The Scoop on Protein Bars

posted on | updated on | by Zuri Girl

Before you add that protein bar to your bag…we sat down with dietician Sandra Mikhail who helped us uncover the rise of protein bars being commercially advertised for all, which shouldn’t be the case.

There is no doubt that you’ve probably been tempted at some point in time to pick up a snack or a protein bar en-route to a workout or even as a quick mid-meal treat. Also, have you seen the amount of new snack products on the shelves, all claiming to be low carb and high in protein? Here’s the deal…

Protein bars were initially created for athletes and active individuals as means to replenish their muscles for recovery, and for some athletes, a convenient way to add more calories and protein into their diet for muscle building. Given the rise of the “Low Carb” crusade within the weight loss and fitness industries, these products are now being marketed for all!

To cover some basic grounds, protein is an essential macronutrient that supports muscle recovery as well as muscle maintenance and growth. Its role also extends to our body’s cell growth, repair and maintenance making it essential throughout life. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. In sports and fitness, science has shown that eating a certain amount of protein throughout the day is important for muscle building and repairing muscle damage. However, nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods should be your first choice.

When should you consider a protein bar then?

  • If you engage in strength-training / weight lifting exercise at least 3 times per week.
  • If you consider increasing your muscle mass and want convenient snack options.
  • If you are traveling and need an “emergency” snack in your bag.
  • If you have a busy day ahead and unsure when your next meal is going to be.

How much protein?

Consuming about 15 to 25 g of protein (from food or a supplement) 3-4 times a day, and within a few hours of intense exercise can help build muscle and repair muscle damage.

Even with the scenarios mentioned above, the type of protein supplement will vary depending on your needs. Here are some tips and “must-knows” when it comes to choosing protein supplements, including protein bars:

  • Protein supplements provide the extra protein from a variety of sources: whey and casein (milk-based), soy, hemp, rice and peas.
  • Whey protein is digested and absorbed faster than casein. However, over the whole day, these two proteins are equally effective in building and repairing muscles.
  • Vegetarian sources like soy, rice and pea protein is also an option. In the case of pea and rice protein supplements to see the same effect as milk-based or soy-based protein supplements make sure you have at least 30 g of protein.
  • A protein bar should provide you with 17-20g of protein per bar.
  • Since a large number of protein bars are “sugar-free” or “low-carb”, they generally contain artificial sweeteners to make up for the sweetness. Some of these sweeteners are known to cause gut issues such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. Also, artificial sweeteners consumed regularly can encourage a sweet-tooth.
  • If you exceed your daily protein needs, the extra protein consumed will only provide extra calories or energy, potentially contributing to weight gain.

As a dietitian specialising in sports nutrition, I generally advise a small percentage of my clients to opt for a protein supplement ONLY AFTER THEY HAVE MODIFIED THEIR DIET FIRST. If we then think that a protein bar is needed, the choices we have used in the past included:

Pozzible bars by Pozzible.ch: They come in a variety of flavours with a vegan option recently added to their range and offer 20g of protein per bar. The ingredients were carefully chosen in order to limit the amount of additives and flavourings commonly used in commercial sports supplements.

Noshballs: Instead of a bar, their “Peanut Crunch” ball is a convenient, post-workout snack for those on the go. Thanks to the combination of plant-based protein and good quality carbohydrates, these bites are ideal for muscle strength and recovery. You also get the added benefit of minerals such as magnesium from the nuts and cacao, which is important for muscle contraction.

Sponser: The Swiss-based company offers a huge variety of sports supplements including protein bars and is mainly targeted at professional athletes. As a dietitian working with FCZ here in Switzerland, we have used a variety of their products depending on nutritional goal, however, you’ll definitely need professional guidance to make the best choice suited to your needs.

Sandra Mikhail is an internationally-known accredited practising dietitian and the founder of Nutrition A-Z. She holds a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Monash University, Australia), a Master of Advanced Studies in Nutrition and Health (ETHZ) and is a member of the Dietitians Association of Australia. Also, she is currently part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Sports Nutrition Program. Being a globe-trotting dietitian, she has extensive experience in clinical practice, nutrition consulting and health promotion, working in Australia, the UAE and Switzerland. Her main areas of specialty are digestive disease, sports nutrition and corporate health working with popular brands and partners such as FCZ, She’s Mercedes, Style, Bolero and Lululemon to name a few. As a mental health advocate, her workshops and articles on stress and nutrition have gained popularity internationally where she was personally invited by Arianna Huffington to contribute to her global platform Thrive and has appeared on CNN to talk about nutrition and stress in the workplace.

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