After an intense training session or a big game, the last thing any athlete wants to do is hover over the stove to make a post-workout meal. For an easy, nutritional fix, many reach for protein bars. The high protein content makes it a staple in an athlete's diet, but are protein bars a good idea for the average Joe?So, Uh, Is There Meat in There? — The Need-to-Know
An essential nutrient, protein helps build and repair muscles, which is why many athletes consider protein an essential part of their diets. Protein bars are a convenient way to protein load— some even contain as much protein as a chicken breast. Most manufacturers use soy or whey protein as the main ingredient, both of which have been shown to help athletes gain lean body mass . A study of weightlifters who consumed protein bars three times a day in addition to their normal diet found a significant increase in lean body mass compared to weightlifters who didn’t eat protein supplements .
But with great protein comes great responsibility... and a great number of calories— most bars have around 300 calories, and many contain the same carb and sugar content as candy bars (or more). In the wrong hands, eating protein bars can pack on the pounds.
All Protein Bars Aren’t Created Equal — Your Action Plan
For the everyday Joe who works out for only an hour or less at a time, protein bars aren’t a necessary addition. The average adult only needs to get about 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein each day. And while extra protein isn't usually dangerous, the added sugar and calories make a protein bar a pretty hefty splurge.
For the more serious exerciser, when combined with daily, rigorous workout routines, protein bars can help athletes build leaner muscles . However, a whey protein shake after working out can be equally effective for rebuilding muscles.
For those who do opt for the extra protein, do some research beforehand to find the right bar for a particular goal. They come in all types: high-protein, low-carb bars (e.g. Pure Protein), meal replacement bars (e.g. Myoplex), energy bars (e.g. Clif), and even women's bars (e.g. Luna). Make sure to check out the nutritional facts on the back of each bar, specifically the protein (of course), fats, carbohydrates, and sugars. If worst comes to worst, compare with the nearest Snickers bar. Don't think the added protein cancels out the rest of it!
Originally posted on May 2, 2011. Updated October 2011 by Kelly Fitzpatrick