Protein bars – a convenient snack option to have between meals or after workouts. They help provide a quick protein source. But are they necessary and are there any drawbacks? Read on to find out!

Pros of protein bars:

  1. Convenience: When you are short of time and need a protein hit, there’s no doubt that protein bars provide just that, in a very convenient and easy to carry snack. Especially so around exercise, if you do not have the time to stop for a meal, these bars can be a fantastic way to help support muscle repair and growth. If you notice you have a supressed appetite after long training sessions, a protein bar can be a useful way to help with muscle recovery without overwhelming yourself with needing to eat a full meal.
  2. Help to meet protein goals: Although the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g per kg body weight, research has shown that many people would benefit from a much higher intake than this. IN fact, the range can be between 1.2-2g/kg body weight. This largely depends on level of activity and exercise, as well as health goals. Therefore, protein bars, which can contain anywhere between 10-25g+ of protein, are a useful way to top up your protein intake. Especially if you may struggle to meet your requirements through your main meals alone.
  3. Choice and variety: There is an ever-growing selection of choice when it comes to protein bars. Some contain protein and carbs to help both with muscle repair and energy recovery, some are focused purely just on protein, and some contain extra fibre, vitamins and minerals. And if you have certain dietary requirements, those are usually covered – from a selection of vegan, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, nut free, keto etc., the list goes on!
  4. Enjoyment: As time has gone on, the taste and texture of protein bars has greatly improved. There is a huge range of flavours to help keep the choices appealing, although some are better in taste than others, these can be a great alternative when you may have a sweet craving. But keep in mind these are not always going to be a substitute to satisfy cravings.

Cons of Protein Bars:

  1. Quality of protein varies: The type and quality of protein in these bars can greatly vary. Some protein bars will contain variety of protein concentrates such as whey concentrate or isolate, and others will be pea protein, hemp, brown rice or soy protein based. These are complete proteins and provide all the essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair. Others may use chickpea protein, or nuts and seeds to help boost protein intake, though these are usually inferior in total protein quantity and quality.
  2. Quantity of protein varies: Ideally, a light snack protein bar should contain around 10g of high-quality protein, but if it is more of a meal replacement, something with 25-30g protein would be better. With some protein bars containing as little as 7g protein, you may be better off eating something like a boiled egg or some roasted edamame, which will provide protein in an overall more nutritious way.
  3. Nutrition of bars varies: Many brands of protein bars can contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners, higher levels of saturated fats and many more processed ingredients. Whilst these are ok to consume on occasion, we would not want to rely on protein bars as a frequent snack choice. Generally, aim to go for a bar with less than 10g total sugar. Or consider those with artificial sweeteners. Though we recommend caution with the latter, as a high intake of artificial sweeteners can cause stomach issues and the safety of long-term high intake of sweeteners has provided inconclusive results in research. In particular, sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol can cause laxative effects or bloating if consumed frequently. Fibre content is one to consider, with some bars providing over 3g of fibre per serving, and some with minimal fibre content.
  4. Calorie content varies: Most bars can contain between 100-300 calories. This needs to be considered when purchasing bars. What are your goals, is it muscle gain, fat loss? Are the bars going to be a snack choice or to replace some/part of a meal?
  5. If it’s the latter, we recommend pairing with some fruit or yoghurt, for a more balanced overall snack choice. Some people may use a 300-calorie bar as a snack option and then shortly after consuming a full meal, which can hinder goals such as fat loss.
  6. Cost: As with many convenient snack choices, protein bars can be quite expensive. Generally costing in a range of £1.50-£3 per bar, if you rely on these daily, the cost can add up.
  7. Not a meal: It’s very important to note that protein bars are often just a source of protein, and generally do not provide the broader aspects of nutrition, such as enough carbohydrates, healthy fats or fibre that we need from whole foods.

Overall, it’s important to think about how protein bars can be used in your lifestyle to meet certain goals. For example, if you need a convenient dose of protein between workouts, then bars can deliver. But if you are relying on them for a meal replacement, they are unlikely to be the same quality as a meal, and are generally not equivalent to a meal in calories either. They are also not something to be relied on too often, due to the more processed nature of bars with the higher sugar or sweetener content too.
If you are concerned about your protein intake, reach out to our sports nutrition team today for personalised support to help meet your goals.

As part of an overall varied and balanced lifestyle, protein bars certainly can have a place. Let us know what your favourite protein bar is and why!

By Reema Patel, Registered Dietitian at Dietitian Fit & Co

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