Are Protein Bars Always The Healthy Choice?
Is slapping 'protein' on a label enough to make something healthy? Or are protein bars glorified chocolate bars with no real benefit?
Protein is a big thing these days. Protein shakes and protein bars are just the tip of the protein iceberg. Bread, cheese, pizza, even fucking beer have been jacked up on the stuff and adorn your supermarket shelves. Marketers and supplement companies have gone bat shit crazy, seemingly preying on the current notion protein has magical powers.
Protein bars have been around a while. They're the elder statesman of the supplement world. Offering you a taste of sweet chocolate, but in a healthier way than your average slab of Dairy Milk.
But is it that simple? Is a protein bar inherently more healthy than a Wispa, Boost, KitKat, or my personal favourite... The Lion Bar?
Read on as I peel back the wrapper, nibble the chocolate on the outside and reveal the true core of protein bars. You'll discover if they're worth the hype, or simply chocolate covered, nutritional shit.
Why Have A Protein Bar In The First Place?
Picture the scene.
You've been given a brand new nutrition plan by your coach. You're excited. This is the first step towards looking like a badass and sexy as fuck.
But you're staring at that protein number, thinking, "How the fuck do I eat all that?"
Because you struggle to eat half that most days. So you do what every other self-respecting human with opposable thumbs, a computer, and WiFi does... Consult Google.
Your search for "how do I get more protein in my diet?" yields 472 million results (I checked). After skipping by the nonsense ones suggesting spinach, you find a few articles suggesting protein bars.
So what makes them so good?
Protein bars are pretty portable. Much more convenient than carrying around a shake all day.
Let's face it, we've all been then when the shake you made in the morning has started to turn just a few hours later. The milk is warm, creating a pungent, formidable scent that really stings the nostrils. And not in a good way.
So your individually wrapped delight offers a huge convenience benefit. Pretty much wherever
you are, whatever you're doing, a protein bar fits the snack criteria perfectly.
2. Relatively Low Calorie
Most protein bars are billed as low calorie, low carb, or both. Providing you with the ultim
ate double whammy. Hitting your protein target AND not creating a Grand Canyon sized crater in your caloric intake for the day.
And that means one thing. No more dinners of dust wrapped in lettuce, choked down with a serving of misery and self-loathing. Oh no. You get to eat like a normal human.
3. High Protein Compared To Similar Snacks
Calorie for calorie protein bars are comparable to your average chocolate bar. For example, take a KitKat. Four fingers of chocolatey goodness has 209 calories (sadly I didn't need to look that one up). Compare this to one of the leading protein bar brands on the market (Grenade Carb Killa), which has 215 calories and you can clearly they're almost identical.
And we know calories are king when it comes to weight and fat loss, right?
But wait... The protein content is important and clearly different between the two. 7g in the KitKat versus 23g in the Carb Killa. More than three times as much. But why should you even care?
Well, protein is going to help you build and preserve muscle. As well as helping you avoid cravings and feel full. Basically, it helps you look more badass.
But if you've got a real urge for a regular chocolate bar, just have one. Exchanging a protein bar for a KitKat isn't going to make any noticeable difference.
4. The Taste Of Chocolate When You Need It Most
As sure as the two suns rise on Tatooine every morning, you feel the desire for some chocolate at same time everyday. Maybe it's the 3pm lull between lunch and leaving work? Or possibly it's your go to snack for the Netflix Box Set marathon every evening?
Either way, you're after a hit of chocolate and your damn sure going to have it.
So like a couple of rebels making their way to Detention Area AA-23, sub-level five, Cell 2187 to free the Princess, the protein bar comes to the rescue.
Ok. So calorie for calorie there's no difference. But you're getting the taste of chocolate, boosting your protein, staying on track, AND contributing to the gains.
Gotta be worth considering, even if you are a scruffy looking nerf herder. And yes. I am calling YOU scruffy looking.
5. You Feel Like You're Doing Something Healthy
Most protein bars and chocolate bars are interchangeable on a calorie for calorie basis. There's no difference. So you should never feel guilty about having a chocolate bar if you want one. Food choices shouldn't be a huge moral decision.
Despite what scaremongering zealots will tell you, food is not about good versus evil. It's more about making decisions to suit your goals and opting for more nutritious food the majority of the time.
But I understand this might be a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Like the most evil man in the galaxy suddenly telling you he's your father. It's a lot to take in. Especially after he just sliced your hand off.
A protein bar has a "health halo". Because of the way it's marketed, you feel much less guilty about your choice. And if that helps you stick to your calorie deficit, then it's kind of ok. Although, I'd very much encourage you to get away from that way of thinking ASAP.
What Makes A Good Protein Bar?
More often than not a protein bar is going to be a pretty good choice when it comes to a chocolatey snack at 3pm in the afternoon. Better than ransacking the work vending machine for sure. But how do you tell good from bad?
Like many aspects of the fitness industry, especially supplements, some shady shit goes on. And sadly, protein bars haven't escaped. Although, there's no major drama to be concerned with.
But there are three things you might want to consider when faced with a hundred different varieties.
Realistically, you don't want a protein bar to be super high in calories. Otherwise it's not really a snack. It's more a very underwhelming meal. And no one wants that, right?
So aim for protein bars with around 200 calories. If it's packing significantly more than that, you can of course have it, but it might not be the best option. Simply be mindful when making your choices.
2. Protein Quantity
It's a protein bar, so naturally protein content is pretty important. And here's where things get a little interesting.
You see, some companies slap the word protein on their products simply when it has more protein than their other bars. But that still doesn't mean it has much protein in it. For example, check out this "protein bar" from Trek.
234 calories and just 9g of protein. In fact, 83% of the calories in the bar come from carbs and fat. Not much of a protein bar, is it? More a carb and fat bar...
So my advice is to look for bars with c.20g of protein (around 40% of total calories).
3. Protein Quality
Protein isn't cheap. Of the main three macronutrients it's the most expensive. And I'm not just talking protein bars here. Chicken is way more expensive than pasta for example. So when it comes to the manufacturing process of protein bars, compromises get made.
Because no one is going to buy a £5 protein bar.
To keep costs down a variety of protein sources are used. Whey, milk, and soy to name a few. But there are others you might not have heard of. Such as, collagen hydrolysate, gelatin hydrolysate, collagen peptides, and hydrolysed beef gelatine. All of these contribute to the protein content of the bar, but aren't the greatest quality.
You're never going to get away from these types of ingredients (unless you make the bars yourself). But want you do want to be wary of are protein bars where these ingredients feature high up on the ingredients list. Essentially, you want to steer clear of bars packed full of low quality protein.
Which Protein Bars Are Any Good?
Right now, you're quite rightly wondering which protein bars are any good. Am I right?
Well, as if by magic, here are the three protein bars I feel are among the best. I'll point out I receive no money or kickback from these recommendations, it's simply me sharing what I think. And I even put it all in this nice little graphic for you.
The Bottom Line On Protein Bars: Are They Always The Healthy Option?
This is actually a tricky one. Because it really comes down to how you define 'healthy'. And that's not me trying to be all existential.
In the context on an overall healthy diet they're a great snack to have. But it really comes down to much more than one 200 calorie snack. Having either a protein bar or a regular chocolate bar isn't going to make or break your progress. But they do have their advantages.
So if you want a convenient, high protein snack to help you on your way to being healthy, then go for it. But just make sure you're getting value for money.
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I’m off to pack in some protein. Because, you know... gains.