One of the great benefits of recent advances in bodybuilding and fitness nutrition is the development of protein bars and ready to drink (RTD) protein shakes.
While both of these products have been around for a few years now, the availability and acceptance into mainstream supermarkets, health shops and vending machines at gyms has caused their popularity to really increase.
But as with any increase in popularity of a particular type of product comes the influx of new sports nutrition companies starting up and trying to develop their own unique blend of ingredients and taste.
While choice is certainly an excellent thing, it’s important to know the differences between these different types of protein bars so that you can be sure what you’re getting is still healthy and beneficial to your diet.
As with any health or supplement product there is a wide range of ingredients that we could go into in more detail, but for now we’ll just be taking a look at a few of the most important things to look for.
This includes the number of calories and grams of protein, carbs and fats per bar.
[one_half]Before you start looking at which protein bar to buy it’s important you have an idea in your mind about the level of calories you need each bar to have.
The protein bar will be forming either part or all of a meal, so it’s important to have a general idea of how many calories is in each so you can factor it in to your daily requirements.
Fortunately many companies will provide some indication of the purpose of the protein bar in the name, which should give you an idea if it is meant for bulking or dieting. This will in turn give you a rough idea of the number of calories.[/one_half]
An example of this is with the Maximuscle range of protein bars. Because they have a range of protein bars, each with different nutritional content, the name is used to give you an instant indication of the level of calories.
If you saw the ‘Progain’ bar on the shelf of a health food shop next to their ‘Promax Lean’ bar, which would you assume had the lowest calorie count? If you said the ‘Lean’ bar then you are correct, with the ‘Progain’ bar having 318 calories compared with the 206 calories of the ‘Lean’ bar.
Of course not all bars are as obvious with their names and it can take comparing the nutritional panel on the back of the wrapper to really know the difference.
While there are some protein bars that have a particularly high calorie count, such as the Vyomax Protein Flapjack bars (504 calories), this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be better suited to a bulking diet. In this particular case the bar has 29g of fat, nearly 60g of carbs and just 16g of protein, which isn’t particularly desirable for a fat loss or bulking diet.
Although you definitely need higher amounts of carbs when bulking, it’s important these come from the right sources. This is why although calorie count is important, it’s more important to see where these calories are coming from which can only be learned from looking at the breakdown of protein, carbs and fats.
Finding a bar with the right level of protein for your diet
[one_half]There are really two main reasons for turning to protein bars for your nutritional requirements.
The first of these is convenience, while the other is because they meet the right level of protein, fats, carbs and calories that you need to top up your daily intake and reach the levels required for your specific training goal.
If you are buying bars for the second reason then the level of protein is very important. Whether you are on a low calorie or high calorie diet, you will require the ratio of protein to carbs to be almost equal, with the fats normally much lower.
If you are dieting you may be looking for high protein, but low carbs and fats.[/one_half]
In this instance a bar such as the PhD Nutrition Diet Whey bars could be the best option. If you are looking to save money then you can even buy a pack of 12 of the PhD Nutrition Growth Factor 50 Brownies.
Half of one of these brownies has almost identical nutritional information to the Diet Whey Bars in terms of calories, protein, carbs and fats.
PhD Nutrition Diet Whey Bar – Calories: 181, Protein: 25g, Carbs: 14g, Fat: 4.9g
PhD Nutrition Growth Factor 50 Brownie – Calories: 399, Protein: 50g, Carbs: 24g, Fat: 11.5g
The Diet Whey bars normally retail for around £19.95, while the Growth Factor 50 Brownies are usually around £25. Prices are based on a box of 12 and nutritional information is based per bar / brownie.
If you are looking for a bar for fat loss then a protein to carb ratio of 2:1 will be most efficient, while a 1:2 ratio will be best if you are looking to add weight and build muscle.
How the level of carbs can fluctuate between different protein bars
[one_half]Possibly the area where you will find the greatest fluctuation between protein bars is in the level of carbohydrates per bar.
This is because there is such a range of different diets and times of day when you may need a protein bar.
The level of carbs is usually designed around creating either an immediate energy source or creating a sustained energy source by contributing to glycogen production.
Bars with a carbohydrate level between 0 and 20 grams are perfect for anyone who is dieting and looking to lose weight, while bars with 21 to 40 grams are better for people more involved in physical activities such as climbing, cycling and general fitness.[/one_half]
The bars with very high carb levels of over 40g are usually reserved for bodybuilders or anyone looking to gain weight when on a ‘bulking’ diet.
For high carb protein bars, some of the best examples are the Maximuscle Progain Flapjack Bar (45.4g), MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Bar (41g) and the Vyomax Protein Flapjacks (59.2g).
The best low carb examples we could find are the PhD Nutrition Diet Whey Bars (14g), Kinetica Crisp Pro Bar (13.9g) and the USN Diet Whey bar (11g).
Levels of fat in protein bars
While having a low fat content is certainly desirable, it’s still important for the bar to have a small amount of fat, particularly if taken after workouts.
As well as being the optimal time for your body to make use of the nutrients you are feeding it, the fat will help to slow the release of carbs into the bloodstream and help create a longer lasting source of energy recovery.
For low fat protein bars, some of the best examples are the PhD Nutrition Diet Whey Bars (4.9g), Maximuscle Promax Lean (4.6g) and the Optimum Nutrition Wholly Oats Bars (2.3g).
To compare the fat levels across a wide range of protein bars why not try our protein bar comparison tool?
Despite the wide range of protein bars now available, it’s relatively easy to choose the right bar for you. The best thing to do is look at your current dietary intake and work out how much you need from each protein bar.
Once you have a rough number of calories this will narrow the number of bars down considerably. If you then look for bars with the best ratio of protein to carbs for your particular training goal then you only need to worry about the grams of fat.
Once you have the selection narrowed down by calories and the protein to carb ration then this should be a relatively small number of bars and make your decision much easier. Of course flavour and texture are both important, but these are very much down to personal opinion and preference.
If you’re eating the bar as a meal replacement, make sure it contains fiber, protein and at least some vitamins and minerals. This is to make sure you are consuming roughly the same nutrients you would get from a healthy meal.