Protein bars are a fitness enthusiast's best friend. They're seen as the perfect convenient snack that gives you a much-needed boost in protein intake, and although they taste good... are they actually good for you?
That's a question many have, and the answer is it really depends on the bar you buy! Just like with any workout supplement, the nutritional value of a protein bar varies on the brand. And choosing the right one will determine whether it's going to help you meet your muscle-building or weight loss goals, or deceive you and leave you hungry within a few minutes!
But how do you know which protein bars are nutrient-dense, healthy, and filling? Keep on reading to learn more about protein bars and the qualities to look for in one so you can find the best one for you and your fitness goals!
Are protein bars good for you?
There's no doubt that protein bars taste good, some even resemble your favorite chocolate bar, but not all are created equal. What sets the good ones apart from the bad ones are the ingredients.
Most protein bars range from 150-400 calories and contain anywhere between 10-30 grams of protein per serving. Some bars are really high in added sugars, artificial sweeteners, fats, and other filler ingredients that turn these protein bars into basically candy bars! These are the types of bars that will trick you into thinking you're getting a boost of high-quality protein when in reality you're just getting a bunch of ingredients that provide no health benefits and will leave you feeling hungry quicker than you expected.
On the other hand, finding a good protein bar can be beneficial for your fitness goals! After all, protein is an essential macronutrient, it's critical for building muscle, hormonal health, metabolic rate, and so much more. Getting enough of it in your diet can be a challenge, that's why so many fitness enthusiasts turn to protein shakes or protein bars when they need a quick, convenient protein boost.
As long as your training routine, and diet are on point a healthy protein bar that is nutrient-dense and has minimal additives can help you reach your weight loss or muscle-building goals. The key is knowing what to look for!
How to find the best protein bars
To find the healthiest protein bars that align with your goals, dietary restrictions, and overall needs, follow these tips...
Aim for at least 20 grams of high-quality protein
When looking at the ingredients label, the first thing you want to look for is a quality protein source that fits your dietary preference and enough of it. There are many bars that claim to have a lot of protein, but then looking at the nutrition label you can see that it supplies less than 10 to 15 grams – this is why you always should look at the nutrition label!
You want your protein bar to have as much protein as a protein powder, this means anywhere between 20 to 30 grams. As for the type of protein, choose a complete protein if you can, and look for one that is high in leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid that plays a big role in muscle protein synthesis – the key driver behind muscle growth. It basically helps jumpstart the process of rebuilding muscle! Whey protein powder and whole-egg protein contain the greatest amount of leucine. For those who are following a plant-based diet, look for soy or pea protein, these are the richest in essential amino acids and contain an effective amount of leucine.
Less added sugars
You want to focus on the protein content of your protein bar, but don't stop there! Check how many added sugars the protein bar has too. Some brands contain up to 30 grams of added sugar, almost as much as a candy bar.
It's recommended by the American Heart Association to have no more than 24 grams of sugar for most women, and 36 grams of sugar for most men. To make sure you're not exceeding that limit, choose a protein bar with less than 10 grams of added sugar per bar.
Avoid unnecessary ingredients
Besides looking out for added sugars, you want to avoid too many unnecessary additives and fillers. Some ingredients to look out for are...
- Artificial food coloring, flavors, and preservatives.
- Non-organic soy and soy protein isolate.
- Non-natural sugars like brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, dextrose, fructose, caramel, sucralose, and evaporated cane juice.
- Partially hydrogenated oils.
- Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol (opt for erythritol and stevia instead).
Don't worry, you can still have a tasty protein bar without all of these ingredients! Instead of grabbing a bar with the ingredients listed above, look for natural delicious ingredients like dates, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and more.
Fiber should play a big role in your diet! It's a type of carb that can't be broken down by the body and helps with digestion. However, too much fiber can have the opposite effect and could cause bloating, gas, and other digestive issues. So, look for roughly 5 grams of fiber per serving. Anything that contains 10 grams of fiber or above could be due to an added synthetic fiber, like chicory root.
A good ratio of protein and carbs
Stop avoiding carbs! Unless you're following a gluten-free diet for health reasons, carbs are needed to help the protein get digested and utilized for muscle-building. They also provide us with sustainable energy throughout the day!
Look for a good ratio of protein and carbs to help fuel, repair, and rebuild muscle. The optimal ratio is a 1:3 ratio of protein and carbohydrates. And the carbs should be coming from healthy sources, like whole grains, which are coincidentally rich in fiber.
Avoid meal replacement bars if you can
As long as you're following our tips above, meal replacement bars are okay, but if you can, avoid them! Always prioritize whole foods for your meals. Although protein bars can contain natural ingredients and sufficient nutrients, you're much better off eating a meal filled with nutrient-dense whole foods. Meals replacement bars also tend to be higher in calories, sugars, and saturated fats.
If you really need something quick and nutritious to fill you up, opt for a protein shake instead! Combine it with your favorite protein powder and other nutritious ingredients like peanut butter, bananas, berries, flaxseeds, etc. This approach is much better because you're still getting a good amount of protein, but as opposed to protein bars, you're adding all-natural ingredients!
To summarize, protein bars can be good for you and are a great source of protein! Unfortunately, there are many that are high in sugar, fats, and lack essential nutrients. Following our tips above will help you decipher which are the best protein bars that will help keep you satisfied while helping with your fitness goals!
Who are we?
We're 373 Lab Supplements – nice to meet you! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), and with a team filled with fitness enthusiasts, we've worked hard to bring a trustworthy supplement to the market! Supplements that are designed to help you achieve your fitness goals by giving you only the nutrients you need – no unnecessary fillers or additives!
Find what your pantry is missing at 373 Lab Supplements.