traditional protein bar only in its macronutrient content. Its soft-baked mouthfeel will go a long way in making you forget the strict rigors of your diet, even while it keeps you on the right caloric track. Pair it with a cup of coffee and you have an excellent anytime snack that supplies an energizing 20 grams of a proprietary whey protein blend with only six grams of sugar. Weighing in at a generous 70 grams, the Protein Cookie Co. offering is larger and more substantial than most protein bars, which contributes to its powers of hunger-smashing satiety.

MACROS: 245 calories, 21 g carbs,
20 g protein, 9 g fat, 4 g fiber* FLAVORS: Classic Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Cocoa Chocolate Chip, Classic Peanut Butter Chip PRICE: $42 for 12


*Varies slightly between flavors

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If you are a grown-ass man who is trying to put on muscle, then the Carnivor protein bar is your jam. This is not your girl- friend’s diet-friendly bar, but rather an anabolic powerhouse that gives your growing muscles what they need to reach their full potential. Each bar contains 30 grams of a special protein matrix that combines fast-absorbing whey proteins with highly bioavailable beef protein, which delivers a longer, more sustained release of its amino acids. Carnivor has enough carbs to help shuttle aminos into muscle cells and replenish glyco- gen stories, but its restrained one-to-one carbs-to-protein ratio will keep you from adding unwanted pounds to your gut. To further enhance recovery, each bar boasts hydrolyzed wheat protein peptides, which are rich in glutamine. Best of all, the Chocolate Peanut Butter variety has the single best and most realistic peanut butter taste and texture of any bar we’ve tried.

MACROS: 380 calories, 32 g carbs, 30 g protein,
16 g fat, 1 g fiber
FLAVORS: Cookies and Creme, Chocolate Peanut Butter PRICE: $42 for 12


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 Wicked is the thinking man’s bar, for the guy who is concerned about the numbers attached to his scale, his bench press, and his blood pressure. It’s obvious that every ingredient in the Wicked bar has been painstakingly considered before it was included. The ingredient list reads like a non-GMO manifesto (organic cashew butter, organic 100 percent cacao, organic dates, pumpkin seeds), but the 15 grams of grass-fed whey protein adds some muscle to the mix. Each bar is also fortified with a slew of superfoods (most of them organic) such as flax seeds, goji berries, chia seeds, spirulina, chlorella, and ginger. Both bars are lightly sweetened with stevia (a nice break from the cloyingly saccharine bars of yester- year), while the dark chocolate cayenne bar brings the heat with a palpable dose of fat-burning cayenne pepper.

MACROS: 190 calories, 21 g carbs, 15 g protein, 8 g fat, 14 g fiber*
FLAVORS: Maple, Dark Chocolate Cayenne PRICE: $36 for 12

MORE INFO: *Varies slightly between flavors

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Treat yourself, don’t cheat yourself. Each Fit & Lean Protein Brownie tastes like a genuine dessert, with a soft, fresh-baked quality. The fact that MHP is able to pull this off with a glu- ten-free product that is only 190 calories is something of a nutritional miracle. Each brownie (or blondie, which is refresh- ingly original territory in Protein Land) contains a combination of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and soy protein isolate for both fast release and medium release rates of amino acids, enhancing its muscle building effect and its ability to squash cravings for hours afterward.

It’s a good thing these are packaged individually. If you were faced with a whole plate of unwrapped Fit & Lean Protein Brownies, you’d be in serious macro trouble.
MACROS: 190 calories, 21 g carbs, 15 g protein,

8 g fat, 5 g fiber
FLAVORS: Blondie Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge PRICE: $30 for 12 bars

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Over the years, the biggest criticism of protein bars has been the inclusion of so many hard-to-pronounce ingredients that sound like they are straight from an AP chemistry class. Who knows the effect they have on your physique, much less your colon? The new gluten-free B-Up protein bar is a lean, mean, protein-delivering machine that contains only 12 ingredients. Its 20 grams of protein are derived from whey and milk protein isolate, a very pure form of protein that has been stripped of almost all of its carbs, fats, and lactose. Studies have also shown that whey protein isolate blunts hunger hormones and promotes satiety, making it one of the smartest protein choices when you’re cutting calories. Each bar is loaded with prebiotic fiber and delivers just four grams of impact carbs. If you’re on a diet, this bar is your new best friend.

MACROS: 190 calories, 25 g carbs, 20 g protein,
7 g fat, 20 g fiber

FLAVORS: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Sugar Cookie, Chocolate Mint, Cinnamon Roll, Peanut Butter,
Vanilla Peanut Butter, PB&J
PRICE: $27 for 12 bars (free shipping)


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