Go to any grocery store in the country and you'll find a wall of protein bars of all flavors staring back at you - typically promising 6 grams or more of "pure" protein. Can these much-hyped bars - in flavor combos ranging from fruit-and-oats to chocolate-peanut-butter combos - really be that good for you?
The Truth: It depends. There are healthy protein bars, and then there are some that might as well be a Snickers — considering how much sugar they contain! Here’s how you can tell the difference and make the healthiest choice.
Protein bars are convenient — you can throw ’em in your gym bag or purse and snack on them when you’re on the go. Their wrappers make it easy to think that they’re healthier than a candy bar, but sometimes they’re not. In reality, they could have even MORE calories. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when shopping for protein bars.
First decide if it’s a snack or a meal replacement. Just because these bars are the size of a candy bar, it doesn’t mean you should think of them as a snack. A lot of people don’t even look at the calorie count — which is a huge mistake, since some of the "snack" bars have as much as 400 calories! If you’re using a bar as a meal replacement, you should go for one that is between 300 and 400 calories. I recommend SuperFoods, Perfect Bar, 22 Days, Quest, and Organic Food bars. If you are eating it just as a snack, you should stick to bars around 220 calories. At the end of the day, I don’t care how nutrient-packed your favorite protein bar might be; if you eat too much of it, you’re going to gain weight, so be sure to check out the calorie count before you check out of the store!
Keep an eye on the amount of sugar. Many bars being sold today contain an insane amount of sugar. Bars that look healthy often have 30 grams of sugar — which is more than the amount in a lot of candy bars! Even if the bar has wholesome, healthy ingredients — 30 grams of sugar is way too much. While you’re looking at the sugar count, also review the ingredient list. There are some bars that have only four to five ingredients like almonds, whey protein, etc. — those are great. On the other hand, there are bars like the Supreme Protein bar, which has more than 56 different ingredients. I don’t care what health benefits it may claim — you have to treat a protein bar as you would any other food — and if you see too many unfamiliar words on the ingredients list, just put it back on the shelf.
Learn to look out for healthy ingredients. You don’t want a bar that has soy. Instead, you want proteins that have the most isoleucine, leucine, and valine, branched chain amino acids that are great for muscle growth. The proteins that score highest for this amino acid are whey protein, calcium caseinate, P-protein, brown rice, and lastly, hemp. If you can’t find your perfect protein bar — you can build your own on YouBars.com by picking all your own ingredients. Or, you can make your own. I have some great recipes for the ultimate home made protein bar in my meal plans on the Train with Jillian app.
The Bottom Line: Check the ingredients and the calories to make sure you are eating the right amount of quality ingredients for optimal results.