For every diet trend, there seems to be an on-the-go option. High protein bars have become extremely popular as a way to get a quick protein hit before and after workouts. But are protein bars actually good for you? Let’s take a look into their nutritional value and discover if they are really worth it.
There are hundreds of different protein bars on the market and they are not all created equal. Many are high in unhealthy refined sugars and overly processed ingredients.
Eating protein bars should never replace a healthy, balanced diet.
Protein bars can be good as an energy top-up post workout.
Make sure you choose protein bars with healthy wholefood ingredients.
Are protein bars good for you?
Due to the high protein content, these bars can provide a much needed pick-me-up after a workout, or help you feel full in between meals.
While there are certainly protein bars that can be good for you from a nutritional perspective, not all protein bars are created equal. Their popularity has seen many new brands popping up, adding high-fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners that negate the health benefits.
If you choose a protein bar from a reputable health food brand with a clear ingredients label—you’ll be able to check the nutritional information and that it contains other micronutrients such as calcium, B vitamins, iron and potassium to name a few.
What are protein bars made from?
There are many ingredients that can go into a protein bar. The most common ones include:
- Yoghurt powder;
- Whey Protein;
- Soy Protein;
- Pea Protein;
- Rice Protein.
It’s important to remember that nutrient composition can vary widely depending on the brand and flavor of the bar. Always read the label, checking the ingredients and not just the claims on the front of the packaging, which can be misleading.
Are protein bars good for weight loss?
If you use protein bars as part of a weight loss program, they can be a great way to stop you reaching for the snack jar. Protein makes you feel fuller for longer and can be used to quell hunger before and after workouts. However, there are pros and cons to using protein bars for weight loss.
You must remember that you need to burn more calories than you consume in order to shed the unwanted pounds. Look for protein bars with low carbs when incorporating them into your diet.
Are protein bars actually healthy?
Nothing can compare to a healthy wholefoods based diet. A protein bar will usually be made with extra sweeteners—even those that claim to be super healthy often use fruit syrups for sweetness that still contain a lot of sugar.
It's worth mentioning that the protein sources in protein bars are generally not wholefoods. Most often they will be whey or soy protein isolates which the body doesn’t process or use in quite the same way as a wholefoods protein source.
What to look for in a protein bar
Look for a protein bar that sources its main protein content from wholefoods such as nuts and seeds. The nutrients will be bioavailable and more easily absorbable than a bar with lots of over-processed ingredients.
Protein bars to avoid
- Sweeteners. Anything that contains high-fructose corn syrup should be avoided. Excessive consumption of sweeteners has been shown to increase the risk of a fatty liver, diabetes and obesity.
- Concentrated proteins. Avoid the protein bars that use overly processed whey and soy. The production methods used to create these protein isolates can often leave the products open to contamination from toxic chemicals such as pesticides, BPA from plastics and heavy metals.
- Gums and Thickeners. Try to find a bar that is made without gums and thickeners. Emulsifiers can often irritate the lining of the gut and contribute to inflammatory conditions. People with Crohn's disease or colitis should avoid emulsifiers where possible.
How protein bars work
Protein bars work by providing your body with protein rich nutrition, with the added benefits of extra fiber, vitamins A and C and other micronutrients like calcium and potassium. Protein is digested slower than carbs, so eating protein rich foods help us feel fuller for longer.
We build new muscle from protein, so grabbing a bar pre or post workout can facilitate more efficient muscle building and recovery. However, it’s important to remember that no type of snack—however healthy it is— should replace a diet focused on healthy meals made with nutritious wholefoods.
Protein bars vs food
Some people have used protein bars as a meal substitute. However, this is not recommended and can lead to nutritional deficiencies. A protein bar does not contain the full spectrum of nutrients that you need to maintain optimal health. Focus on healthy meals and add protein bars instead of reaching for a sugary snack.
Protein bars vs shakes
Protein bars offer something called satiety—the feeling of satisfaction after eating something. In general, shakes don’t provide the same sense of satiety, probably because we don’t associate drinking something with being full. Protein bars are extremely convenient, you can just throw one in your gym or work bag and they don’t take up a lot of space. Shakes take time to make and they can run the risk of spilling in your bag, creating a mess.
Protein bars vs candy bars
There’s no contest here. Providing you choose a low sugar option, a protein bar will always win against a candy bar. They contain many more nutrients than a candy bar and often a lot less sugar and harmful additives.
While protein bars can provide a healthy alternative to sugary snacks, it’s important to choose wisely. Look for a protein bar with low or no sugar and ensure it doesn't contain harmful emulsifiers and high-fructose corn syrup. Make sure you focus on a healthy diet, getting plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins.
- Harvard Health Publishing. The hidden dangers of protein powders.
- Health Communication Health halo effects from product titles and nutrient content claims in the context of "protein" bars.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance.