Every time my brother, Gian, and I travel to Europe, we follow a singular tradition: instead of buying each other souvenirs, we scour international grocery and convenience stores for protein bars. Gian is a weightlifter and has practiced martial arts since he was a kid, so he’s always searching for recovery food that doesn’t taste like it was developed in a lab. I eat protein bars mainly to stave off the guilt that comes from eating candy when I’m craving something sweet. (Yes, my logic here is flawed.) Our preferences are based almost exclusively on taste, with very little consideration for nutritional quality. And in that category, European protein bars are just, well, better—more chocolatey, not so chewy.
After at least a dozen international trips and rigorous testing, these are our favorite bars, and they’re all available online. Admittedly: they are all closer to dessert than performance fuel. Some of them do provide a good chunk of protein and are low in carbs, but others are literally candy injected with protein. Since we’re all about the taste, we rated the bars on a scale from one to ten, with one being a generic American protein bar and ten being indistinguishable from candy.
PhD Smart Bar
At 238 calories, the Smart Bar is packed with 20 grams of protein and less than two grams of sugar. It’s our go-to whenever we can find it outside Ireland, where we first discovered it. Our favorite flavor is caramel crunch: the soft center is delicious, and as a whole it’s not overly sweet. PhD claims on its site: “Smart Bar is perfect for those who crave confectionary however still want to pursue a leaner lifestyle.” I think that describes my brother and me perfectly.
Grenade Carb Killa Bar
We discovered the Carb Killa in an Icelandic grocery store. Each bar contains 23-plus grams of protein, 16 grams of carbs, and two grams of sugar for 215 calories. If you want a more filling alternative to dessert, try our favorite flavor: dark chocolate orange. It tastes exactly like the classic Terry’s confection.
Boost Protein Bar
The Boost Protein contains 12 grams of protein and is made by Cadbury, so you can expect it to be delicious. The downside: 249 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of fat per bar. Guilty pleasure? Absolutely. “This chocolate is the richest. It tastes like a full-on Cadbury bar,” Gian says.
Barebells Protein Bar
Barebells tastes the most like a generic American bar in terms of chewiness and chocolate profile. It does have some crunchy pieces of puffed rice in the outer layer that provide a nice texture, but we don’t think the chocolate is exceptional. Where it stands out is the nutritional breakdown: 197 calories, 20 grams of protein, 16 grams of carbs, and no added sugar (it’s sweetened with cocoa butter, whole milk powder, and other ingredients.)
Nutramino Sweet Coconut Protein Bar
If you couldn’t tell by now, we prefer candy bars masquerading as protein bars. This is our favorite in terms of flavor, because it’s basically indistinguishable from one of our favorite childhood candies. “If you blindfolded me and had me bite into this, I would say this is an Almond Joy,” Gian says. At 215 calories per bar, you’ll get 15 grams of protein and 16 grams of carbs, 11 of which come from sugar.