Go to any grocery store and chances are good you’ll see at least one aisle stocked with protein bars.
Sure, they’re convenient when you’re on the go… but are protein bars actually good for you?
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks associated with protein bars.
The Benefits of Protein
Now, there are many benefits associated with increasing your protein intake. And whether you’re eating healthy protein bars or getting your protein from other sources, protein can really help keep you strong. But many people don’t get the protein they need on a daily basis.1
And if you work out regularly, you need even more protein than someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle.2
These are just some of the reasons why you need to have an ample supply of protein in your diet. And it stands to reason that a protein-rich bar is a great option, particularly if you don’t have time for a full sit-down meal.
1. Building Lean Muscle Mass
One of the biggest benefits of protein – and, by extension, healthy protein bars – is that it helps your body build lean muscle mass. One study involving overweight police officers showed that the group of officers who consumed more protein increased their lean mass. The other group did not.3
But when should you eat a protein bar?
Well, according to another study, people who consumed a type of protein known as casein protein (commonly found in protein bars) shortly before bedtime saw an increase in protein production.4 In order to grow muscle, your body needs to produce more protein than it breaks down.5
2. Improving Recovery Time After a Workout
If you exercise on a regular basis, you know that it can take your body quite a while to completely bounce back. Eating before a workout – particularly eating healthy protein bars – could help speed your recovery.6
3. Reducing Body Fat
Protein bars could also play a role in helping to reduce your body fat content. One study found that reducing carbohydrates and increasing protein could help improve body composition by reducing fat.7
Another study found that a diet high in protein could help you feel more full after you eat, helping you to maintain a trim waistline.8
Protein bars may also help to keep you satiated because they can reduce the amount of ghrelin in the body. Ghrelin is also known as the “hunger hormone.”9
What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Protein?
There are a few potential consequences of not getting enough protein in your diet. Here are just a few.
→ Swelling – A lack of protein could make your skin look puffy and swollen. Research indicates this is due to a particular protein known as human serum albumin. This protein is found in plasma, the liquid portion of blood.10
→ Weak bones – You probably associate calcium with keeping your bones strong, but protein intake plays a role as well. Research shows that a low-protein diet is linked to weaker-feeling bones and muscles.11
→ Weakened immune system – Research indicates that people who don’t get enough protein may be more prone to getting sick. The reason is a lack of protein is linked to a weaker immune system.12
The amount of protein a person needs each day depends on several factors. Age and gender have a lot to do with the amount of protein your body requires.13 In general, though the recommended daily amount of protein is between 45-63 grams per day for males and between 46-50 grams per day for females.14
How to Choose Healthy Protein Bars
So, are protein bars actually good for you?
The answer is “yes” – in most cases.
But you still need to be careful when it comes to buying them. Not all protein bars, even so-called healthy protein bars, are alike.
One of the main considerations you need to keep in mind when choosing between protein bars involves carbohydrates. Carbs are important for energy, but you don’t want to consume too many. This is especially true when it comes to sugar – one of the most common types of carbs.15
Consuming too much sugar can negatively affect your health in a lot of ways, so make sure you look for protein bars that are low in sugar.16
Watch Out for Dietary Fats
Just like any food, you want to make sure you choose protein bars that don’t contain a lot of fat. You see, there are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.
- Saturated fat – This is the kind of fat that you’ll find in foods such as butter, cheese, and red meat. Research shows that over-consumption of saturated fat is linked to a host of serious health problems.17
- Unsaturated fat – Unsaturated fat, on the other hand, is considered a healthy form of fat. It helps keep your heart healthy. There are two types of unsaturated fat:
Monounsaturated fats are found in several types of oils (such as peanut, canola, and olive oil), as well as avocados and olives.
You’ll find polyunsaturated fats in fish and walnuts, as well as corn oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil.
One type of polyunsaturated fat you might have heard of is omega-3. Omega-3, found mainly in fish, has been shown to keep your heart in good shape.18
Check the Labels
The bottom line is, you should carefully look at the labels of any protein bar you’re considering. Stay away from ones packed with sugar. When should you eat a protein bar? Well, just about anytime seems fine – even right before bedtime.
If you have any doubts about the kind of bar that will be right for your particular needs, talk to your doctor.
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