Protein bars are a great snack choice for a variety of reasons.
They provide a convenient and easy way to reach your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient your body needs to be able to function. The RDA for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight (World Health Organisation, 2002 1). With the average protein bar containing about 10g – 20g of protein, one bar can go a long way towards helping you hit your daily goals.
For those who are trying to lose weight, but who lack the time or resources needed for extensive meal planning, protein bars are an easy option because their calories are already calculated and there is no need to measure or weigh anything out.
One of the most common reasons for looking for a protein bar is to provide the right nutrients to power performance during a workout. A protein bar consumed before exercising supplies you with steady slow-burning energy during your activity. It also aids quicker recovery time and less muscle fatigue post-workout. 2
In this article, we reveal what you should look out for when choosing the right protein bar for you.
Know your own goals
Whether you are looking to simply increase your protein intake, lose weight, or support your workout, what you need to look for in a protein bar will depend on your own goals.
If you’re looking for a post-workout recovery snack or a quick energy burst look for a bar that contains more carbohydrates than protein. 3
Because of protein’s muscle reparation and growth benefits, a bar high in protein (20g + versus 7g) is ideal for those who exercise strenuously or do heavy lifting to aid recovery and muscle protein synthesis.
The calorie content will differ depending on what you want from your protein bar. For a meal replacement, you will want to have a more calorie-dense bar to give enough energy to last until your next meal. If you want a protein bar as a snack you will want to consume a bar with fewer calories so that you don’t exceed your calorie intake for the day.
It stands to reason that one of the main reasons for choosing a protein bar is to increase your protein intake. To benefit from the protein you ingest, whether for muscle repair or satiety, try to choose a bar with more than 10g of protein per serving.
Depending on your goals, the amount of protein you need will vary. If you’re looking for fat loss, anywhere between a 1:1 to 2:1 protein to carb ratio will benefit you. 4 If you want to use the bar for recovery after a workout, you’ll want to get closer to a 1:2 ratio. Long endurance athletes, like marathon runners, could even use a bar with a ratio of 1:4. 5
When inspecting the nutrition label, ensure that protein is one of the first nutrients listed on the label. This means that it is one of the highest nutritional components of the bar.
Quality is also a factor. Whey isolate, casein, egg or, pea proteins are all high-quality proteins that are most commonly used in these bars as main sources of protein.
Carbohydrates can often get a bad rep amongst macronutrients, but they are important in providing energy and aiding recovery for exercise enthusiasts.
Your carbohydrate requirements will vary depending on your goals. If you are looking for a burst of energy pre or post-workout, you should look for a bar with a high carbohydrate content. This will help to give you the energy you need to complete your workout and will also aid in the recovery process, post-workout. 6
Try to look for complex carbohydrates that will take time for your body to process. Complex carbohydrates include starch and fibers which provide slower burning energy than sugar.
A quick look at the ingredient label will tell you the sugar content of your bar. The higher up sugar is on the ingredient list, the higher the content of sugar in the bar. 7
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day is 37.5g for men and 25g for women. 8
Try to aim for a bar with below 13g of sugar to keep within your RDA for sugar.
Fats are important for nutrient absorption in the body but try to choose a bar with more healthy, unsaturated fats than trans-fats or saturated fats.
This is particularly important if you are eating a protein bar as a post-workout snack. The healthy fats slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, providing you with slow-burning energy to fuel your body’s recovery. 9
Unsaturated fats have also been proven to effectively help in the reduction of belly fat. 10
If you’re trying to lose weight or are simply looking for a bar to keep you full between meals, look for one that has more than 3g of fiber.
When fiber is combined with proteins, fats, and carbohydrates it goes through a longer digestion process than simple sugars. As a result, the body does not feel hunger for a long time. The fiber supports the digestive system, lowers cholesterol levels, and helps with weight reduction. It also helps control blood sugars. 11
When choosing your protein bar, don’t forget to look at the calorie content. If you’re using the bar as a snack, look for a bar with around 140 – 200 calories so that you don’t exceed your calorie requirements for the day. For those looking for a meal replacement bar or conversely if you are trying to gain weight, you should look for a bar with close to 400 calories with added vitamins and minerals to ensure you are getting the energy you need.
1 Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation. Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser. 2007;(935):. https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/nutrientrequirements/WHO_TRS_935/en/
2 Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 2007;32(4):467‐477. doi:10.1007/s00726-006-0398-7
3 Kanter M. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutr Today. 2018;53(1):35‐39. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000238
4 Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-873. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0804748
5 Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
6 Outlaw JJ, Wilborn CD, Smith-Ryan AE, et al. Effects of a pre-and post-workout protein-carbohydrate supplement in trained crossfit individuals. Springerplus. 2014;3:369. Published 2014 Jul 21. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-369
7 Tybor DJ, Beauchesne AR, Niu R, Shams-White MM, Chung M. An Evidence Map of Research Linking Dietary Sugars to Potentially Related Health Outcomes. Curr Dev Nutr. 2018;2(11):nzy059. Published 2018 Oct 25. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzy059
8 Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120(11):1011‐1020. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627
9 Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G, Willett W. Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance. BMJ. 2018;361:k2139. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2139
10 Uppsala University. (2014, February 24). Abdominal fat accumulation prevented by unsaturated fat. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 11, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140224110017.htm
11 James W Anderson, Pat Baird, Richard H Davis, Jr, Stefanie Ferreri, Mary Knudtson, Ashraf Koraym, Valerie Waters, Christine L Williams, Health benefits of dietary fiber, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 67, Issue 4, 1 April 2009, Pages 188–205, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x