Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.
A protein bar can be a great choice when you want a small, fast-digesting, and convenient snack before a workout. But not all protein bars are suitable for pre-workout, so it’s important to find one that won’t slow you down or make you feel sick while working out.
So what is the best pre-workout protein bar? The best pre-workout protein bar is the Jimmy Wake and Focus Protein Bar, with 100 mg of caffeine and 19 g of protein. It has a great flavor, doesn’t cause jitters or energy crashes, and is satiating. It’s also low in fat and fiber, which is ideal for a pre-workout snack.
When searching for a protein bar to eat pre-workout, you need to look for one with an optimal macronutrient profile (the breakdown of fats, carbs, and protein) so it can keep you energized and doesn’t contain ingredients that can bother your stomach while you’re training.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- The necessary criteria for a pre-workout protein bar
- The 7 best pre-workout protein bars
- Whether a protein bar is enough to eat before a workout
- How long before a workout you should eat a protein bar
- What food you should avoid before a workout
- If it’s better to eat a protein bar before or after a workout
Criteria Necessary For a Pre-Workout Protein Bar
An ideal pre-workout protein bar should have:
- Moderate to high amounts of carbs
- Moderate to high amounts of protein
- Low amounts of fat
- Low amounts of fiber
- Moderate amounts of caffeine
- Low amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners
Moderate to High Amounts of Carbs
Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy and the macronutrient you want to prioritize before a workout.
If you’re doing a low-impact activity and/or not planning on working out for longer than 60 minutes, stick to the lower end of that range. If you’re doing a hard weight lifting session or endurance-based activity of 60+ minutes, go for the higher end of that range.
Most protein bars have around 25 g of carbs, so you may also want to eat another carb source before your workout. Fruit, breakfast cereals, bagels, pasta, and white rice are all excellent pre-workout carb options to eat with your protein bar.
Moderate to High Amounts of Protein
The second macronutrient you should prioritize before a workout is protein. Protein is necessary for your muscles to recover and grow. Most people know the importance of taking protein after a workout, but taking protein prior to training can promote muscle growth and repair before your workout ends.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to find pre-workout protein bars that have at least 20 g of protein.
However, the protein content of protein bars varies greatly, and even bars that are labeled as “high protein” may have less than 10 g of protein. If you can’t find a bar you like that has at least 20 g of protein, you should also take some protein powder or have another protein source like chicken breast before your workout.
- Related Article: Protein Bars With The Most Protein (We Examined 200+ Bars)
Low Amounts of Fat
You don’t want to eat too much fat before a workout. Fat itself is slow to digest and also slows down the digestion of other nutrients such as carbs. Eating a lot of fat before a workout means those nutrients won’t be as readily available to provide you with energy.
Eating high-fat foods before a workout can also cause an upset stomach and other digestive issues.
The only exception to this is if you’re training for something like a marathon and doing a long-distance training run. During longer activities, delayed digestion is a good thing because your body can use its carbohydrate stores later in your workout.
Low Amounts of Fiber
Just like fat, fiber is slow to digest and delays the digestion of other nutrients. It can also cause an upset stomach and make you feel sluggish and bloated if too much is eaten too close to a workout.
However, you do need some fiber before a workout to ensure you don’t burn through your carbs too quickly and your body has a sustained energy source during exercise.
Many protein bars have high amounts of fiber (10+ grams), but others have much less (1-5 g).
- I recommend choosing a low-fiber protein bar (less than 5 g of fiber) if you’re eating it before a workout so you don’t experience digestive distress.
Moderate Amounts of Caffeine
Protein bars with caffeine can give you an extra energy boost for your workout.
The recommended total daily intake of caffeine is 400 g per day for healthy adults. You’ll want to pay attention to how much caffeine is in your pre-workout protein bar and any other caffeinated beverages you drink during the day to ensure you don’t go over that limit.
Low Amounts of Sugar or Artificial Sweeteners
Eating some sugar before a workout isn’t necessarily bad, especially when consumed close to your training (within 15 minutes) because it provides a quick source of energy that you need for training.
It’s also important to pay attention to sugar alcohols such as erythritol or artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (a.k.a Splenda). These can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea in individuals who are sensitive to them, and you don’t want to experience any stomach distress right before or during your workout.
- Related Article: 10 Best Protein Bars Without Sugar Alcohols
7 Best Pre-Workout Protein Bars
The 7 best pre-workout protein bars are:
- Jimmy Wake and Focus Bar – Best Overall Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Coffee Snax Protein Energy Coffee Bar – Best Pre-Workout Protein Bar for Afternoon or Evening Workouts
- Crazed Foods Plant-Based Energy Bar – Best Plant-Based Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Quantum Energy Squares – Best Pre-Workout Protein Bar for Endurance Workouts
- CLIF Bars Energy Bars – Best Low-Fat Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- RXBAR A.M. Protein Bar – Best Non-Caffeinated Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- IQBAR Brain and Body Keto Protein Bars – Best Keto Pre-Workout Protein Bar
1. Jimmy Wake and Focus Bar – Best Overall Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Calories – 250
- Caffeine – 100 mg
- Protein – 19 g
- Carbohydrates – 24 g
- Sugar – 7 g
- Fiber – 1 g
- Fat – 10 g
My top pick for the best pre-workout protein bar is the Jimmy Wake and Focus Bar. It has a great taste, is high in protein, moderately high in carbs, and low in fat and sugar. And with 100 mg of caffeine, it ticks nearly all of my boxes for an ideal pre-workout protein bar.
The caffeine in this bar comes from guarana, a South American plant with seeds that contain four times the amount of caffeine as coffee. It also has MCT oil, which is beneficial before a workout because it provides quick energy. But despite these ingredients, I didn’t experience any jitters or an energy crash after having one of these bars pre-workout.
I also like that these bars keep me full even after I’m done with my workouts, which can be anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on what I do that day. They remind me of a less sweet version of a chocolate-coated Rice Krispies treat and have more volume than other protein bars, which is what makes them so satiating.
However, because these bars are filling, I don’t recommend eating them immediately before a workout. The first time I tried one, I ate it about 40-45 minutes before a strength training session with a CrossFit workout at the end, and I still didn’t feel like I had fully digested it in time.
I recommend giving yourself at least an hour, if not more, after eating this bar before you start your workout so you don’t experience any stomach issues.
2. Coffee Snax Protein Energy Coffee Bar – Best Pre-Workout Protein Bar for Afternoon or Evening Workouts
- Calories – 280
- Caffeine – 55 mg
- Protein – 17 g
- Carbohydrates – 25 g
- Sugar – 15 g
- Fiber – 2 g
- Fat – 14 g
The Coffee Snax Protein Energy Coffee Bars are best for afternoon or evening workouts because they have just 55 mg of caffeine. This is enough to provide you with some energy but likely not enough that you’ll have trouble falling asleep at night.
The low caffeine content also gives you room to drink coffee or an energy drink throughout the day or even have some pre-workout without going over the recommended daily intake of 400 mg.
These bars have a dry, crumbly texture, but the peanut butter flavor tastes great. Even though one of the ingredients is coffee, they don’t have a strong coffee flavor, so you can still enjoy them if you don’t like the taste of coffee. They’re also not overly sweet despite having 15 g of sugar.
The biggest drawback is that each bar has 280 calories. These calories can add up if you’re in a calorie deficit for weight loss goals.
However, despite the high caloric content, these bars digest easily. I can eat them within 40-45 minutes of a strength training or steady-state cardio workout without having any stomach issues. But I do find that it’s best to eat them at least an hour before a higher-impact workout like CrossFit.
3. Crazed Foods Plant-Based Energy Bar – Best Plant-Based Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Calories – 250
- Caffeine – 55 mg
- Protein – 15 g
- Carbohydrates – 22 g
- Sugar – 14 g
- Fiber – 2 g
- Fat – 13 g
The main protein source in Crazed Foods Plant-Based Energy Bars is pea isolate protein, which makes them ideal for those who are lactose intolerant, follow plant-based diets, or don’t want to consume a lot of dairy.
These bars are also gluten-free, which makes them a good option for those who are gluten-intolerant or have Celiac disease.
Like the Coffee Snax bars, they have just 55 mg of caffeine, which allows you to have other caffeinated beverages throughout the day without going over the recommended daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine.
These bars have both a chewy and a dry texture, which I don’t like because they get stuck in my teeth a lot. But I don’t feel overly full when I have one before a workout, so I can focus on training without worrying about my stomach bothering me.
They’re also higher in sugar than the other options on this list, with 14 g of sugar per bar. They’re sweetened primarily with honey, which is more nutritious than white sugar, but it’s still important to note the sugar content if you’re trying to keep your overall sugar intake low.
4. Quantum Energy Squares – Best Pre-Workout Protein Bar for Endurance Workouts
- Calories – 200
- Caffeine – 100 mg
- Protein – 10 g
- Carbohydrates – 21 g
- Sugar – 11 g
- Fiber – 4 g
- Fat – 10 g
Quantum Energy Squares are best for endurance workouts because they have a decent amount of carbs and are small and easy to digest.
I also like that these bars are gluten- and dairy-free because they’re suitable for various dietary preferences. They don’t contain any sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners that can cause digestive distress during a workout.
I ate this bar about 45 minutes before a CrossFit workout that included multiple rounds of 400-meter runs and before a 45-minute steady-state bike ride. I didn’t feel bloated or crampy after eating one before either workout and felt satiated but not sluggish.
If you’ve ever had an RX Bar, you’ll find that the Quantum Energy Squares have a similar texture. They also have a strong coffee taste, which is something to keep in mind if you typically don’t drink coffee or don’t like the taste of it.
This bar is low in protein – it only has 10 g. If you’re trying to increase your daily protein intake, you may consider having another protein source like Greek yogurt or whey protein with this bar.
5. CLIF Bars Energy Bars – Best Low-Fat Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Calories – 260
- Caffeine – 44 mg
- Protein – 10 g
- Carbohydrates – 42 g
- Sugar – 21 g
- Fiber – 4 g
- Fat – 6 g
CLIF Bar Energy Bars are the best low-fat pre-workout protein bars because they have just 6 g of fat, which is lower than the 10-15 g of fat found in most protein bars. These are a great option for those trying to keep daily fat intake low and those who don’t like the feeling of something heavy sitting in their stomach during a workout.
Because these bars have 42 g of carbs and just 10 g of protein (which comes from plant-based sources), they’re ideal for longer, moderate-intensity workouts like hiking or long-distance cycling. They contain ingredients like oats and rice flour, which keep you full without slowing you down.
One thing to watch out for is that the CLIF Bar Energy Bars have 21 g of sugar, which is more than I’d typically recommend. That sugar offers a quick source of energy when you need it right before a workout, but it also gives the bars a sweet flavor that may not appeal to everyone.
6. RXBAR A.M. Protein Bar – Best Non-Caffeinated Pre-Workout Bar
- Calories – 230
- Caffeine – 0 mg
- Protein – 10 g
- Carbohydrates – 29 g
- Sugar – 12 g
- Fiber – 4 g
- Fat – 10 g
If you’re looking for a pre-workout bar that doesn’t contain any caffeine, the RXBAR A.M. Protein Bar is an excellent option. Rather than relying on caffeine, it provides energy from sources like coconut sugar, honey, oats, and brown rice.
My favorite thing about these bars is that all of the ingredients come from whole food sources. The protein in these bars comes primarily from egg whites, and the fat comes from nuts, nut butter, high oleic sunflower oil, and pumpkin seeds.
These bars digest easily and contain no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols that can cause digestive upset during a workout. They’re also gluten-free, so you can enjoy them if you are sensitive to gluten.
The only major drawback of these bars is that they only have 10 g of protein, so you may choose to have a pre-workout protein shake or another protein source with this bar if you want to keep your protein intake high.
7. IQBAR Brain and Body Keto Protein Bars – Best Keto Pre-Workout Protein Bar
- Calories – 180
- Caffeine – 0 mg
- Protein – 12 g
- Carbohydrates – 11 g
- Sugar – 1 g
- Fiber – 8 g
- Fat – 15 g
With just 3 g of net carbs, the IQBAR Brain and Body Keto Protein Bars are a great pre-workout option for anyone following the keto diet. They don’t have caffeine, but they provide energy from other ingredients like MCT oil, almonds, peanuts, coconut oil, and blueberries (depending on the flavor).
Most keto products have a lot of fiber and sugar alcohols, but these bars contain no sugar alcohols and have 8-10 g of fiber. This is more than I’d recommend before a workout, but it’s lower than many other keto protein bars.
Additionally, they’re gluten- and dairy-free, so even if you don’t follow the keto diet, they’re a good choice if you have food allergies.
Is A Protein Bar Enough To Eat Pre-Workout?
A protein bar could be enough if you’re looking for a snack to eat within 90 minutes of a workout. However, this assumes that it has optimal amounts of fat, carbs, and protein to provide you with energy without making you feel sluggish or disgustingly full.
As well, if you have higher daily carb or protein requirements or you’re preparing for a longer workout (more than 90 minutes), a protein bar may not be enough. This can especially be true if you work out in the morning and haven’t eaten anything since the night before.
In these scenarios, you may want to combine your protein bar with other carb sources (such as fruit, rice, pasta, or cereal) and protein sources (such as egg whites, chicken breast, or Greek yogurt). These additions can help keep you more energized throughout your workout.
Since protein bars typically have 8-10 g of fat or more, you likely won’t need to add any other fat sources to your meal. But as I mentioned earlier, eating more fat is helpful if you’re getting ready for a long endurance event because it delays digestion. Your body would then be able to use its carbohydrate stores later in your workout.
- Related Article: Protein Bars vs. Shakes: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
How Long Before A Workout Should You Eat A Protein Bar?
In general, you should eat a protein bar 60-90 minutes before your workout. This gives your body enough time to digest it and be able to use it for energy. This is also an optimal time frame to ensure you don’t feel overly full, get cramps, or become nauseous once you start working out.
You can eat a protein bar 2 hours or more before your workout. But because it’s not a high-volume food, you may find that this is too large of a window to keep you energized throughout your entire workout.
If you’re not planning on working out for 2-3 hours after eating, a meal with whole food sources may be better. A good example is chicken breast, white rice, and a tablespoon of olive oil.
However, how long before a workout you eat your protein bar can vary depending on the ingredients and nutritional content of the protein bar, the type of workout you’re doing, and what time of day you work out.
For example, if your protein bar is fairly low in calories and fat but higher in protein and carbs, you can eat it closer to an hour before your workout. You may even be able to eat it 30-45 minutes before your workout without it causing digestive distress if you’re not doing a high-impact workout like running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
But if the protein bar is high in calories or has a higher amount of fat, you may want to eat it closer to 2 hours beforehand so you don’t feel like there’s something heavy sitting in your stomach during your workout.
As well, you may find that you can eat a protein bar closer to an hour before your workout if you’re strength training, doing light cardio, or taking a yoga class. These are all lower impact than activities like running or jumping, so you likely won’t notice the protein bar sloshing around in your stomach too much.
What Should You Avoid Eating Pre-Workout?
You should avoid eating lots of fat and fiber before a workout. They both slow digestion and can delay the release of other nutrients such as carbs that you need for energy.
When it comes to fats, you should especially avoid anything deep-fried or high in saturated fats before a workout. Examples include:
- Deep-fried foods
- Fast foods
- High-fat dairy products such as whole milk and cheese
- Fatty cuts of meat such as bacon, corned beef, or ribeye steak
Examples of high-fiber foods you should avoid before a workout include:
- Beans such as kidney beans or black beans
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage
- High-fiber cereals
- Chia seeds
I also recommend avoiding carbonated beverages before a workout. The carbonation can lead to bloating and feelings of fullness, which can be uncomfortable if you’re lifting heavy weights and wearing a lifting belt or doing high-intensity activities like CrossFit, F45, or HIIT workouts.
Is It Better To Eat A Protein Bar Before or After A Workout?
Eating a protein bar before a workout is better, especially if you’re working out within 90 minutes of eating. A low-volume food like a protein bar is easy to digest (as long as it doesn’t have a lot of fat and fiber) and can give you energy without making you feel overly full before exercise.
As well, sometimes you may not have time to go home for a full meal after the gym and don’t want to eat takeout after your workout. In those scenarios, a protein bar is a suitable post-workout option to hold you over until you’re able to eat a full meal.
A protein bar is also a good post-workout option if you don’t have a large appetite after exercising and can’t stomach a full meal. They’re easier to eat if you don’t feel very hungry, and the carbs and protein can aid in muscle recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Protein Bars Good for Pre-Workout?
Protein bars are good to eat pre-workout. Look for ones with at least 20 g of protein and 20-25 g of carbs. Avoid ones with more than 15 g of fat or 5 g of fiber to prevent digestive distress before your workout. If you need more protein or carbs, eat other foods like chicken and fruit with your protein bar.
What To Read Next
- Are Protein Bars Good For Breakfast? (6 Things To Consider)
- Is Eating 3 Protein Bars A Day Bad? (A Dietician Answers)
- 10 Best Protein Bars Under 100 Calories (Top Picks For 2022)
- Is It Okay To Eat Protein Bars Every Day? (4 Things To Know)
- 12 Best Protein Bars Under 200 Calories
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.
Why Trust Our Content
On Staff at FeastGood.com, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn more about our team here.
Have a Question?
If you have any questions or feedback about what you’ve read, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. We respond to every email within 1 business day.