The world of protein bars can be very confusing. Those glossy wrappers in the supermarket claiming energy boosting superpowers can come across all sweet and innocent. But the problem is, although they are indeed sweet, they aren’t all so innocent.
Our supermarkets are stocking up on more brands and more flavours of protein bars. The likes of Coles and Woolworths don’t even put them in the health food section anymore, instead you will find them in a clique of their own – the sports and nutrition section – near to the multivitamins. And this section seems to be expanding all the time.
Since the health and fitness industry has grown rapidly over the last few years, more brands are producing more products to fit ‘a fit’ lifestyle, so you’re likely to have seen a protein bar (or many!) advertised in magazines, vitamin discount stores, health food stores and sometimes, like the Bounce Ball, perched nice and high at the checkout – a much healthier option than a Mars Bar for that last minute impulse buy.
What’s the point of protein bars?
So what’s the deal with protein bars? What are they used for? Well, unlike what some unnecessarily confusing wrappers will suggest, a protein bar isn’t magic, it’s not a meal substitute, and it’s not a diet food. Protein bars are marketed at people with a very active, fit lifestyle, as they are the target consumers who are in need of products that boost protein levels. If you’re super active at the gym, you’re daily protein requirements will be higher than someone who isn’t, which is why protein bars were created.
However, along with the health and fitness industry, protein bars have become so popular that a whole host of new brands and flavours are now on the market, and smart brands like Quest Nutrition are producing outstanding quality products that suit every lifestyle. So no, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to enjoy a protein bar as part of a healthy diet. At the end of the day, protein refuels your body and gives you the energy to do the things you want to do. So a protein bar as a snack when you’re feeling peckish is a smart choice.
Are protein bars good for you?
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing which protein bar you would like to try. There’s no point getting hooked on something that tastes amazing, thinking it’s good for you, only to discover it’s actually got more sugar than a Mars Bar! You see, some brands are sneaky, they know we care about what’s going in – hence why we’re in this nutrition section in the first place – but they don’t think we’re that clued on. But, we are, aren’t we?
We know sugar is not our friend, so when examining the nutritional table of a protein bar, look for one with a sugar content that’s under 10g, preferably under 5g. Some brands know we are keen to check out the protein and calories, so they make those look extra appealing. But make sure you check the sugar content, otherwise you might as well go and eat that Mars Bar…
Protein bars: What to look for
Next, protein: It’s safe to assume all protein bars are going to have a pretty impressive portion of protein per serve. For a 60g bar, the average amount of protein is around 20g – so this is a good choice if you want to refuel after a workout. Getting protein into the body after a workout will stop your muscles from breaking down, allowing them to repair stronger.
Calories are indeed important, and since protein bars can be high in calories (the average being around 200 per serve) you need to be cautious – 150-200 calories per bar is pretty good for a snack. You won’t be over-doing-it by having a 200 calorie protein bar between meals. Just remember to check the calorie count – just because it’s ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean it’s calorie free.
Speaking of healthy, those ingredients labels will give you a very clear picture as to just how healthy those bars actually are. I can’t stand ingredients lists that read like a novel, the fewer the ingredients the better and we obviously want as many natural ingredients as possible. Unfortunately, some protein bars come with lists that include chemicals, artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. So keep this in mind if you’re choosing between a protein bar as opposed to say, two boiled eggs and an apple.
Nutritional details of popular protein bars
|Quest: Choc Chip Cookie Dough||21g||9g||4g||<1g||190||1 bar 60g|
|Metagenics: Ultra Protein Bar||20g||10g||28g||1g||240||1 bar 63g|
|Bounce Ball: Almond Protein Hit||12g||9g||20g||11g||198||1 ball 40g|
|AussieBodies: FX lo Carb Choc Caramel||8.5g||3.2g||2.8g||1.5g||105||1 bar 60g|
|Titan Bar||26g||11g||10.1g||6g||320||1 bar 80g|
|BSC: Cookies and Cream||24.3g||3.6g||4.5g||4.5g||225||1 bar 65g|
Source: Nutritional information taken from individual protein bars, February 2016.
Above is a handy guide to just a few of the many protein bars you are likely to find in your local supermarket. It’s good to get more protein into your diet, but the message here is to make yourself aware of exactly what you’re eating, so you can make the most informed decision possible.