Protein bars are a popular snack food designed to be a convenient source of nutrition.
Enjoyed by many, they’re a quick way to add protein and other nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals to a busy and active lifestyle.
But how many can a person consume in one day?
As with any food or snack, this will depend on the person, their nutritional needs, and their goals.
There are three important questions to consider when deciding on your protein bar:
- Can you fit it into your daily calorie allowance?
- What are your daily macronutrient requirements?
- Do you need additional workout support?
Your daily calorie requirements
Calories are simply a measure of the energy content in food.
Our bodies need energy to carry out vital functions such as breathing, thinking, talking, walking, and eating.
When you eat and drink you fuel your body with this much-needed energy.
To maintain a stable weight, the energy you put into your body must be the same as the energy you use through normal bodily functions and physical activity. 1
An essential part of a healthy diet is balancing the energy you put into your body with the energy you use. For example, the more physical activity you do, the more energy you will use. 2
How many calories you eat will depend on age, weight, height, gender, activity level. 5
As the calories contained within protein bars are already calculated, they can be a convenient snack for those trying to maintain a specific caloric intake each day as it is not necessary to prep, weigh or measure before eating.
Protein bars can be fitted into your daily calorie intake regardless of whether you are trying to gain, lose, or maintain weight.
Your daily macronutrient requirements
Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy to the body. They are needed for several bodily functions, such as metabolism and growth.
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all macronutrients that you need to eat in relatively large amounts in your diet.
Carbohydrates include sugars (simple carbohydrates), starches, and fibers (complex carbohydrates).
They provide energy for your body which helps fuel your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles, and central nervous system. 6
The body breaks most carbohydrates down into glucose for immediate energy or glycogen, stored in muscles and liver for later use.
Carbohydrate intake is among the most hotly debated of all macronutrient recommendations, but major health organizations suggest consuming 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs. 7
They are especially crucial for athletes and those who frequently exercise to give them energy.
Protein bars can be a great source of carbohydrates, whether you need a lot or a little to meet your daily requirements, mainly to give a boost of energy before a workout, or to aid in the recovery process by topping up depleted energy levels in the muscles post-workout.
Fats are the most calorie-dense macronutrient. Dietary fats play a vital role in giving your body energy and supporting cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce vital hormones, too. 8
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 – 2020 recommends for fat intake is 20 – 35% of your daily calories.
It is recommended to get your fat requirements predominantly from unsaturated fats e.g., plants, nuts, seeds. These fats help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels (among other health benefits) when they replace saturated fats.
Many protein bars can offer additional support if you are struggling to hit your RDA for fats, providing you with unsaturated fat from nuts, nut butters, and seeds.
Proteins are crucial for processes like cell signaling, immune function, and the building of tissues, hormones, and enzymes. It is especially important in exercise to aid muscle recovery and growth. 9
It’s important to eat protein every day because your body doesn’t store it the way it stores fats or carbohydrates. How much you need depends on your age, sex, health, and level of physical activity.
Experts recommend that proteins comprise 10–35% of your total calorie intake. 10
With each protein bar, offering on average, between 10 – 20g of protein per serving, each one can help you hit your daily protein requirements.
Proper nutrition can help your body perform better during exercise and recover more quickly after.
Optimal nutrient intake before exercise will not only help you maximize your performance but also minimize muscle damage. 11
Pre-workout meals can be eaten three hours to 30 minutes before a workout. However, choose foods that are easy to digest, especially if your workout starts in one hour or less to avoid stomach discomfort.
Similarly, ensuring you are getting the right nutrients directly after a workout will aid the recovery process, restoring energy, and promoting muscle protein synthesis. 12
If you’re not able to eat within 45 minutes of working out, it’s important to not go much longer than 2 hours before eating a meal.
Protein bars can be a great source of energy before a workout and great support in workout recovery. Their convenience and portability mean they can be eaten just before or after your workout to ensure you get all the nutrients you need to fuel your activity.
1 Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 4, Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/
2 Hartmann-Boyce J, Johns DJ, Jebb SA, Aveyard P; Behavioural Weight Management Review Group. Effect of behavioural techniques and delivery mode on effectiveness of weight management: systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression. Obes Rev. 2014;15(7):598‐609. doi:10.1111/obr.12165
3 Tappy L. Metabolic consequences of overfeeding in humans. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004;7(6):623‐628. doi:10.1097/00075197-200411000-00006
4 Hartmann-Boyce J, Johns DJ, Jebb SA, Aveyard P; Behavioural Weight Management Review Group. Effect of behavioural techniques and delivery mode on effectiveness of weight management: systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression. Obes Rev. 2014;15(7):598‐609. doi:10.1111/obr.12165
5 National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218769/
6 Holesh JE, Aslam S, Martin A. Physiology, Carbohydrates. [Updated 2020 Apr 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/
7 Slavin J, Carlson J. Carbohydrates. Adv Nutr. 2014;5(6):760‐761. Published 2014 Nov 14. doi:10.3945/an.114.006163
8 Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017;16(1):53. Published 2017 Aug 30. doi:10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4
9 Cooper GM. The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2000. Signaling Molecules and Their Receptors. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9924/
10 Wolfe RR, Cifelli AM, Kostas G, Kim IY. Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Adv Nutr. 2017;8(2):266‐275. Published 2017 Mar 15. doi:10.3945/an.116.013821
11 Hawley JA, Burke LM. Effect of meal frequency and timing on physical performance. Br J Nutr. 1997;77 Suppl 1:S91‐S103. doi:10.1079/bjn19970107
12 Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing [published correction appears in J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:18]. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:17. Published 2008 Oct 3. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-17