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Are Protein Bars Actually Healthy? A Dietitian’s Take

Are Protein Bars Actually Healthy? A Dietitian’s Take

Protein bars offer a convenient and tasty way to get enough of the vital macronutrient, but do their benefits outweigh potential downsides?

If you’ve ever tried to gain muscle mass, you know that it’s critical to eat plenty of protein. However, getting enough protein throughout the day can be surprisingly difficult. The ever-growing popularity of strength training has spurred health companies to get creative and release a slew of protein bars. These products commonly range between 15-25 grams of protein per bar. That’s the equivalent of eating a 5 oz Greek yogurt or a 3 oz chicken breast. 

To many, protein bars seem like an ultra-processed food, but because of their convenience, the market is now flooded with a myriad of options. This article explores the benefits of protein, the upsides of protein bars and whether they’re causing you unwanted side effects.

Do I Really Need That Much Protein?

Protein is vital for every process in our bodies, including metabolism. Maintaining and/or building muscle mass protects you against illness, poor quality of life and keeps you independent into your elderly years. Having plenty of muscle also means you use more energy (burn more calories) throughout the day even when doing nothing. Studies have shown that you’ll lose an average of 30-50% of muscle mass between 40-80 years old. 

Protein makes humans feel satiated and full because of the way it interacts with our hormones. This can curb cravings later in the day, ultimately decreasing how much we eat. It can prevent diabetes because it slows down blood sugar from spiking after eating. With better blood sugar control, you may see improvements in mood as your energy levels become more stable throughout the day.

Your protein needs depend on your activity level. If you resistance train 2-3 times per week and go on walks or have a job that keeps you on your feet, then you’ll need anywhere from 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram a day. For a 130-pound individual, this amounts to at least 84 grams of protein daily. If you exercise almost daily, then that number shoots up to 1.6-2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you don’t eat a protein-rich breakfast, you’ll likely have a hard time catching up to your protein goals throughout the day.

Benefits of Protein Bars

Many protein bars are tasty and convenient. Often, companies will add vitamins and minerals, which can almost act like a multivitamin. Since there are so many options on the market, it’s fairly easy to find ones with alternative sugars, such as stevia, instead of added sugar. Many protein bars add supplemental fiber such as chicory root. Fiber is necessary for your gut microbiome health and lowers your risk of colon cancer. It also helps to prevent heart disease and diabetes. Most people eat about 50% of their fiber needs every day, so getting a little extra from your protein bar can be a step in the right direction. 

For people who don’t eat a protein-rich breakfast, a protein bar can be a great option in the morning as you’re getting out the door. Ultimately, this will keep you more satiated. Having enough protein is critical for maintaining or adding muscle mass, which causes a downstream effect of many health benefits.

Downsides of Protein Bars

See Also
MyFitnessPal nutrition app

It’s hard to make food convenient without processing it heavily. With this processing, there can be many additives in a protein bar, such as sugar alcohols and supplemental fiber. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or bloating, pay special attention to your symptoms after eating a protein bar. Sugar alcohol and supplemental fiber can exacerbate bowel issues in some individuals.

The nutritional content of protein bars usually comes with a higher caloric price tag. Many protein bars range well into the 300-calorie range which can put you at a surplus depending on your current weight and goals. Because companies need to make these bars taste good, they’re often high in fat and high in saturated fat. If you have high cholesterol, it’s important to watch your saturated fat intake. 

Final Thoughts

If time and convenience keep you from meeting your protein needs, then a protein bar can be an easy addition to your diet and offer several benefits. Finding one that suits your personal health needs is becoming more possible as more companies get innovative. Reaching your daily protein goal to maintain or build muscle can be difficult, so using a protein bar to do so may help you improve your longevity by increasing your muscle mass.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used without the advice of your doctor. It does not claim to treat or cure health conditions. 

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