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JUST HOW HEALTHY ARE PROTEIN BARS?

No matter whether you’re getting it from a nice juicy steak or some lightly fried tofu, everyone needs protein in their diet. Should you get it form protein bars?

Your body uses protein to do everything from grow your hair to repair your DNA, but if you’re working out or looking to build muscle and tone up, you might need to give your body a bit of a helping hand. And that means taking in a bit more protein than normal.

Man Eating Protein bars

Why? Well, when you exercise you cause a small amount of (perfectly healthy!) damage to your muscles. Your body uses protein to repair this damage quickly and healthily. Depending your fitness goals and levels, and how intense your work out routine is, adding that little bit of extra protein to your diet can help your body to regrow your muscles quickly and get both larger and stronger than before. And the more “damage” you’re doing to your muscles, the more protein you’ll need to recover from it effectively. Simple.

The best way to get protein into your diet of course is just to up the amount of high-protein foods you eat, like meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and pulses. But if you’re working out regularly—and especially if you’re trying to fit your gym time in around a busy working week—it can be hard to find the time to cook a protein-packed meal in the evening, or track down a protein-packed lunch when you’re on the go. And that’s where protein bars come in.


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Protein bars are convenient and relatively inexpensive, and keeping one in your gym bag or your car’s glove box can be a quick and easy way to add those few extra grams of protein to your diet when you’re out and about.

It used to be that protein bars were only ever really used by athletes and bodybuilders, and could only be bought from sports shops and specialist health food stores. But nowadays they’re big business, and you can pick up a protein bar practically everywhere from your high street supermarket to your local coffee shop. But are they a healthy choice?

Well, it all depends—on your goals, your fitness, your diet, and what the bars themselves contain.

There are a lot of protein bars on the market, and some are certainly better for you than others. But to make sure you aren’t doing more harm than good, here are some golden rules to keep an eye out for.

READ THE LABEL

Flip that protein bar over and check the ingredients list on the other side. Just as with anything you’re thinking about putting in your body, a long list of unfamiliar scientific terms should set the alarm bells ringing, so if you’re reading a lot of words you can’t make head nor tail of, you might be better off putting it back on the shelf! Check the nutritional info too: some protein bars might pack a real protein punch, but contain almost just as much fat, carbs, and calories, and next to no dietary fibre. If you’re looking to lose weight at the same time as toning up, eating a 400 calorie protein bar as a snack isn’t exactly going to make things easy!

So make sure you check the label: as a rule of thumb you, should be looking to get roughly 25 calories for every gram of fat, and a protein-to-carbs ratio of around 2:1 would be ideal. Anything outside of that, and you could be doing more harm than good.

YOU’RE ALREADY SWEET ENOUGH

While you’re casting your eye over the label, check the sugar content too. Protein bar manufacturers like to make sure their products taste nice, and to do that add often eye-watering amounts of sugar—often in the form of syrup, icing or chocolate—to the recipe.

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As a result, some protein bars that market themselves as healthy actually contain more sugar than ordinary chocolate bars. Would you grab a Mars Bar instead of a sandwich on your lunch hour and think you’re having a healthy snack? Probably not… So check the sugar content in your protein bars too, or you might as well just save your money and buy a Snickers!

WHY ARE YOU EATING IT?

That might sound like a daft question, but what protein bar you opt for will depend on what you want to get out of it. So why exactly are you eating it?

If you’ve got an early meeting or a train to catch, you might be looking for a meal replacement protein bar that you can eat on the go in place of your breakfast or your lunch. If all you want out of it is a quick boost of protein after a tough session at the gym, you might want a lighter bar that still packs that protein kick. There are protein bars available to suit all eventualities, so make sure you find one that works best for you. There’s no point in working your way through a hard session at the gym then snacking on a protein bar with enough calories in it to replace your evening meal…

EVEN THEN, PROTEIN BARS MIGHT NOT BE THE ANSWER

How much protein do you really need? A good yardstick is to take your weight in kilos and transfer that into grams. So someone weighing 60kg will, give or take, need around 60g of protein in their diet just to stay healthy. But to build muscle, you need to be looking at upping that by about 20%.

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The stats are different for everyone of course, and some people’s day-to-day diets are naturally higher in protein than others, so have a chat with your trainer or use a food-tracking app or website to find out just how much protein is right for you given what you want to achieve. Even then, if you’re routinely finding yourself quite a bit short of your daily goal, a protein bar might not be the best answer—instead, you might be better off swapping that cheese sandwich at lunch or bowl of pasta in the evening for something more protein packed, like chicken or fish. As always, consider your diet as a whole before looking at quick fixes and cutting corners.

SO ARE PROTEIN BARS HEALTHY?

So when all is said and done, are protein bars a healthy choice? The short answer is that they can be—but it all depends on what your own needs and goals are, and what protein bar you choose. If you really can’t get that extra protein in your diet in any other way, it’s well worth spending the time finding a bar with a good balance of ingredients, and a good balance of protein and carbs, fats and sugars. Do that, keep the rest of your diet clean and keep your training regular, and you can’t go far wrong.

 

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