I am a sucker for strictly living and eating healthy, but even I can admit that it’s not easy. Amid work and all the crazy hurdles life throws at you finding time for a good meal can be quite challenging. This is where quick snacks like protein bars come in. They are quite convenient to have when you need to get your daily protein intake and have no time to whip up a plate.
While there is nothing wrong with eating protein bars (if anything they are better than junk food) they should not be a substitute to healthy proteins. These include lean meat, legumes, and low-fat dairy products among others.
But here’s the challenge. Many candy bars nowadays are selling themselves as protein bars and going scot free. So how do you chose the best protein bars for your needs? But that’s not all. How much protein bar is too much when it comes to keeping it healthy and when exactly should you eat protein bars? We get to the bottom of all this in this detailed article. So if you are a regular protein bar eater, I suggest you stick around for some much-needed wisdom.
Types of protein bars
Most people don’t even know that there are different kinds of protein bars. Two types to be exact. So, depending on your needs, you will come across these types of protein bars. The difference is usually in the content.
Meal replacement Protein bars.
These are specifically targeted for those looking to shed off some pounds. They help keep you full hence reduce your cravings for junk food. They usually have low calories and contain vitamins and proteins.
Post workout bars.
These are specially designed to boost your energy after a workout. They are especially great for muscle building and growth. They contain high amounts of protein as well as carbs.
When exactly should you eat protein bars?
As I said, protein bars are not to be a replacement for a balanced diet. So when it comes to answering the question on how often you should eat them, I’d say not more than three times a week. This allows you to incorporate other proteins into your diet. While you can eat protein bars at any time during your day, there are some moments that are the most ideal.
In the morning for breakfast.
I do not believe in skipping breakfast. If anything, it is quite unhealthy. Studies show that individuals including children who have breakfast every day have better energy and concentration through the day. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford the time to make meals especially breakfast on a daily basis. On such days, having a protein bar to go will keep you energized throughout the day. Just don’t make it a habit.
If there is a time when your body needs proteins and energy it is after working out. Your muscles have micro tears and your body is begging to be reenergized. The tricky part is that to reap the most out of your post workout snack, it ought to be taken almost immediately. In cases where a banana or a healthy protein shake is not available, you can munch on a protein bar after your spin bike session. Make sure you chose one with high protein content (I’ll show you how).
As an alternative to unhealthy snacks.
If you are trying to lose weight of transitioning from an unhealthy life to fitness, sugar cravings will be one of your biggest challenges. You will want to eat that cake so bad it feels like drug withdrawal period (pardon the graphic comparison). Luckily, protein bars usually come with a sweet taste but have very low sugar content. They will be a healthy snack that not only provide you with nutrients but also prevent unhealthy eating habits.
A few hours to your workout.
While it is unwise to go to the gym on a full stomach, a small energizing meal an hour or two before your workout is quite important to up your energy levels. This allows you to work out for longer hence reap more from your workouts. A healthy protein bar is great for the said purpose. This time, unlike a post workout bar, go for one with more carbs. The aim here is to get you pump on energy as opposed to healing and growth.
How to get the best and healthiest protein bars.
If you want to discern real protein bars from candy and tell which ones are good for you, you have to pay attention to the qualities below. Most are pure science while others just require you to use your eyes.
Double check the protein quantity.
What is the point of having a protein bar without enough protein content? Absolutely no point. That is why the first thing you ought to check before you walk out of a store with a protein bar.
Anything with a protein content that is less than 5 grams is a waste of money. To be exact, a 60-gram protein bar should have 20 grams of proteins. This allows for sufficient protein intake for muscle building. Proteins also fill you up and help in burning fat all which contribute to weight loss.
After ascertaining the quantity of protein, check out its quality as well. Quality bars have milk or whey proteins. Soy proteins are usually not preferred due to their potential to cause allergies and stomach upsets.
How much sugar is in it?
You obviously know that too much sugar is not good for your blood sugar. Consuming too much sugar raises your blood sugar which leads to excessive insulin production leading to excessive fat storage. I, therefore, can’t emphasize harder the importance of keeping the sugar content in your protein bars on a low.
How do you know the amount of sugar in your bar? Definitely not by tasting. Most protein bars have natural sugar hence may be sweat but in the real sense, contain very little sugar. To get the answers, look at the ingredients. If the sugar is anything more than 8 grams, toss it.
It should obviously be low fat.
While fat is a crucial part of your diet, making sure it is healthy fat is more crucial. Common healthy fats include omega-3 and omega-6. Not all protein bars will have omega-3 so expect saturated fat. However, don’t let it be too much as saturated fats often have lots of calories. Go for protein bars with no more than 3 grams of fat avoiding any trans fats. Trans fats are usually processed fats that often lead to weight gain.
The carbs should be low as well.
There is nothing wrong with eating carbohydrates. In fact, they are an important part of your diet. However, if you are looking to shed off some weight, too many carbs will be counterproductive. This is because excess carbohydrates are easily converted to fat.
For weight loss, go for a bar with more fiber and proteins than carbs. On the other hand, a little carb would be great for energy before your workouts. So don’t let the carb content in a protein bar scare you. Generally, 20 grams of carbs paired with 3- grams of healthy fiber works well. To be a little more accurate if the carbohydrates are more than double the protein content, then that is not an ideal bar.
Steer clear from artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols.
This is one trap many protein bar eaters fall in. The wrappers will say sugar-free but end up containing artificial sugars and sugar alcohols. This not healthy and in some case, even toxic.
Artificial sugars are often notorious for causing sugar cravings as well as insulin over production similar to consuming normal sugar.
Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, can be toxic and may even cause bloating and diarrhea before getting used to them.
So how do you now an artificial sugar? They usually end in ‘–ol’. A good example is the artificial sugars xylitol and sorbitol.
How many calories are in it?
While calories are great for quick energy boosting, too much is counterproductive to healthy weight goals. You want to keep your calorie intake at 150 to 200 for the ladies and 180 to 300 for guys. More than this will be no different to eating a candy bar.
If you work out often, a slightly higher calorie bar will be good for extra energy an hour before work outs. For women, a 300 calorie bar is acceptable here while a bar of up to 380 calories is ok for guys working out.
How long is the ingredients list?
The last thing you want to do is consume ingredients that you can’t even pronounce. Besides, a long list of ingredients usually translates to chemicals and loads of preservatives. Go for products with fewer ingredients especially natural ones. If you can recognize the ingredients, even better. As you would expect, such bars will be slightly expensive. But they are way better than the alternative.
Protein bars that are worth buying.
If you are serious about your health, you will definitely want the best bars in the market. There are numerous protein bars today but the following have been tried and tested.
Quest Nutrition bars.
They are gluten free and have no added sugar. They are also made of both whey and milk isolate proteins which are a plus. As a bonus, they are rich in fiber content.
Think thin bars.
These are gluten free bars without any added sugar. They come in a variety of flavors and are mostly meal replacement bars. They contain whey proteins. A downside is that they have soy protein isolates which may cause bloating and gas.
Trek Cocoa Chaos.
The best thing about this bar is that is cold pressed rather than backed hence reserving most nutrients. It is 100% natural with no dairy, wheat or gluten. So if you are a Vegan this is just for you. I find this more of a meal replacement bar rather than a post workout bar due to its high fiber and healthy carb content such as nuts, fruits, and oats.
Other notable protein bars include PHD Diet Bars, Kind Bars, and Atkins.
Why not make your own home made protein bars?
The beauty of homemade protein bars is that they often cost very little. Better yet, all ingredients are determined by you so you will not have anything you don’t want in there. They are also preservative free hence the healthier option. You can make some for the weekend and store them in the fridge for those busy days.
To make them, simply mix protein ingredients and shape them into tiny bars. Include crunchy edibles like oats and nuts for flavor as well as extra nutrients. Some famous protein bars include peanut butter and muesli homemade protein bars.
One last thing…
Protein bars are excellent for energy boosting and increasing your overall protein intake. However, I would like to emphasize the need for having them in moderation. Too many protein bars might lead to weight gain and in most cases, avoiding a balanced diet food.
Infect, I usually advice on having them as a pre-workout snack, for weight loss (alternative to junk food) or to boost your energy. As I said, not more than three times a week.
While at it, I would like to emphasize the need for a healthy well-balanced diet consisting of whole grain carbs, lots of fruits and veggies and of course healthy proteins. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and to stay in shape, exercise at least three times a week.
Finally, when you know what you are looking for, landing a good protein bar is quite easy. Use the tips above to spot the real bars from the fake. That said, have a happy healthy life ladies and gents, your future will thank you!