Everyone wants to be able to lay in bed at night and say they got their protein in for the day, yet many of us also don't have the time to be cooking chicken or steak for hours everyday and so we rectify this with protein bars.
Protein is a necessary macronutrient needed to build and repair muscle tissue. In order to maintain your macros you may be turning to protein bars for a quick fix, but is this the best option to turn to? In short terms the answer is it depends. Protein bars can fit into a healthy diet, in moderation and when the calories don’t equal the same as a candy bar (small hooray!)
Are Protein Bars Healthy?
It’s no question protein bars are a great on-the-go snack that require no cooking time and can fit into your pocket. However, a lot of them also have an overwhelming amount of processed sugars and added fats you may not have been looking for. Make that chocolate protein bar worthwhile and take an extra minute to find a bar that fits your dietary goals and needs whether that’s with weight loss or muscle gain. If you’re looking to gain muscle, a bar high in protein and carbs with minimal fat can get the job done. Or if you’re looking to lose weight, a bar high in protein and low in carbs/fat is ideal in balancing your diet and won’t leave you feeling guilty.
But should you be using protein bars on the reg?
Including some more variety in your diet may be best. Even though bars can be a great source of protein, eating them everyday to get your protein isn’t the best way to go about fulfilling that particular macro. A majority of the protein coming from protein bars is fortified (added protein), and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, you could be missing out on potential health benefits of getting more naturally occurring sources. In addition, including a variety of quality protein options allows you to also get a larger variety of nutrients and benefits from foods.
Benefits of Protein Bars
Protein is the essential macronutrient that helps to grow, shape, repair and maintain every single cell in your body.
Protein bars can aid in protein-synthesis and help your muscles in the recovery process. Milk derived bars with casein and whey, contain all nine essential amino acids necessary to build new proteins in your body. And for vegan diets, soy based proteins are also considered complete.
Tip: Look for bars with at least 20g of protein.
A study in 2009 mentioned in order to activate protein-synthesis the optimal amount of protein for stimulation is 20g. This will allow your muscles to adapt to the intense strength training your doing and keep muscles lean without losing any of it. Anything more than 20g can be digested but does not lead to more lean muscle preservation or protein synthesis stimulation.
Protein Bars for Weight Loss
Protein bars can also aid in weight loss and overall fat loss. A high protein diet may provide a greater thermogenic effect compared to a diet high in carbohydrates and fats (more energy released), a greater satiety response (less of that “hunger” feeling) as well as the potential for weight loss, fat loss and muscle retention (2).
Protein Bar Nutrition: Check the Labels
What is something to look for in a nutrition label when picking a protein bar?
The ideal bar is going to provide at least 10g of protein for every 100 calories. And added sugar should be kept as low as possible.
Make sure to check the fat substance and whether a greater amount of the calories are originating from fat or protein. A ton of bars are made with nuts, nut spreads, and seeds which will wrack up fat and calories rapidly. These healthy fats can help top you off more, keeping you satisfied. Yet in the event that you are looking to a protein bar as an exercise recuperation, fat can slow the absorption of carbs and protein you require, and you'd need to pick a lower fat option.
As for other ingredients, look for bars with clean ingredients you recognize as food, and quality protein sources you can identify. Many bars can be advertised as “protein bars” at first glance but when you look into the details they may also have the same amount or more carbs/fats than protein.
Foodie fact: Manufacturers aren’t required to label the amount of added sugar or sugar alcohols on the nutrition label.
Sugar alcohols originate from plants such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrates in these foods go through a chemical process to become the stickiness you find in protein bars and are listed in the ingredients as: sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and isomalt. These sugar alcohols can serve as a low calorie and "sugar-free" alternative to many added sugar ingredients.
However, they may cause an upset stomach and bloating in some people. Nonetheless, if you are watching your sugar intake, bars containing sugar alcohols can provide a healthy alternative.
Protein Bar Alternatives
Protein bars are not the most nutrient dense source of protein you can get. There are a lot of other options that can give you a great source of protein for less calories - and they typically contain other important nutrients as well.
The average high protein bar is going to have about 200 to 250 calories and about 20g of protein. Compared to alternative options that provide the same amount of protein for much less calories and hardly any added sugar or processed ingredients:
1 cup of plain, non-fat greek yogurt (100 calories)
5 hard boiled egg whites (85 calories)
2 oz grass-fed jerky (140 calories)
3 oz. grilled chicken and 2 TBSP hummus (150 calories)
1 cup of edamame (200 calories)
Or you can try out some of our favorite protein packed recipes below:
High-Protein French Toast Recipe
High Protein Salmon Toast Recipe
When Should You Eat Protein Bars?
We love a good protein bar every once in a while ESPECIALLY when we’re on the go. Because they are compact and travel well without refrigeration. They can be ideal for long hikes, endurance bike rides, or traveling in general. Having a quality bar you like, on hand, can really be a lifesaver when you need fuel and there’s nothing around - or nothing that fits your diet. They can also be a great way to supplement the diet with calories and protein for those that might need it, such as bodybuilders, vegans and/or those on a high protein diet.