Are protein bars good for you? They have certainly become popular as an easy snack on the go to or from the gym, and for those days when you don’t have time for a meal. They can even be used as a weight loss aid. But are protein bars a healthy snack? Does it depend on the brand or flavor you buy? And are some protein bars an unhealthier choice than a bag of chips or a chocolate bar?
Also called energy bars, protein bars can contain a range of ingredients, from healthy to surprisingly unhealthy. While many of the best protein bars are packed with seeds, nuts and whole grains, some can also be packed with added sugars and sweeteners — often to mask the bitter taste of some of their more wholesome ingredients.
When it comes to choosing a healthy protein bar, knowing what ingredients to look for on the package and understanding basic nutrition information can help you make an informed choice.
This article takes a closer look at protein bars, their nutritional makeup, and what health benefits they provide. It also looks at whether protein bars are the healthiest way to get the protein you need.
Are protein bars good for you: Nutrition
When it comes to how “good” protein bars are for you, it depends on the protein bar brand and what ingredients go into the bar. Most protein bars contain a good mix of ingredients that provide flavor and texture, such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit. They may also contain whole grains, such as oats. To bind these ingredients together and improve the overall taste, they may also contain sugar syrups, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, milk, eggs, or yogurt powder. Vegan brands may choose to use plant-based products, such as soy or rice.
Given the variety of ingredients, it’s impossible to tell if each protein bar is right for you. But knowing basic nutritional information can help. According to the United States Department of Agriculturean average 63g protein bar will contain the following nutrition:
|Amount of||% Daily Value|
|Total lipid (fat)||9 grams||14%|
|fatty acids||3.5 grams||18%|
Using this as a guideline, we can see that our average protein bar is a great source of protein, fiber and calcium. It is also a good source of carbohydrates and iron.
It is important to note that not all protein bar manufacturers list their ingredients on the packaging. Some use a mix of ingredients that are kept secret from their competitors, so it can be difficult to know exactly what you are putting into your body. By choosing protein bars with a full list of ingredients, you can make a more informed choice.
Many protein bars use highly processed forms of protein to load up their bars, rather than using less processed foods. So you may notice ingredients like whey protein isolates or soy protein isolates. If you want to avoid more refined and processed foods in your diet, you can give it a spin and opt for bars that contain more protein from less processed sources, such as nuts, grains and seeds.
What are the possible benefits of protein bars?
You may be wondering if there are any potential benefits to eating a protein bar, and the good news is, there certainly can be. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common.
Many people use protein bars to help with: achieving weight loss† Protein can help have a “filling effect” on the body, reducing the urge to snack or eat more than necessary at mealtimes.
A study 2019 in 62 overweight women in Korea looked at how having a daily protein bar reduced calorie consumption. Researchers found that the women reduced their daily calorie intake by as much as 39% on average. They also achieved weight loss and improved their blood cholesterol levels.
Protein bars can also be helpful if you need to pack on weight, such as if you have a thyroid disorder or find it difficult to make time for regular meals.
If you need to increase your daily calorie count, a protein bar can give you about an extra 250 kcal per day – some even more. While eating a protein bar is better than relying on fatty foods and sugary snacks, you should instead aim for regular meals and healthy snacks to help shed the pounds. But having a protein bar in your pocket can help. Just look for bars that contain less refined and processed ingredients, artificial sweeteners and additives.
Adding protein to your diet can help you build muscle. This is because healthy, protein-rich foods can help muscles repair themselves after exercise, encouraging more muscle growth.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends eating up to 3g of protein per kilogram of body weight every day to optimize muscle growth during intense resistance training. While it recommends opting for high-protein, whole foods, it also says that the best protein powder and supplements are a convenient and easy way to get more protein in the diet.
Some days you just don’t have time to sit down and have breakfast. So, grabbing a protein bar before you head out the door can give you the energy you need to start the day. Just make sure you don’t do it every day.
Convenient and quick energy boost
If you’re tired after a workout at the gym or just need to be picked up in the mid-afternoon, a protein bar can help give you extra energy quickly. While you can get the same effect from a healthy snack, it may not be as portable and easy to eat on the go as a protein bar.
Protein Bars: Cons and Considerations
While protein bars can be a quick and effective snack to boost your energy levels and protein intake, it’s always better to meet your nutritional needs through a healthy, balanced diet, using whole, unrefined ingredients. It’s worth keeping the following points in mind if you’re considering adding protein bars to your diet or increasing what you’re already eating.
- You can eat too much protein. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. That means the average 200-pound man needs about 72 g of protein per day. While that may seem like a lot of protein bars, keep in mind the other proteins in your diet, from sources like meat, fish, eggs, and milk.† In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that men between the ages of 19 and 59 are already eating too much protein.
- Protein bars can be expensive. If you’re in the habit of using a protein bar in preparation for your gym or afternoon snack, the cost will add up. With an average protein bar between $1 and $4, you could end up spending over $100 dollars a month. That’s probably more than your gym membership. Swapping out your protein bar for a homemade, high-protein snack a few days a week can save you money and ensure you eat a varied, healthy diet.
- Some protein bars contain so much sugar and refined ingredients that they are not far from candy bars. Looking at the nutritional information on the back of your favorite bar can help you decide if it’s right for you or if you should switch brands. In fact, you can make your own protein bars at home so you know exactly which ingredients went into them.
Jäger, R., Kerksick, CM, Campbell, BI, Cribb, PJ, Wells, SD, Skwiat, TM, Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, TN, Ferrando, AA, Arent, SM, Smith-Ryan, AE, Stout, JR, Arciero, PJ, Ormsbee, MJ, Taylor, LW, Wilborn, CD, Kalman, DS, Kreider, RB, Willoughby, DS, Hoffman, JR, … Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
Park, D., Lee, HJ and Son, SM (2019). Effects of a low-calorie diet, including high-protein, low-carbohydrate protein bar, on weight loss and serum lipid indicators in overweight women according to dietary compliance. Korean Journal of Community Nutrition. The Korean Society of Community Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.5720/kjcn.2019.24.6.485
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