The 7 Best Meal Replacement Bars - A Complete Guide

A guide to meal replacement bars. *Note we are NOT talking about weight loss products.*

Updated on March 31st, 2022

Meal replacement bars are a full step above nutrition and energy bars and should be held to a higher standard. Meal bars are designed to function as a meal rather than just a snack to fill in the cracks. They can be great high-calorie performance fuel, lightweight trail food or an easy meal when you’re tight on time. 

We tested and compiled a list of the best meal replacement bars available in 2022. These are in line with our recommendations that you can see in the considerations section. This post also informs you on the types of meal bars, the importance of them, and how to make your own. Let's dive in.

Brand Weight per package Calories per package Minimally Processed Protein per package Fiber per package  Sugar per package  Price per package
ProBar Meal 3 oz 400 Yes 11 g 6 g 19 g $3.33
Kate's Real Food 2.2 oz 260 Yes 6 g 4 g 18 g $2.49
MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal 3.5 oz 410 No 30 g 1 g 18 g $3.99
Greenbelly Meals Meal2Go 5.5 oz 660 Yes 18 g 10 g 28 g $6.47
GoMacro Macrobar 2.3 oz 270 Yes 10 g 2 g 13 g $2.91
Bobo's Stuff'd Oat Bar 2.5 oz 360 Yes 6 g 4 g 10 g $2.49
Sans Meal Bar 3 oz 390 Yes 15 g 7 g 23 g $3.75
Clif Bar 2.4 oz 250 Yes 10 g 5 g 17 g $1.55
EXO Cricket Energy Bar 1.8 oz 160 Yes 14 g 2 g 2 g $2.50
Kind Protein Bars 1.8 oz 230 Yes 12 g 5 g 8 g $1.76
RXBAR 1.8 oz 210 Yes 12 g 5 g 13 g $2.17
Luna Bar 1.7 oz 210 Yes 9 g 3 g 7 g $1.31
Nature Valley Protein Bar 1.4 oz 190 Yes 10 g 6 g 7 g $0.84

Note: We've only included bars with substantial calories (more than 250/300 calories) in the below reviews.

meal replacement bars


Best Meal Replacement Bars

ProBar Meal probar original blend meal replacement bars

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

✅ Weight: 3 oz

✅ Calories: 400 

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 11g

Fiber per package: 6g

Sugar per package: 19g naturally sweetened with organic cane sugar

Price per package: $3.33

Probars are usually pretty moist and on the sweeter side. They also have whole chunks of fruits and nuts, as well as a decent amount of nutrition and food. Each bar is high in fiber with ingredients like chia and flaxseed and includes 9 grams of protein. The original blend has a good balance of salty/sweet (just like you might get in a typical trail mix). The bar’s texture is a little bit chewy, a little bit crunchy. 

See ProBar

Kate’s Real Food

kate's real food grizzly meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.2 oz

❌ Calories: 260

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 6g

Fiber per package: 4g

Sugar per package: 18g naturally sweetened with organic honey and organic cane sugar

Price per package: $2.49

A good meal bar by definition. It provides a decent amount of food and nutrition using healthy ingredients. Definitely on the sweet side. The bar comes with a hearty helping of organic oats, dark chocolate, peanut butter, fiber-packed raisins, and brown rice crisps which give it a dense, moist, chewy texture. Each bar is gluten-free, and each package contains two 130-calorie servings. 

See Kate's Real Food

MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal

met-rx meal replacement bars

Super Cookie Crunch

✅ Weight: 3.5 oz

✅ Calories: 410 

❌ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 30g

Fiber per package: 1g

Sugar per package: 18g artificially sweetened with corn syrup, sugar, and fructose

Price per package: $3.99

With a whopping 32 grams of protein, these are marketed as weight lifting meals bars for bulking up. You may need a scientist to pronounce some of the ingredients though. Some of these ingredients can cause stomach issues. And they taste good… to most people. Like a chocolate-covered crunch bar.

See MET-Rx

Greenbelly Meals Meal2Go

greenbelly meal replacement bars

Dark Chocolate Banana

✅ Weight: 5.5 oz

✅ Calories: 660 

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 17g

Fiber per package: 10g

Sugar per package: 28g naturally sweetened with honey, agave nectar, and tapioca syrup

Price per package: $6.47

A true meal. Has a well-balanced nutritional profile providing about a third of your daily value for 6 nutrients (calories, fats, fiber, carbs, protein, and sodium). Each package contains a hearty 650 calories. Two bars per zip-sealed pack make it a great ready-to-eat meal.

The bars are thick and dense, yet fluffy like a rice crispy treat with nourishing ingredients like gluten-free oats, dried fruits, and nuts. And they taste yummy - a little salty and a little sweet. Are we biased? Of course! We love ‘em. 

See Greenbelly

GoMacro Macrobar

gomacro protein pleasure meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.3 oz

❌ Calories: 270 

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 10g

Fiber per package: 2g

Sugar per package: 13g naturally sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, organic maple sugar, and organic coconut sugar

Price per package: $2.91

This one checks all of the ingredient and dietary boxes—organic, clean protein source (brown rice and pea), Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, and Vegan. They have a mealy texture and are filling, with ingredients like peanuts, peanut butter, dates, and fair-trade chocolate chips. Also not too sweet.

Each bar is certified R.A.W., and the mother-daughter company uses 100% renewable energy to make the bars, along with labels that are manufactured out of 100% post-consumer waste. Similar to other bars on this list though, they are better for snacking. 

See GoMacro

Bobo's Stuff’d Oat Bar

bobo's stuffed meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.5 oz

✅ Calories: 360

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 6g

Fiber per package: 4g

Sugar per package:10g naturally sweetened with brown rice syrup and organic cane sugar

Price per package: $2.49

This bar is a treat for anybody who loves nut butter, as there’s a hearty helping stuffed in its center that’s baked around an outer shell made of ingredients like organic oats, coconut oil, coconut, and peanuts. The bars aren’t very sweet and they have a dry, crunchy, crumbly texture. Even though the Stuff’d bar is smaller in size compared to other Bobo’s offerings, it packs more calories and is still a hearty and filling option.

See Bobo's

Sans Meal Bar

sans meal bar

Weight: 3 oz

✅ Calories: 390

✅ Minimally Processed

Protein per package: 15g

Fiber per package: 7g

Sugar per package: 23g naturally sweetened from fruit

Price per package: $3.75

Sans meal bars pack in all the good things and are sans (or without) the
bad. What these bars don’t have are soy, gluten, dairy, artificial flavors
or added sugar. What they do have it tons of natural flavor, naturally
occurring sugar from fruit and are a great source of protein and fibrer.
Depending on the flavor, each bar has between 14 and 17 different
vitamins in minerals, so you are filling up on your micronutrients too.

See Sans

Considerations

✅ CALORIES: AT LEAST 300

Hiking’s not the time to skimp on calories or pick food that falls under the “weight loss” category. Your body’s going to require extra calories to burn and hearty meals to keep it full and its energy levels up. Everyone has different nutritional needs. But, the best bars that cut it as a “meal” should provide at least 300 calories. Preferably more... especially for active lifestyles. 

Bobo's Stuff'd Oat Bar into pack

✅ WEIGHT: AT LEAST 3 OZ

Leave those small bars for snacking. Compared to granola or protein bars, meal replacement bars should be noticeably heavier and more substantial in size due to all the additional, nutrient-dense foods they're packed with. Again, let's forget about 1-2-oz bars because they just ain’t gonna cut it.

meal bars nutrition factsGreenbelly Meal2Go ingredients on pack.

✅ INGREDIENTS: MINIMALLY PROCESSED | BALANCED MACROS | 100% NATURAL SUGARS

Dry, moist, sweet, salty—taste preference is up to you. Many prioritize Gluten-Free, Organic, Nut-Free, Soy-Free and Non-GMO labels as well.

1. Protein: at least 10g per serving

Protein is an essential macronutrient to any well-rounded meal. It keeps you full and helps build strong bones and muscles. Like with protein bars, different kinds of protein are used in different kinds of meal replacement bars.

hiker eating probar meal

Here’s a look at the most common sources:

  • Whey – Stemming from milk, whey is a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids. It can aid in muscle recovery and growth, especially during endurance activities.
  • Soy – A staple in plant-based diets, soy comes in many forms from powder to tofu, edamame to tempeh. A ½ cup can give anywhere from 7-10 grams of protein, along with high levels of both iron and calcium (important if following a non-dairy diet!)
  • Pea – Pea protein has gained some popularity over the years, probably because you can get over 25% of your daily fiber and around 9 grams of protein in a single cup.
  • Brown Rice – This protein is a great option for people with food allergies because brown rice is hypoallergenic by nature. It’s also loaded with antioxidants.
  • Quinoa – Like oats, quinoa is a grain that’s often ground into flour and used to make baked goods. It’s a complete source of protein with around 9 grams per cup.
  • Oats – Just ½ a cup can give you over 6g/protein. It’s not a complete protein, but oats keep you full and are high quality and clean.
  • Seeds, nuts, and nut butter – An excellent source of healthy fat and fiber, foods like peanuts, almonds, chia seeds, and nut butter can have more than 2g/protein in a single tablespoon.

Many dieticians suggest at least 10g of protein per bar just to stay nourished, and more if you are trying to build muscle. Protein also helps you feel full and satiated so you won’t be hungry immediately afterward.

ingredient label of best meal replacement barKate's Real Food ingredients on pack.

2. Sugar: 100% natural sugars

Sugar is pretty simple, the cleaner and more natural the sugar is, the easier it is on your body. We recommend bars that have 100% natural sugars. Artificial sweeteners may be appealing due to their low calories, but they are much harder for your body to digest and can result in the dreaded “gut rot” feeling.

The best source of sugar is going to come from whole ingredients like fruit. If you check on the back of most bars, they will break down total sugar from added sugar. The difference is the sugar from the fruit and other ingredients in the bar.

Some of the better natural sugars are cane sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, and tapioca syrup. And it’s even better if it’s organic. All these sugars come from recognizable plants, aren’t genetically modified, and are easier to digest.

hiker eating bobo's meal barA Bobo's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oat Bar.

3. Sweeteners: No artificial sweeteners

Some artificial sweeteners are sugar alcohols that end in “-ol” like xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol. They are known to cause digestive problems because they aren’t fully digestible. Other sweeteners like maltodextrin and corn syrup also should be avoided. They are at the very top of the glycemic index, meaning your blood sugar skyrockets when ingesting it and increasing your likelihood of crashing afterward.

gomacro macro bar's nutritional factsGomacro Macrobar ingredients on pack.

4. Fiber: at least 8g per serving

Fiber works to keep our digestion consistent and slows down our body’s absorption of sugar, so we keep more regulated blood sugar. The USDA suggests 25-35g of fiber per day, so look for bars with at least 8g of fiber.

5. Whole Foods: Minimally processed grocery store ingredients

Quite simply, whole foods mean nutrient-rich ingredients with little to no processing. Reading the ingredient list and seeing if you can pronounce everything is a great place to start. Have you seen these ingredients at the grocery store, or do they come from a lab?

Whole food contains tons of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals our body needs to operate efficiently and effectively. They are easier to digest and won’t leave us hungry 15 minutes later.

hiker eating meal2go

6. Processed Ingredients: Minimally processed

Personally, I keep my food as natural and minimally processed as possible. A quick glance at a label can tell if a bar is “clean” or not.

To stay minimally processed, bars should be made with only ingredients you can pronounce and free of highly processed ingredients (i.e. artificial colors, sweeteners, etc). They should also be clear of food additives like maltodextrin, for example, which is a common ingredient found in packaged foods.

MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal

7. Balance: 15-65% carbs | 20-35% fats | 10-35% protein

As with everything in life, it’s all about balance. Meal replacement bars are no different. It’s important to keep our macronutrients in balance or we will run the risk of becoming malnourished.

Carbohydrates provide us with instant energy, anything left over gets converted into fat. Fats provide us with long-term energy and help build up our cells and allow us to absorb vitamins and minerals from food. While proteins help build up our framework and structure. For adults, the USDA Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) is:

  • 45-65% of calories come from carbs
  • 20-35% of calories come from fats
  • 10-35% of calories come from protein

8. Dietary Restrictions 

Vegan, gluten-free, and keto bars are all available. It’s quite easy to find vegan bars, just make sure to check for any honey or egg whites. Gluten-free bars are also very easy to find and will clearly be labeled GF, also make sure to check that the oats are certified gluten-free.

Keto bars are a bit more challenging to find as the primary source of calories is typically carbs. Depending on how strict your carb intake is, this might be a time to choose artificial sweeteners over natural sweeteners.

best meal replacement bars eaten in snow

✅ PACKAGING: RECYCLABLE WHEN POSSIBLE

It’s no secret you should always take out of the forest whatever you bring in (Leave No Trace Principles and all that). But if you want to take your green efforts one environmentally-friendly step further, then investing in meal replacement bars with recyclable packaging is a good place to start.

Not all plastic packaging is created the same. You can tell if your bar’s plastic is recyclable by checking the back label for a symbol like 3 arrows forming a triangle (♻️), or a note about being compostable.


    Types of Bars: Extruded vs. Cold-Pressed 

    There are two ways to make meal bars. Some are cold-pressed, others are made using a process called extrusion. Which process is used will affect how the bar taste and its overall texture. Let's look at each process independently.

    GoMacro Macrobar into pocket

    EXTRUDED: "MEALY" TEXTURE- Ingredients usually put in a blender and injected out.

    Extruded bars are made from dried ingredients that have been ground together to create a mixture. The mixture is then put through a mechanical process that includes forcing and pressing slabs full of the mixture through a machine that makes it into the desired texture, size, and shape.

    The cooking of the mixture is done through using large external heaters. This is a common process used in the creation of a number of packaged foods, and its method results in a very consistent, mealy texture.

    meal2go bar with justin's peanut butterA squirt of Justin's nut butter on a dark chocolate/banana Meal2Go is the perfect combo.

    PRESSED: "CHUNKY" TEXTURE - Ingredients mixed together and then rolled out. 

    When making pressed bars, the ingredients are first mixed and then pressed into the bar shape by a machine or roller. From there they may go on to be either baked or refrigerated. The theory behind pressed bars is that the ingredients withhold their highest level of nutritional value (and wholesome taste) because they remain in their most natural state.


    Why Meal Replacement Bars?

    1. Fast. A meal replacement bar is a well-balanced, immediate meal you can eat while you’re still movin’ and groovin’ on the trail. They’re carefully crafted to fill in as a healthy, full-meal alternative, and there’s no stopping or cooking required. The bars are ready-to-eat whenever hunger strikes.

    Kate's Real Food into pocket

    2. Easy. With a meal replacement bar there’s no clean-up! There’ll be enough of that on the trail already, so it’s nice to have an alternate, satisfying food option that doesn’t take much work. Or planning. Just be sure to pack out your wrappers so they can be properly (and responsibly!) recycled or disposed of.

    sans bar

    3. Compact. One of the great things about meal replacement bars is you can pack a whole bunch of them and they hardly weigh a thing or take up much room in your pack. They’re often no bigger than the size of your hand and they come in airtight packaging that’s durable and keeps them well protected.

    probar meal

    4. Filling. Where granola bars, protein bars, and even ramen noodles make for great lightweight snacks or meal starters, they don’t contain enough calories or nutritional value alone to be a complete meal like a meal replacement bar is.

    putting meal bar into pack


    How to Make Your Own Meal Replacement Bars

    With the right ingredients, you can whip up a batch of customized meal replacement bars right at home. They’re fairly easy to make and often only require some blending, mixing, melting, spreading, and baking (… or refrigerating, depending on the recipe.)

    diy meal replacement bar

    Ingredients: Many meal replacement bars include common household ingredients like: oats, nuts, seeds, nut butter, maple syrup or honey, coconut or olive oil, eggs and spices. You can customize recipes however you want by swapping out ingredients or adding other items like coconut flakes, chocolate chips, or dried fruit.

    Gear: To get started on making a batch, all you need is a mixing bowl, a small pot, parchment or wax paper, a blender, a pan or baking dish, a spatula, an oven (or a fridge if it’s a no-bake bar), and, of course… the right recipe! Here’s two to get you started.

    greenbelly meal2go and ingredients on pack


    FAQs 

    How many meal replacement bars a day?

    It really depends on the bar. The main consideration should be making sure you are getting a balance of your macronutrients and ensuring you are still getting vitamins and minerals. A high fiber, whole food, nutrient dense bar will offer true meal replacement and many endurance athletes will have multiple of these per day. While a high processed sugar, low fiber bar will leave your body needing more nutrients. 

    probar meal into pack

    How do meal replacement bars work?

    Meal replacement bars work by packing in all the nutrients our bodies need to operate into a portable portion. By looking at your recommended daily intakes and dividing them by three you can get a pretty good idea of what to look for. Also, bars with whole foods will contain micronutrients like the vitamins and minerals we would find in a regular meal.

    hiker eating Bobo's Stuff'd Oat BarBobo's Coconut Oat Bar

    How healthy are meal replacement bars?

    Meal replacement bars are healthy if they contain whole foods and are minimally processed. The ingredients of meal replacement bars can tell us how healthy they are. Two different bars may have near identical macronutrients, but this is only half the picture. The source of these nutrients is where we can differentiate between a healthy bar and a less healthy bar. Whole foods are the key indicator because processed foods won’t have the same kind of vitamins and minerals and will be harder to digest. Take a peek at the ingredient list and see if you recognize everything, if you can’t or it sounds like a chemical that should be a red flag. 

    meal2go into pack

    Can I eat a protein bar as a meal replacement bar?

    No, you can't eat a protein bar as a meal replacement bar. Protein bars tend to focus specifically on one ingredient, protein. These bars typically will not have a full spectrum of nutrients and won’t fuel your body with carbs and fats to keep you going throughout the day. While they may make you feel full, your body will still need many other nutrients to efficiently operate. Protein bars are a great supplemental product if you are looking to build muscle but aren’t great for truly replacing a meal. 

    Recipes: Super Seed Chocolate Protein Bars (Vegan, Gluten-free and Nut-free option) or High-Calorie Meal Bars (Variety of flavor options) 


    📷 Some of the photos in this post were taken by Ross Enlow (@rossaenlow) and Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes)

    Austin Hager photo

    About Austin Hager

    Austin Hager is a B.C. based thru-hiker, mountain explorer and advocate for mental health awareness. You can find him hiking, climbing or snowboarding throughout the mountains of Western Canada. He is currently working to become a Registered Nurse.

    About Greenbelly

    After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

    Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.
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