Protein bars have become extremely popular over the past decade among people who both practice sports or just have an active lifestyle. Athletes tend to use them to supplement their daily protein intake, increase muscle growth, and speed up the recovery, while others are just enjoying them occasionally as healthy snacks instead of sweets and desserts. 

The origin of protein bars popularity – as well as of protein powders – can be traced back to 70s-80s, during which the attention to fitness and sports increased, also leading to the spread of dietary protocols for the reduction of weight and body fat that were mainly based on proteins. From there on, proteins have become the inevitable nutrients of slimming diets – often restrictive, unbalanced, and not without side effects.

Naturally, this led to a lot of confusion about the effect of proteins on our health. 

For this reason, let’s take a step back, and revisit such fundamental questions like: 

  • What are proteins and their effects?
  • Are protein bars any good at all?
  • Do protein bars help lose weight or build muscle?
  • When should one eat protein bars for the best results?

What Proteins and Protein Bars Are

Proteins are essential macronutrients. This means that we’re not able to derive them from any other nutrients, and they need to be consumed through food. 

Proteins differ from carbohydrates in several aspects. In particular, they mainly have a structural role (they are often called “the bricks of our muscles”), and are digested slower, helping avoid a sudden increase in blood sugar and favouring the maintenance of satiety for a long time.

The required protein intake strictly depends on your body weight and also on the type of physical activity. 

If you practice moderate physical activity, your requirement is about 0.9g/kg/die. If you are an endurance athlete, you should eat about 1.2/1.5g/kg, or even 1.5-2g/kg of protein every day if you aim to grow muscle mass.

Proteins are included in a variety of different foods of animal and plant origin. Vegan people, for example, can find their much needed proteins in legumes, whole grains, nuts and oilseeds.

Being a vegan, you can cover the daily needs very easily by eating a wide variety of these foods every day, and distributing them in meals and snacks to optimize their absorption and use by your body. 

However, it is also true that plant-based foods are loaded with fiber and certain substances that could limit protein absorption, and muscle might not be able to use them.

For this reason, it may be beneficial to supplement our needs with supplements containing vegetal proteins of good quality. 

And here the protein bars could help you

Be careful, however, as not all bars are all the same. Even though names “protein” and “energy bars” are often used as synonyms, they are considerably different in terms of their nutritional value. 

A protein bar is different from an energy bar because of its protein content which should be at least 10-12g per bar. The quantity is always shown in the nutritional label, which specifies the proteins contained in 100g of product and in the single bar. 

Unlike energy bars, consisting mainly of carbohydrates and more specific for athletes, protein bars can be defined as balanced and versatile food, which because of their low glycemic index, can be used for different purposes, not only to supplement the amount of protein in the day and to support muscle exercise from a structural point of view, but also to keep hunger under control, or to promote weight loss.

What do protein bars do?

Protein bars contain several ingredients which distinguishes them from energy bars – and any other foods or bars –  and makes them balanced and low glycemic index foods.

Any high-quality protein bar contains an optimal amount of protein, which is why it can help you cover your daily protein needs, but also promote muscle recovery, keep hunger under control and stay fit, with taste!

What are protein bars good for

Protein bars can serve different purposes.

If your goal is to get back in shape and lose weight, it’s hard to find a better supplement than a protein bar. First, you need to combine a balanced diet with moderate physical activity. Eating balanced, low glycemic index meals helps keep hunger under control and make it easier to follow a low-calorie diet.  You can eat protein bars to lose weight inserting them also without working out in your diet as it is a tasty and balanced snack that satisfies your hunger in a healthy way. 

It’s arguable when exactly the best time to eat protein bars is, but it’s often being used as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack that allows avoiding energy drops and cravings for sugary foods. You can always bring one with you (it’s easy and takes up little space), and it will help you achieve your goal.

Protein bars, if not specified on the label, are not suitable to replace your regular meals, however. If you want to lose weight, we recommend you avoid “do-it-yourself” diets, especially if very restrictive, which could be dangerous to your health. It would be better to follow the advice of a specialist, setting a personalized dietary path and definitely change your eating habits.

If your goal is to strengthen your muscles you will have to associate the specific exercise to an adequate diet, which covers the energy (carbohydrate) and protein needs. Protein bars, used as supplements, will help you speed up your muscle building and process and facilitate the recovery. 

Always remember that proteins are the essential nutrients for post-workout muscle recovery, as they allow you to repair muscles and promote training adaptations. Try eating your protein bar within 30 minutes after the end of your workout, when your muscles respond better to the anabolic stimulus. In this time, also referred to as the “anabolic window”, skeletal muscle is ready to incorporate and use nutrients, for synthesis of new contractile tissue and to repair what was injured by physical activity.

If you are an athlete, remember that you can eat a protein bar even when you’re not doing physical activity, as a balanced snack to calm hunger in a healthy and tasty way.

How many protein bars can you eat a day

Some people question the appropriateness and benefits of eating protein bars daily. The opinion of many experts varies, but mostly depends on the type of protein bar in the subject

There are various types of bars on the market, very similar in terms of protein content, but very different in terms of the choice of ingredients. Many bars contain industrially derived artificial sugars and sweeteners, preservatives, dyes and additives that aim to make the product more palatable and conserved for a longer time. Such products are inevitably unhealthy, and it is inadvisable to use them daily. If your bar contains only natural ingredients, such as high-quality fruit sugars and proteins, then you can definitely incorporate them into your daily diet. 

It’s very important to read the list of ingredients of any packaged food, since the ingredients depend on the quality of the product. 

It remains to be clarified how many bars you can eat in a day. If your bar is of good quality, it has no side effects, but the limit of consumption is that you should comply with your calorie and protein requirements and that you should be careful to consume a wide variety of foods. Reasonably, depending on your needs and body weight, it may be advisable to consume 1-2 protein bars per day, inserted within a wide-ranging and balanced diet.

Author: Francesca Deriu, content writer for Crownhealth, the premium Swiss plant-based active nutrition producer.