Every time I go down the supplement aisle at the grocery store, I am amazed at how many protein bars there are to choose from. When protein bars first came out they were gross and not appetizing, however, over the years protein bars have improved their taste. With all the different flavors there are to choose from it can feel like you are picking out a candy bar instead of a health food (which sometimes the amount of sugar mimics those in candy bars). Lots of people ask me if protein bars are suitable for them. I say “It depends.”
My favorite part about protein bars is their convenience. You can carry them in your purse, gym bag or brief case and they hold up just fine (unless of course you place them the sun). They are shelf stable and do not go bad like fruit or a turkey sandwich. Plus you can find them in any grocery store and most gas stations. Another benefit for most people is that they are calorie controlled. The packaging lists the exact calories in the item, which might make it easier for people who are counting calories to lose weight. Basically, it takes the guess work out. In fact, some studies have shown that people who use protein bars or shakes as meal replacements may succeed with initial weight loss attempts. They can also be a beneficial after resistance training such as lifting weights to help replenish your energy stores and aid in muscle growth.
One of the biggest disadvantages of a protein bar is the price. I cannot believe how expensive they have become. I rarely see a protein bar for less then $2.50 and most are over $3.00. The amount can really add up even if you are having only 1-2 a day. Even though most protein bars contain a variety of nutrients, they are not the way nature intended. Protein bars are a processed food and usually have added sugars in them to help make them taste better. The vitamins and minerals might not help your body the same way as natural foods like apples or a string cheese. Plus you may be missing out on other nutrients such as fiber and phytochemicals that occur naturally in food. Lastly, if you are eating protein bars to help build muscle without combining it with resistance training you are wasting your money. Protein consumption can only help aid in muscle growth if combined with resistance training.
I think protein bars have a place, such as when you are in a rush or traveling. In college I would pack a protein bar in my backpack if I was going to have a long day at school. Even if it was smashed by a book I could still eat it Protein bars might also help you reach your weight loss/gain goals. But overall I feel natural food tends to be a better choice nutritionally and financially. Try packing half a peanut butter/banana sandwich in your bag or a handful of almonds as a snack for later. If you do choose to have a protein bar, try to aim for one that has 250 calories, less than 12 g sugar, and 10-15 g protein.