Whether you’re a busy parent on the go, an athlete looking to refuel, a person on a weight loss journey, or someone who’s just looking for a healthy snack, protein bars are a great fit for every lifestyle. Loaded with protein, fiber, and other added nutrients, protein bars can be a great “supplement” to even the pickiest diets.
With so many different types of protein bars on the market—from low sugar to plant-based to keto and more—it’s no wonder consumers are confused. Here’s a look at some of the most common questions we get about protein bars, plus how to choose the healthiest options.
When Is the Best Time to Eat a Protein Bar?
A simple answer to the question “when is the best time to eat a protein bar” is “near a workout.” Studies have shown that consuming small amounts of high-quality protein after exercising may be most effective for your muscles (1). After a workout, the body needs amino acids to help repair any exercise-induced muscle damage, as well as helping muscle growth.
A recommended 10-20 grams of protein after a training session may be sufficient to give your muscles the nutrients they need. Most quality protein bars on the market fall within this range.
Other common questions that we get include “can I eat a protein bar before a workout” and “can I eat a protein bar for breakfast?” In general, protein supplementation pre- or post-workout increases physical performance.
In a recent study, researchers looked at the difference of consuming protein pre- versus post-workout and found similar changes among both groups in regards to muscle strength, hypertrophy, and body composition (2). They concluded that the decision is a matter of personal preference, tolerances, convenience, availability, and other individual factors.
In other words, you’re free to choose whether you want to eat protein immediately before or after you exercise.
How to Choose the Healthiest Protein Bars
If you do a simple Google search for whether protein bars are good for you, you will get a ton of articles that all say something along the lines of “protein bars are candy bars in disguise.” To be honest, this could be true of certain brands.
Some protein bars on the market actually have more sugar than they do protein. Without calling anyone out, a specific popular protein bar on the market contains 11 grams of protein and 19 grams of sugar, with the first ingredients being rice syrup and cane sugar.
If you are going to consume protein bars, here are some tips on what to look for:
Keep the added sugars to a minimum. To tell if a bar is filled with added sugars, look at the ingredients list. They are listed in descending order. So if the first ingredients are syrup and sugars, there’s a good chance that the sugar is from added sugars.
A good protein bar will also be a good source of dietary fibers. Dietary fiber helps us feel full, as well as has other added health benefits like regulating blood cholesterol levels. Look for at least 4 grams or higher of dietary fiber in your bar.
Does the source of protein matter? A lot of the research surrounding protein is done on whey protein. More and more research is showing that different proteins have different outcomes. For instance, milk proteins have bee
n shown to be superior to soy proteins in promoting lean body mass and muscle mass development (3). These days, there are plenty of protein sources that offer a complete amino acid profile. Choose a protein source that fits your needs and, most importantly, your lifestyle.
Other important aspects to consider nutritionally include total calorie count, carbohydrates, and dietary fat content, as well as the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio. Don’t exceed 300-350 calories per bar unless you are trying to increase calorie count and build lean muscle, in which case, you may require more. The protein-to-carb ratio really depends on your lifestyle and may require additional research to figure out what’s best for you.
Protein Bars: The Bottom Line
So what’s the bottom line? Is there really a “best” time to eat a protein bar? The answer may simply be, there really isn’t a “bad” time to eat a bar. What truly matters is making sure you’re giving your body the proper fuel it needs to help promote growth, aid in recovery, and support your lifestyle needs.