Protein bars have become hugely popular as a way of consuming protein in a quick and convenient snack. Gone are the days of the humble muesli bar; the protein bar has firmly taken over supermarket shelves and gym bags. We are using them for recovery, weight loss, convenience, meal replacement and snacking. Let us take a closer look at what is in your protein bar, and decide if it really is benefiting your health?
- Protein bars are very popular as a convenience snack
- Used for weight loss, muscle gains, meal replacements
- They can help to fuel a work-out or kick-start muscle recovery after work-outs
- Bars can vary greatly in nutrition
- Learn to read the nutrition panel to choose the bar suited to your needs
- Use healthy wholefood snacks in place of protein bars where possible
Why do we use protein bars?
Protein bars are a convenient way to a protein plus other nutrients to your diet such as carbs, vitamins and minerals. They can help to fuel a work-out or kick-start muscle recovery afterwards, or simply curb your appetite. Protein bars are no substitute for whole food nutrition, but they are firmly finding their place for these reasons:
Protein bars are extremely popular with dieters who aim for a higher protein diet to support their weight loss. It is understood that protein is more filling – so having a higher intake, particularly in snacks, can help to curb your appetite and aid weight loss goals. Along with low-carb and low-sugar benefits, they are often promoted by diet food brands as a handy snack.
Recovery and gains
Protein supplements are often consumed by athletes and active adults with the aim of achieving greater gains in muscle mass and strength. This focus on muscle recovery and repair and therefore improvement in physical performance is possible if your overall diet and exercise level is adequate. Basically, a protein supplement won’t help if you’re eating a poor diet in general.
Wholefood nutrition including protein rich foods in meals and snacks is a great way to meet your nutrient needs. Convenience is a strong driving factor in our nutrition choices, and 22% of all snack launches in the US in the last 5 years has been new bars. We are certainly hungry for quick protein snacks, with the market sector hitting a whopping USD $3.9 billion in sales in the USA in 2019.
Once again, convenience is a factor here, and now more than ever people are reaching for a protein bar instead of a meal such as breakfast on the way to work from the gym. Bars will never replace a wholefood, nutrient rich breakfast, but may fill a gap on occasion.
Protein bar nutrition can vary wildly – not only between brands but between flavours. Most protein bars will contain 10–20 grams of protein, but will vary greatly in terms of carbs, sugar, fat and other nutrients. Reading the nutrition label is vital to meet your nutrition goals when choosing a bar, as total calories can vary from 150-400 calories depending on the ingredients. Other micronutrients that are commonly found in protein bars are B Vitamins, Calcium, Potassium and Iron.
Protein Bar Nutrition
To maximise your recovery after exercise, we know that consuming protein in the range of 0.3-0.5g/kg is helpful. This translates to roughly 20-40g of protein. However, many protein bars contain much less than this. The source of protein can vary greatly – some bars contain dairy proteins such as casein and whey, and many now contain plant-based protein sources such as nuts, pea, soy, rice and lupin. Some bars will contain protein isolates which are highly processed and concentrated protein sources and are far from natural and nourishing wholefood nutrition.
43% of consumers will check for sugar levels when purchasing a bar, and this is important as some bars can contain high levels of sugar and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. These compounds can increase your risk of chronic illness such as diabetes and obesity.
Protein bars will typically contain 5-10 grams of fat and these can be from natural protein sources such as nuts and seeds. Some highly processed bars can contain fat from highly processed oils such as palm or canola oil and can bump up the calorie intake of the bar too – as much as 350-400 calories per bar. These bars can quickly add extra calories to your diet between meals and contribute to weight gain.
Protein bars are not known for their fibre, although they often contain 5-10 grams per bar. Fibre is vital to gut function and health, so choosing a bar with higher fibre can be helpful.
What to look out for when choosing a Protein Bar
Firstly, what are your goals for a protein bar – as this will determine your requirements. If you need a convenient snack after training, look for a wholefood based, natural protein bar that contains at least 20g of protein with some carbohydrates, healthy fats, some fibre and plenty of nutrients from the natural ingredients.
If you are using the bar as a weight loss snack, you may aim for a bar higher again in protein (30+ grams protein), with lower fat and carbohydrate levels.
When choosing a bar, firstly pay attention to the protein amount and source or quality. Then check the sugar levels (keep under 6-8 grams sugar per bar), the fibre (around 6 grams of fibre is helpful), and scan for any harmful additives in the ingredients list.
And finally – try them out for taste! Protein bars can range from tasting like cardboard to totally delicious… so keep trying until you find a suitable one for your tastes and needs.
Healthy options and alternatives
Protein bars aside, we are passionate at Bindi about promoting wholefoods and natural nutrition. So, no article would be complete without us giving you some simple, healthy options that you can use in convenient ways to meet your nutrition needs. Here are some protein rich snacks you could try:
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy eg yoghurt, cottage cheese
- Protein Smoothie
- Protein Balls
- Chicken Sandwich
- Boiled eggs
Protein Bars: Summary
Protein bars are here to stay and are a convenient way to add not only protein but other nutrients to your diet. Protein bar nutrition can vary greatly, so be sure to read the nutrition panel and understand the ingredients before you consume them. There are plenty of other ways to include protein in your diet to support a healthy lifestyle, and you can read more on The Power of Protein here.
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