What makes a good protein bar & How to choose the right one!!
With hundreds of different protein bars on the market, how do you choose the best one for you? Just like anything food related, we all have different goals, likes and dislikes, food sensitivities etc. So what is good for ME is not necessarily going to be right for everyone, BUT there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure you are making a healthy choice!
One very important thing to note is that a protein bar is definitely not just a chocolate bar with protein in it! Many protein bars claim to be healthy, but in reality have an ingredient list closer to a chocolate bar then a healthy protein bar. Lets take a Mars bar compared to a Cliff bar for example. A standard, 51-g Mars bar contains 229 calories, including 8.7g of fat and 4.2g of saturated fat. This serving size has 35.1g of carbohydrates, of which 30.4 g are from sugar. A Cliff bar contains 250 calories, 40g of carbs, 9g of protein, 21g of sugar, and 5g of fat. Not too far off, is it?
Choosing a good protein bar boils down to READING THE LABEL! There are a few key things you should always look for when choosing a protein bar:
A good protein bar should contain at least 15g of protein. If the bar DOES contain 15g or more of protein, next you should compare protein to carb ratio. There is no right or wrong carbs to protein ration within a protein bar. If you are using a protein bar as your source of lean refuel, carbs are important to have to properly refuel your body. That being said, we are looking for PROTEIN bars here, so a general rule of thumb would be to look for a bar that has either slightly less, equal, or slightly above carbs to protein (1:1 or 1.5:1). This basically means if you have a bar that has 15g protein but has over 30 grams of carbs, chances are, it is not the best choice for a protein bar. Bars with higher carbs are generally considered more when looking for energy bars rather than protein bars.
Sugar is definitely something you need to look out for when choosing a protein bar. TONS of bars out there have lots of protein with less carbs, lots of fibre…the catch? 25g of sugar! That’s right some protein bars can contain 20 or more grams of sugar! Which is almost as much as you would find in a typical chocolate bar (Kitkat 21g, Reese 21g, Almond Joy 24g etc). Typically, you should try and go for a bar with 10g or less of sugar. The only exception I would make for bars with 10g or more (10-12g) of sugar is if that bar contains fruit! If the bar contains natural whole or dried fruits, then the sugar is coming from a natural source rather then an added unhealthy sugar.
Sugar alcohols are also a healthier option when looking at the ingredient list, I will explain why in the next step…
Net carbs is the amount of carbs out of the total carbs that actually get processed into energy in the body. When calculating net carbs generally, we subtract the fibre content from the carb content (total carbs – fibre = net carbs). When there are sugar alcohols included in the bar, generally, we would subtract HALF the sugar alcohol content from the carbs too(total carbs – fibre – (sugar alcohol ➗2) = net carbs). Here’s why:
Sugar alcohols can pass through your digestive system WITHOUT being broken down or utilized. Fibre also does not digest well, but rather gets passed through your system acting as something that will help keep you full without any calories.
To summarize, when looking at carb content, it is always important to consider your net carbs rather than total carbs because it is a more accurate idea of how many carbs will actually be processed in your body.
Fat content can be a tricky one. As you probably know, LEANSQUAD is all about healthy fats! Fats can make you feel energized, satiated for longer, do not spike your insulin levels AND won’t leave you feeling tired after your energy rush. That being said, not all fats are good for you. Also, since we are looking for a protein bar here, we still don’t want super high amounts of fat, and we definitely don’t want a bar loaded in saturated or trans fats! When looking for a protein bar, I typically like to say your protein bar should have 12g of fat or less. Although this number is just general, you must also consider protein levels, carb levels, size of the bar, etc. It is also important to make sure to see where these fats are coming from which brings us to our next step…
Ingredient lists are definitely a super important thing to consider when choosing a protein bar. When looking at the ingredient list, the first thing to note would be the top 3 ingredients. When labeling any kind of packaged food, the higher the ingredient is on the list, the more there is of it in the bar. Considering this fact, if any kind of sugar or sugar product is part of the first 3 ingredients, that bar is not a great choice. Things like corn syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup and cane syrup should definitely not be at the top of the ingredient list, preferably, these ingredients shouldn’t be on the list at all! Going back to fat, you should be looking for where the fat source is coming from. If the ingredient list contains natural foods which contain healthy fats such as nuts, seeds or meats, you are good to go!
Another consideration to make when looking at the ingredient list is the actual amount of ingredients in that bar. If an ingredient list is ridiculously long, there’s a high chance that a lot of those ingredients are not good for you, especially the ones you can’t even pronounce! Bars containing less ingredients tend to be healthier, whole, and contain REAL ingredients!
Which Bars Would I Choose?
My personal FAVOURITE protein bar is the epic protein bar (specifically the Sriracha Chicken Bar). A lot of people get put off by the fact that it’s real meat but honestly, even Brodie enjoys the taste! They not overly “meaty” if that makes sense? It’s somewhat hard to explain but honestly, I really enjoy them, and can eat them without ANY guilt whatsoever. They are made with REAL, GRASS FED MEAT, and have really high standards for quality control. Likewise, unlike most bars, they will not spike your insulin!
2. Iron Vegan
My second lean favourite is the Iron Vegan bar. A lot more like a traditional protein bar, it tastes like a chocolate bar but surprisingly is LOW IN SUGAR and low in NET CARBS which are the two other factors I consider extremely important when picking a protein bar. You ALWAYS WANT TO AVOID super sugary bars. They spike your insulin and give you a huge crash later on. I find the the Iron Vegan Bars give me no crash, taste great and are obviously vegan which is another bonus!
WHEN DO I EAT THESE BARS?
Now, the million dollar lean question… When do I eat these bars?! Well, I certainly do not rely on these bars every single day. HOWEVER, when I am travelling, on the road, or simply get caught up with work, they make great options. I never want to rely on these bars. Instead, I want to use them in certain scenarios that make sense. For example, on a 4hr flight, a bar is a great option! It will keep my body fuelled, and help me avoid all the sugary processed food typically served on a plane. Another example is if I finish a workout and have to head straight into a meeting. I will rely on a bar as a snack, push my lean refuel meal back a little further and then have that when it’s all said and done!!