Protein Bars are a must-have on every active person’s list. They gained popularity because they are a convenient snack to consume when you are in a rush and come packed with healthy goodness. But of late they have been at the receiving end of a lot of unhealthy criticism. The main reason being that many of the companies that manufacture protein bars use artificial sources of protein, since plant based protein sources are not exactly rich in protein. And one can only shudder at the thought of grass-fed meat being rolled into a granola bar. Yikes! The downside to these artificial proteins is that it tastes disgusting and to compensate for this foul taste, heaps of sugar is added to this mix. So what started off as good and healthy intentions, is now nothing short of a kit-kat bar!
However, many companies still make exquisite protein bars from all-natural and simple ingredients such as walnuts, berries, granola, and honey. Either way, taste should be third on your priority list when it comes to picking up a protein bar to match your fitness goals. It is important to note that not all bars are made in the same way and while some of them will help you reach your fat loss or muscle gain goals, an equal number will slyly detour you down another path.
Here are the six key factors that you need look out for before grabbing that protein bar. Read on to know more.
1. Total Calorie Count
We often forget that however healthy a protein bar might be, it will still contain a quantitative number of calories that could through your calorie count off-balance. For example, if you are on a fat loss diet then it doesn’t make sense downing a 400 calorie protein bar. If your total calorie intake for the day should be 1200 calories, then this would take up a third of it! And it’s not even that filling which means that you will probably be scrounging for another one of them protein bars in no time at all. In this case you’d be far better with consuming 400 calories from a meal with a protein, carbs and a side of boiled veggies.
On the flip side, if your goal is to build lean muscle mass then a protein bar with 400 calories is just what you need. Not only will it fulfill your energy requirements, but it will also help you you maintain your daily protein intake.
2. Total Number of Carbohydrates
It’s always best to take a look at the carbs content when you pick any healthy snack. If you want to lose weight then you shouldn’t go over 30 grams of carbs per bar. However, if you need a hit after an intense workout, then a bar with 30 grams of carbs will suit your requirements perfectly. In this case, check for the amount of fat because you need to avoid any amount of fat post-workout.
3. Presence of Sugar Alcohols
If your protein bar uses natural or refined sugar it’s still more acceptable than the presence of sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol. The simple reason being that these sugar alcohols could be a bit of a problem with people who have food sensitivity and can result in bloating, diarrhea, gas, and cramps. The best way to find out, is try one that has the least bit of these alcohols and see if it agrees with your body.
4 & 5. Fats and HFCS
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used in protein bars to maintain the carbohydrate levels. Many of them will have HFCS, but the further down it is on the list, the better. If it is the first or second ingredient, then you better keep that bar back on the rack because it’s not going to do you any good.
Next, you need to check on the amount of fat your bar contains. Unless you are using the protein bar post-workout as mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to grab a bar that contains some amount of fat since this will slow down the release of the carbs into your blood and balance out your consumption. Just keep an eye out for the level of saturated fat or trans fat, which needs to be as low as possible. A little fat never hurt anybody.
6. Carbs to Protein Ratio
Rule of thumb here; the protein content should be higher than the carbohydrates. The best numbers for weight loss will be a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbs, but in some cases a 1:1 ratio should be fine too. If you’re looking to build muscle or use the bar after a workout, you’ll want to get closer to a 1:2 ratio.
When chosen correctly, protein bars can be better than any other “healthy” snack you pick up in a hurry. So keep a few bars handy and you are good to go!