Protein bars – A better choice?

I was at Target yesterday, where they were serving samples of Clif Builder’s protein bars. As we walked away, a mother approached the samples and said to her child, “these would be good snacks for you to bring to school.” This made me want to stand next to the samples with some sort of educational materials. Marketing has done its job – we think that protein bars are good nutrition for us AND our children. Sadly, a protein bar is not a good choice for either. In my opinion, retailing protein bars as ‘nutrition bars’ should be illegal.

Purpose of protein bars

Protein bars were initially designed for endurance athletes – something easy to eat before/during/after high intensity activity. Despite the fact that protein bars have become mainstream, most have not changed their nutritional makeup to meet the needs of our daily lives.

Protein bars have a high nutrient density. They often contain high levels of fat, sugar, protein, etc. – for the purpose of sustaining an athletes intense energy expenditure. What happens if you consume more of these nutrients than you need? They become converted into fat (i.e., adipose tissue). What happens of you consume more protein than you need? It is converted into fat.

How much protein can the body use?

You see the protein bars that advertise containing 20+ grams of protein. The more protein the better, right? WRONG. You body can only utilize approximately 8 to 10 grams of protein an hour. While some experts suggest eating as much as 30 grams of protein at MEALS, this is ingested along with other foods that influence the length of digestion (sometimes hours). Anything above and beyond what the body can use will be converted into fat, storing it for later usage.

The facts

What is in a protein bar? For the sake of this post, I will remain with the Clif Builder’s bar.

Look at all the awesome stuff! First, let us remember that the Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet – which applies directly to very few of us. If you do not already know, please learn to read labels! I am not going to address everything on these Nutrition Facts, but I want to highlight a few things.

Calories – 270. 13.5% of a 2000 calorie diet, I suppose this may be a snack. Snacks should generally be limited to approximately 200 calories.

Saturated Fat – 25%. 13.5% of your daily calories but 25% of your saturated fat? If you are not using the fat as fuel (like an athlete may be), it will be stored as fat.

Total Carbs – 10%. Let me begin by saying that this is incredibly misleading. Look at the sub categories and there are 20 grams of sugars. I have previously written about sugar and how much sugar you can utilize at a given time.

Protein – 20 grams or 40%. Look at the math – 13.5% of your calories and 40% of your protein. Does this make sense? So what are you going to eat for the remaining 86.5% of your calories? Protein contains 4 calories per gram, so 80 of the 270 calories are from protein. Where do the other calories come from? I will let you do the math – I hate math. (Hint: 80 calories from the sugar. That leaves 110 calories. 72 from fat, leaving 38 calories from carbohydrates other than sugar.)

Protein bars and weight loss

Are you on a weight loss journey and using protein bars in place of meals or snacks? How is that working for you – honestly? Are you bloated? Unfortunate for us and fortunate for the protein bar industry – many individuals who are overweight and losing do not know when they are bloated. Unfortunately, most overweight individuals have been bloated for a significant amount of time and would not be able to tell the different of whether the bar elicited water retention or bloating. (What does sugar do?).

Remember, a protein bar is highly processed. I did not include the ingredient list for the Clif Builder’s bar above, but you can view it on their website. The list is not terrible, but not great. They use ‘sexy’ terms like no trans fat and organic. The bar provides sustained energy. What does that mean? Do you need energy to sit in your chair at work? If so, how much energy do you need?

I know, I am asking a lot of questions and not giving the answers. I want YOU to think critically.

Protein bars and muscle building

The name, Clif Builder’s, infers muscle building – correct? I know very few bodybuilders who eat protein bars – because they are mindful and go for the most effective and efficient sources. The cut and ripped look of bodybuilders comes from natural proteins – supplemented with shakes and other things not critical to the point of this post. Will a protein bar assist with muscle building? Slightly. Is that what it is designed for? No.

The bottomline

This post just addressed the outer edges of this issue and is oversimplified. Just know, a protein is NOT designed for regular consumption by an average individual. Marketing will lead you to believe otherwise. Bars for women (Luna Bars?). Snack sized bars. Meal Replacement bars. And what are all these bars? Glorified candy bars and granola bars. Processed junk that our bodies are not designed to process and digest.

Are protein bars a better choice? Better than what? A candy bar? Give me a choice between a Clif bar and a Snickers – and I will always pick the Snickers. A – it tastes better. B – the overall nutritional benefit is nearly identical. (i.e., fewer total calories, same saturated fat, modestly more sugar, and protein within and absorbable range)

Do you eat protein bars? You might want to think twice – – –