If you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you probably look for ways to improve your performance and achieve your goal. It is not a surprise that proper nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster after each workout. Optimal nutrient intake before and after exercise can ensure you get your best performance, while also decreasing your chances of injury. 1
In this article, we take a closer look at the importance of protein in sports, the optimal time to eat a protein bar, and the best protein bars for sports and exercise.
Importance of protein in sport
Protein is crucial in keeping your body growing, maintained, and repaired. The body needs protein for many reasons; however, it is especially critical for the maintenance and recovery of muscle. Muscle health is crucial for athletic performance, so, for athletes, achieving optimal rather than merely adequate protein intake is vital. Intense exercise causes the proteins that make up muscle to break down. This damage is responsible for muscle soreness and can ultimately reduce strength and function if you don’t replenish proteins. Consuming protein in the diet can offset this effect. 2
Protein is also the building block in building lean muscle mass for athletes. Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein helps you maintain muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training. Numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength. 3 If you’re physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein.
For strength and endurance athletes, protein recommendations are 0.54 – 0.63g per pound of body weight, approximately 50% greater than the current RDA of 0.36g per pound of body weight. 4
The optimal times to eat protein
It’s vital to ensure you are getting enough protein before your workout. Many studies have documented the potential benefits of pre-workout protein consumption in improving athletic performance. Eating protein before a workout has been shown to promote muscle protein synthesis, which is the process where protein is produced to repair damage to the muscles after intense exercise.
Other benefits of protein before a workout include:
- Increased muscle growth and anabolic repose
- Enhanced muscle performance for your workout
- Improved muscle recovery after your workout
- Increased strength and lean body mass
It is recommended that you eat two to three hours before you exercise. Protein bars can be a useful source of protein before your workout, especially if you eat within 45 – 60 minutes before your workout.
Exercise triggers the breakdown of muscles. 5 The rate at which this happens depends on your level of activity and training. Even the best-trained athletes experience muscle breakdown post-exercise. 6
Consuming the correct amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild proteins. It also gives you the building blocks required to build new muscle tissue. 7
It is recommended that you consume 0.14 – 0.23g of protein per pound of bodyweight very soon after a workout. Studies show that ingesting 20 – 40g of protein maximizes the body’s ability to recover after exercise. 8
Protein bars are an excellent snack that, unlike many other foods, can be eaten immediately after a workout as there is no preparation involved.
How to choose the right protein bar for your workout
Think about your workout needs: If you’re lifting weights, you might want a protein bar with high protein content to help build and repair muscles before and after your workout. If you’re training for a marathon, you might want an increase in energy, so look for a bar with a high carb to protein ratio to restore depleted glycogen levels after exercise.
Check the calorie count: Make sure that the calories in your protein bar work for your daily calorie allowance. For some people, a high-calorie protein bar works well to give the energy needed for a workout. In contrast, some people who are trying to lose weight might find a lower calorie bar more effective than cancel out their hard work during exercise.
Look at the number of carbohydrates: Look for a bar that gives you the adequate energy you need before or after exercise. High protein/ low carb bars are great before exercising to maximize performance and minimize potential muscle damage. Higher carb protein bars are great after a workout to refuel and replenish lost energy.
Check out some of these protein bars that are perfect for exercise.
GATORADE WHEY BARS
350 calories, 13g fat, 41g carbohydrates, 29g sugar, 2g fiber, 20g protein
Gatorade bars are specifically designed for athletes to help power performance during exercise. They are the perfect post-workout snack. The 20g of protein in the bar, helps to rebuild muscles and aids in muscle protein synthesis post-workout.
PURE PROTEIN BARS
200 calories, 5g fat, 19g carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 19g protein
Pure Protein Bars are delicious and seriously nutritious. With equal amounts of protein and carbohydrates, they are great as a pre-workout snack. These bars are gluten-free and come in various flavors such as Peanut Butter Cup, Chocolate Salted Caramel, Cookie Dough, and Birthday Cake.
240 calories, 10 g fat, 23 g carbohydrate (no sugar), 1 g fiber and 20 g of protein
ThinkThin bars are great to fuel your workout. The 20g of protein each bar contains goes a long way towards protecting and building your muscles both pre and post-workout. The high volume of carbs helps to boost your energy. For those trying to watch their sugar intake, this bar contains zero sugar!
220 calories, 8g fat, 23g carbs, 10g fiber, 1g sugar, 20g protein
These bars are perfect for those exercising as part of a weight loss program. Their muscle-building high protein content, combined with 10g of fiber, helps to keep you full through your workouts. One bars come in a range of great dessert-inspired flavors such as Pumpkin Pie and Glazed Donut to help curb cravings, and yet they only contain 1g of sugar.
- A gluten-free, guilt-free snack
- Satisfies your sweet tooth
- 20g of protein and 0g of sugar
280 calories, 10g fat, 36g carbohydrate, 14g sugar, 3g fiber, 11g protein
GoMacro bars are great for those trying to eat clean. They are made from raw ingredients and are vegan-friendly, organic, and gluten free. The mix of macros is perfect to help replenish after a workout.
1 Tipton KD. Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries. Sports Med. 2015;45 Suppl 1:S93-S104. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0398-4
2 Kato H, Suzuki K, Bannai M, Moore DR. Protein Requirements Are Elevated in Endurance Athletes after Exercise as Determined by the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0157406. Published 2016 Jun 20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157406
3 Pasiakos SM, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR. The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2015;45(1):111-131. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0242-2
4 Tipton KD. Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries. Sports Med. 2015;45 Suppl 1:S93-S104. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0398-4
5 Pitkanen HT, Nykanen T, Knuutinen J, et al. Free amino acid pool and muscle protein balance after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;35(5):784-792. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000064934.51751.F9
6 Chesley A, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA, Atkinson SA, Smith K. Changes in human muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1992;73(4):1383-1388. doi:10.1152/jappl.19126.96.36.1993
7 Biolo G, Tipton KD, Klein S, Wolfe RR. An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. Am J Physiol. 1997;273(1 Pt 1):E122-E129. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.1997.273.1.E122
8 Tipton KD, Ferrando AA, Phillips SM, Doyle D Jr, Wolfe RR. Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. Am J Physiol. 1999;276(4):E628-E634. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.1999.276.4.E628