How do you decide which bar is best for you? Read our no-nonsense guide to choosing the right nutrition and protein bars suited for your lifestyle.
You may be overwhelmed with the flood of protein bars that have hit the stores these days, with flavors like Frosted Cinnamon Swirl and Chocolate Java Avalanche, they sound more like candy bars. Well, the good news is they aren’t nearly as fattening and sugary as their junkfood cousins. Many are loaded with the protein equivalent of half a chicken breast and contain less then 5 grams of sugar. Compared to a Snickers Bar, the better choice is obvious.
So how do you decide which bar is best for you? First, you need to know what your fitness or health goal is? For our purposes, “lose weight” means lose fat, and “gain weight” means gain muscle. Are you trying to lose weight, gain weight, or just maintain your current size and definition?
Second, you need to know how to differentiate one bar from another, so you can choose bars that will work with your fitness goals. Nutrition and protein bars can be separated into three major categories: Meal Replacement Bars, Low Carb High Protein Bars, and Energy and Endurance Bars. Once you understand how to classify a bar into one of these categories, picking the right bar will be a piece of cake… and almost as tasty.
The easiest bar category to explain is Low Carb High Protein, because it’s name says it all. These bars generally contain less than 5 grams of Impact Carbs. OK, so what are Impact Carbs? They are simple carbs like sugar. They cause your insulin levels to spike, which in turn can lead to increased bodyfat. Other complex carbs, such as glycerin and sugar alcohols, do not have this impact on insulin levels, and are often referred to as Non-impact Carbs. Many bar manufacturers did not report the Non-impact Carbs in their bars when the low carb diet craze hit about two years ago. However, the FDA has recently required manufacturers to update there nutrition facts labels so both the Impact and Non-impact Carbs are included in the Total Carb count. The bars have not changed, just the way the carbs are reported has.
Low Carb High Protein Bars are best for people trying to lose weight or maintain there current size and definition. Their high protein content helps prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown), while their low impact carb count minimizes any increase in bodyfat. Just remember, to look at the Impact Carbs and not the Total Carbs. Some popular bars in this category are: Myoplex Carb Sense Bar, Premier Eight Bar, Atkin’s Advantage Bar, Designer Whey Protein Bar, Solid Protein Bar, and Worldwide Pure Protein Bar.
The next category, Meal Replacement, contains bars which have high carb and protein counts, generally over 15 grams of carbs and over 20 grams of protein. As their name suggests, they can be substituted for a meal, however, don’t make them the foundation of your food pyramid. While they are loaded with vitamins, protein and other nutrients, they cannot take the place of a well balanced meal.
Meal Replacement Bars are best for individuals trying to gain weight, because they provide the protein and carbs needed to increase muscle mass. Use them in between meals for extra calories. They cannot also be used in place of a meal for weight loss by dieters, but again, don’t make this practice a ritual. Some popular bars in this category are: Labrada Lean Body Bar, MET-Rx Big 100 Bar, Myoplex Deluxe Bar and ISS Pro42 Bar.
The last category, Energy and Endurance Bars, contains bars highest in sugar (over 15 grams) and carbs (over 25 grams). These bars provide a quick energy boost and are usually the best tasting. They are well suited for endurance athletes and people with high metabolisms who burn calories without gaining an ounce. Weight gainers may also choose these bars for added calories as snacks in between meals. They are not recommended for people trying to lose weight, except as an addition to breakfast for extra fiber and energy. Some popular bars in this category are: Clif Bars, Harvest Bars, Power Bars, and SportPharma Promax Bars.
There are some bars which fall into two categories, such as bars that follow the Zone Diet (also know as 40-30-30). These bars can be classified as Meal Replacement Bars because of their high carb/protein content, but also as Energy & Endurance Bars because of the higher sugar content and high ratio of carbs to protein. Some examples of these “dual category” bars include Balance Bars and Twinlab Ironman bars.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea which type of bar is best for you. Make sure you read the nutrition labels and compare bars when you’re shopping. Once you’ve got the right bar, you’ll be supporting your fitness goal and really have something to howl about.