Protein bars have become a popular snack option for many people who are trying to be more health conscious. They are no longer just a way for bodybuilders or fitness enthusiasts to increase their daily protein intake, but have become a healthy snack option between meals for a wide variety of lifestyles. The question then becomes, are they really healthy?
Protein bars or snacks can be a convenient option during the day, as the increased protein intake can provide a feeling of satiety or fullness, and may help prevent further snacking. Protein is also important for energy levels during the day, and a higher protein snack option may keep you moving in the right direction. While that might seem like a perfect solution, not all protein bars are created equal. Some may be a great every day option, but others might be best served as more of a craving killing replacement. We will break down a few things to look for, as well as a few different examples of both types of protein snacks.
Types of Protein Snacks
Every Day Fill in : These bars or snacks are best suited for adding into a balanced diet to increase protein intake, without high amounts of sugar, or fat. They may be very useful at curbing hunger between meals during the day.
Meal Replacement : Bars or Snacks that fall into a “meal replacement” type category will generally be higher in calories and protein, as they are meant to take the place of a meal. While we don’t recommend relying on these as a meal every day in a weight loss type diet plan, they can be useful when time doesn’t permit you to consume a full meal. These bars are also well suited for weight gain based diet and exercise routines, as they can add a “meal” during the day.
Craving Killers : These can be the trickiest of the protein snacks. They may appear to be perfect, and they generally taste the best, but can be much higher in sugars or fats. While not the best to have all the time, these snacks are almost always better than their junk-food counterparts, which is why we would recommend going for them instead when you absolutely need to eat something bad.
Things to Look For
Calories : Checking the serving size and number of calories per serving is one of the first things you should do when seeing which category a protein bar or snack falls into. The everyday bars will generally be lower, many around 200 calories per bar. Meal replacement bars may be closer to 400 or even 500 calories per bar. This is also a spot where craving killer snacks can be tricky, as the label may say 200 calories, but the serving size is ½ of the package. This could result in consuming more calories as a “snack” then intended.
Protein : While it may seem obvious that a “protein bar” is going to have a high amount of protein in it, it is still important to check as the amount of protein can vary greatly depending on the type of snack. Most every day bars will have around 20 grams of protein, while meal replacement bars can have 30 grams or sometimes more. Surprisingly, the craving killer type bars or snacks may have lower amounts of protein, but chances are they will be higher in protein then the junk food they can be replacing.
It may seem obvious to check the protein; however, some labels can be tricky. Protein bars and “Energy” bars are usually next to each other on the shelf. Those energy bars are usually not providing the amount of protein some people may be looking for. Especially those looking to get some protein in after a workout or increase their overall protein intake for building muscle. Some energy bars can have enough ingredients and calories to provide energy but may have less than 10 grams of protein in them. If your reasoning for having a bar is to get protein out of it, try to grab something with at least 10grams of protein in it. If you are eating after a workout you may want to up that even more and grab a bar in the 15-30 range of grams of protein.
Fat: Checking to see if the majority of the calories come from fat is another key factor in deciding which group a protein bar might best fit into. Try to keep in mind, not all fats are the same, and seeing what type of fat the bar or snack may have is also important. Mono and poly-unsaturated fats are some of the better types of fats found in protein snacks. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are both healthy to have in your diet. Omega 3’s may help reduce inflammation, support healthy hormone levels and cell membranes, while omega 6 fatty acids are important for supporting healthy brain and muscle function. Monounsaturated fats are helpful in protecting the heart, can support insulin sensitivity, and have an effect in fat storage, weight loss, and healthy energy levels. The fats to avoid are saturated and trans fats. So it is important to make sure the protein bar or snack is either low in fat, or contains good fats in order to be the most beneficial.
Sugar: Sugars and Carbs can be tricky when it comes to protein snacks or bars. Some widely popular bars are actually very high in sugars and carbohydrates. A very popular sports drink brand has a protein bar, and many people eat them simply because of the brand name. This particular bar has 20 grams of protein, which is great, but it also has a whopping 29 grams of sugar, and 41 grams of carbs. To put that in perspective, a sinckers bar contains 30 grams of sugar and 35 grams of carbs. While the protein adds a definite benefit over the candy bar, there are many better options on the market in terms of protein options. Many everyday style bars will be lower in sugars, where the craving killers may be higher.
While protein bars or snacks can definitely be a great tool to utilize during the day, it is important to make sure you know what type you’re grabbing, and that it fits what you need it for. Below we’ve added our favorite options for each category.
Meal Replacement : Sinister Labs SinFit Bars
See all of our protein bar selection here.