Protein Bars: Do They Really Work?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Protein bars were once something only found in health food stores and at the gym. Today, however, it's not uncommon to see plenty of protein bars on display at your local supermarket or grocery store. Many protein bar makers claim that these bars can help you lose weight, pack on muscle mass and give you a much-needed energy boost. However, it's important to distinguish protein bars from the protein you receive in a balanced diet. Furthermore, not all protein bars are created equal, so some are certainly better for you than others. For the real truth about protein bars and what they can do for you, our article will cover everything from the nutritional content to potential side effects of protein bars.

What's in a Protein Bar?

As their name suggests, protein bars contain a significant amount of protein. In general, these bars usually contain about 20 to 25 grams of it. Considering that most adults only need about 46 to 56 grams of protein per day, this amount of protein content is very significant. In addition to protein, these bars typically contain carbohydrates, as well. Make sure you pay attention to the sugar content that is listed under carbohydrates on the bar's packaging; while some bars only have a few grams of sugars, others content as many as 15 or 20 grams of sugar, making them a less healthy option. Most protein bars have low fat levels.

In addition to carbs, protein and fats, protein bars are typically fortified with a mix of vitamins and minerals. In comparison to protein shakes, which contain little or no vitamins and minerals, this makes protein bars a superior option. Some protein bars will even have 100% of the recommended daily value for certain nutrients, such as vitamins B6, B12, C and E. Other nutrients found in many protein bars include iron, calcium, copper, chromium, phosphorous and magnesium.

Pay attention to the caloric content of your protein bars, as well. Some have double the calories of comparable bars, even though they are the same size. In general, it's important to always take time reading the labels of protein bars before making a purchase. Look for high vitamin and mineral content with low fats, sugars and calories. Also avoid too many unnatural or unhealthy additives, like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oils and artificial flavorings. Unfortunately, though they do contain more vitamins and minerals, protein bars are more likely to have these unhealthy additives than protein shakes.

Benefits of Protein Bars

You might notice people at the gym eating a protein bar during a break or right after their workouts. In fact, protein bars can be a good way to give you a little energy and nutrition after exercising. The extra protein helps you to recover after a workout, and for serious weight-lifters, it may also help them add a little muscle mass. Just be careful that your bar doesn't contain too many sugars or artificial ingredients, because these may counteract the effects of eating a protein bar after a workout. Remember that they are adding extra calories to your diet, so you should only use protein bars as a post-workout snack if you have been exercising vigorously.

Protein bars may also be a good substitute for breakfast on some occasions. Though they aren't recommended for an everyday meal replacement, they can be a good option when you are running short on time one day and need something to eat on your way to work. Another one of the benefits of protein bars is how convenient they are. They are portion-controlled and pre-packaged, so you can eat one on the run or easily throw one in your purse on the way out the door in the morning.

In addition to their convenience, protein bars can also help people to lose weight in some cases. Because proteins are digested more slowly, these bars can help you feel full longer and provide you with energy for several hours after eating one. However, protein bars are not recommended for meal replacement. Rather, use them as a snack to tide you over between meals if necessary.

Cons of Protein Bars

The biggest drawback to protein bars is that they add unnecessary protein, calories and unhealthy additives like artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated vegetable oils into your diet. Most healthy adults who eat a balanced diet get a sufficient amount of protein each day. Proteins are readily available in common foods like vegetables, beans, meats, fish, poultry, dairy and grains, so adding protein bars to your diet may be an unnecessary expense. Furthermore, getting excessive protein in your diet may lead to certain side effects, such as dehydration, diarrhea and nausea. In general, stick to protein bars only when you are really crunched for time and unable to get in a healthy meal, or when you need a pick-me-up during or just after a heavy workout. However, protein bars are not recommended for regular meal replacement or for a consistent, day-to-day source of protein in your diet.

In general, stick to the basic rules if possible: It's better to eat healthy snacks like unsalted nuts, fruits and vegetables instead of protein bars whenever possible. Try to reserve these bars for when you don't have time to prepare a healthy meal or after a hard workout. Additionally, you can make your own protein bars at home using one of many recipes available online. This allows you to make delicious bars that contain fewer preservatives and unhealthy additives.

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