Let’s be honest here, most of us eat protein bars not only because they are convenient, but because we hope that they will help us lose weight. These bars were designed with endurance athletes in mind. Because they are portable and high in carbs, they are the perfect food for endurance events lasting more than 2 hours. They keep athletes from “hitting the wall” by providing nutrients that the body needs while exercising. Additionally, they are easy to snack on while training. The reality is that most people do not need extra carbohydrates while they exercise. In fact, the reason why we exercise is to burn off extra carbohydrates so that they won’t be stored as fat.
It is very important to be clear what your fitness goals are when choosing a protein bar.
- Do you want to lose weight/body fat?
- Is it to replace a meal?
- Is it a snack?
- Is it for weight gain?
- Do you need extra energy for long (2 hours plus) intense training?
Most of the bars today are loaded with excess sugar and saturated fat. They also lack fiber and other important phytochemicals that keep your body healthy. You would never think that the companies that make these bars and preach about low sugar-low fat diets would actually add those ingredients to their bars. But guess what? They do! Always read the label before you buy any nutritional product.
Here is what you should look for:
Check to see how much fat is in the bar and what type of fat it is. Many bars contain the “bad” fats and trans fats that can lead to heart disease. Look for good fats like canola oil.
If you are looking for a snack, the bar should contain 150 calories and under. To replace a meal, the bar could have 300 calories. Remember the bar’s purpose is to supply your body with the same nutrients that a meal would supply.
What type of protein does the bar contain? Whey is the best source. Look for at least 15 grams to help you reach your goal of at least 50 grams of protein per day.
Always look for complex carbohydrates like brown rice and other natural sources like fruit or fruit juices.
Look for the lowest number that you can find. If a bar contains, let’s say, 36 grams of carbohydrates and has 30 grams of sugar, you can be pretty sure that almost all of the carbs come form sugar. Most people eat protein bars to improve their diet, not to add more sugar to it.
Remember that sugar alcohols may be listed elsewhere on the label, so be sure to check for them. Try to keep sugar grams to no more than 5% of the bars total calories.
Some fiber is better than no fiber. See if you can find a bar that has at least some fiber to help to get you to your goal of 30 grams per day.
Sugar alcohols do not have to be listed as a carb on the label, so your bar could have a lot more carbs than you think. Even bars that claim to have no carbs may contain high amounts of carbs. Bar companies get away with this by calling them “sugar alcohols”; but this is just a way to disguise carbohydrates.
Always read the labels and look for the cleanest bar that you can find. After all we all need a “quick meal” available once in a while.