Are Protein Bars Good for You?

Should You Eat Them Before or After Your Workout?

Make homemade protein bars
Protein bars. JJ Poole / iStockPhoto.com

Question: My exercise friends said I need to get more protein so I should eat protein bars. When I go shopping I see so many different kinds of protein bars. Some look more like candy bars and others look like they might be good for me. I'm not sure why I need them, though, so can you answer a few questions about protein bars?

Answer: I think the main reason to buy protein bars is just for the sake of convenience.

Whether you buy prepackaged protein bars or make homemade protein bars at home, they just make getting protein a little easier. It's no big deal to tuck away a tasty protein bar in your backpack, purse or gym bag. So it just makes meal planning a little easier for people who want to get more protein into their diets.

Should I Eat Protein Bars Before or After My Workout?

Either or both. Eating a protein bar before your workout will give you the energy you need for your workout, especially if the protein bar has a fair amount of carbohydrates from whole grains or dried fruits. The best time to eat a protein bar is one or two hours before you start to exercise. Another protein bar right after your workout provides the same combination of carbs and protein your muscles need for recovery and growth.

What Does Protein Do and Where Does It Come From?

You need some protein every day so your body can maintain muscles, organs, and other structures and fluids in your body.

Protein rich foods include meats, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy, but proteins are present in smaller amounts in other foods. If you engage in heavy physical activities, you'll need a little more protein than if you're less active. it doesn't really matter if your protein comes from plant or animal sources, as along as you get all of the essential amino acids that make up proteins, you're good.

Do I Need Extra Protein?

Maybe you do, but as long as you eat a balanced diet, you probably get enough protein from the foods you eat. Even if your diet isn't so healthful, it's still probable that your protein intake is sufficient. If you're an athlete or if you have an extremely physical job you might require more protein. You can calculate your daily protein need based on your current calorie intake. Most people will need somewhere between 55 to 100 grams of protein per day.

Are Protein Bars Good for Weight Management?

Yes, protein bars can help you lose or gain weight. Eating a protein bar between meals can help control your appetite, but don't eat too many because you'll end up taking in more calories than you need. Most protein bars contain anywhere from 150 to 250 calories each. Be sure to read labels and look for bars made with less sugar and fat. 

Protein bars can also help If you're trying to gain weight. Add one or two bars to your regular daily diet, but be careful that you don't cut calories from your other meals.

It might help to choose protein bars that are also higher in fats and carbohydrates.

What Type of Protein Is Used in Protein Bars?

Most protein bars use soy proteins or whey (which is a milk protein), plus they often have a little extra protein from nuts and seeds. Occasionally you'll find protein bars made with rice, green pea or other plant proteins so they're good for people with soy or dairy allergies and vegans.

Are There Any Bad Protein Bars?

I don't think there really are any bad protein bars, but make sure you read the labels before you buy them. You may be surprised at the number of calories you're taking in because many brands are high in added sugar. In fact, you might as well eat a candy bar with peanuts or almonds at that point.

Some protein bars are sweetened with sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than sugar but are not calorie-free, and they can lead to digestive upset, which isn't good. You should also avoid protein bars made with partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans-fats. 

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition." Published February 15, 2016.

United States Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov. "All About the Proteins Food Group." Updated July 29, 2016.

Continue Reading