Ever noticed how when a person or concept becomes popular and successful, people want to bring it down a peg or two? We live in a unified community here in the UK, a society that I am proud to be a part of, but no matter how great it may be there is always a handful of defeatists that despise seeing something do well! People are right to question food and supplements, it keeps the industry honest, but recently we had a chap voice his dislike for protein bars in no uncertain terms, which is fine, but it’s the rationale behind this dislike that I feel aggrieved about.
This person had a problem with the ‘additives’ in protein bars and felt we as a company falsely advertised when we marketed them as a ‘healthy’ option. He asserted that we were misleading the consumers because they were not healthy and "all contained large amounts of sugar". So I sit here writing this with a dutiful mindset…in other words, I feel it is my duty to defend this humble little bar for what it is and what it may deliver. I don’t defend the protein bar on behalf of the company, but more as an individual who believes that given the right bar and circumstances, a protein bar is a great addition to a training or sporting regime.
OK, I know it’s only a protein bar, but it’s become the subject of ridicule in recent times with some valid, and some not so valid arguments both for and against. I think it’s pertinent to summarise what protein bars are, and what they offer to training and health before we start dissecting them as an overall entity. So in short this is what I think protein bars are, are not, and what I feel they should be (in my humble opinion)...
Protein bars are…
- Protein bars are generally high in protein
- They are designed to contribute to a regular balanced diet and training regime
- Very convenient
- Delicious and satiating
- Purpose built
- Different from bar to bar
- Effective as a mid meal snack or occasional meal replacement
- Nutrient dense – i.e. deliver a lot of protein per gram compared to other food sources
- Occasionally high in sugar
Protein bars are not…
- A ‘superfood’, they do not generally deliver vast amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
- A ‘one stop fix’ for everything fitness, health and wellbeing
- All that innocent…yes some mislabelled ‘protein bars’ are little more than a carb crammed excuse for a regular confectionary bar, so choose wisely
- Are not something to be eaten freely, they should be factored into a daily plan
- The villain they’re made out to be by some. In fact they are an incredibly convenient product that serves as a readily available source of protein
Protein bars should be…
- Protein dominant (obviously)
- Higher in protein than sugar
- Eaten as part of a regular balanced diet and training regime
- Eaten intelligently i.e. the calorific content of many protein bars mean they should be consumed when you are most catabolic (morning, after intense exercise, or to replenish during prolonged periods of no nutrition)
- Carried around as an emergency snack when commuting or when you’re out for the day
- Clearly labelled and marketed accordingly
The validity of a protein bar
A protein bar can (and is) used as part of a healthy balanced diet by many. Note we do not profess that a protein bar is the be all and end all of health and vitality, you can get by fine without one, but many choose to add a protein bar to their dietary regime to 'supplement' their habitual intake. Do protein bars contain ‘additives’ as this person chose to word it… yes many do (generally). Are those ‘additives’ harmful… current research doesn’t seem to think so. And do the ‘additives’ detract from the nutritional content and overall validity of a protein bar in the diet…no they don’t. So will I continue to use them as a nutrient dense snack...yes I will. Should you as consumers...well that would completely depend on your current dietary intake, training regime and personal preference.
To say that they are filled with additives and therefore unhealthy is a naive and sweeping statement (sorry to say). Additives is a broad term, but granted some protein bars do contain them, and yes, should you consume nothing but protein bars all day every day you will run the risk of overdoing it...but this is NOT the recommendation and never has been.
Sugar content of protein bars
Most protein bars contain some sugar in one form or another, and more often than not the sugar will not exceed 5g. However if sugar does exceed 5g, this does not mean it’s a no go area because sugar (be it maltodextrin, glucose, sucrose etc) is a useful nutrient to consume alongside protein i.e. the nutrients perform better when consumed together. What you don’t want a protein bar to do is deliver more sugar and total carbs than protein (for obvious reasons), if a protein bar does this then it’s not a ‘protein bar’ per se, but rather a carbohydrate or energy bar by definition. Remember, the glycaemic response of sugar (the effect a carb source has on your blood sugar levels) is very much dependent on the glycaemic load and nutritional composition of the meal it's consumed with. Of particular importance is the timing of consumption i.e. when you consume it. A protein bars impact on blood sugars and thus what the body does with the sugar will heavily depend on the timing. A protein bar that is high in sugar consumed immediately after training will have minimal effect on fat storage, conversely if it was consumed after a meal for example, the sugar in the bar may well be stored as adiposity (aka fat).
From a company standpoint
In short, we DO NOT market "stuff" as healthy if it cannot be used in a healthy way, we definitely do not mislead and will not state that something offers something that it doesn't. Protein bars can be/are used by incredibly fit, healthy and knowledgeable athletes as part of their health, wellbeing and fitness regime. Yes, protein bars are abused by some under the misguided conception that they are an easy fix for when you are hungry. The truth is that some protein bars contain close to the calories found in regular confectionery, but what makes them different is the composition of those calories. The majority of the calories in most protein bars come from the protein itself (4kcal per gram of protein), some from the carbs (also 4kcal per gram of carb) and some from fat. The calories in a regular confectionery bar are almost exclusively from sugar.