Just a few years ago, these bars were unheard of amongst people who were not sports enthusiasts, yet these days they can be found at any drugstore or supermarket. More and more athletes – and non-athletes – are reaching for protein bars and so-called energy bars. Many people also snack on them in place of sweets. But what are their benefits and are they really a good idea for athletes and non-athletes? What should you be looking out for?
Protein bars – What exactly are they?
Proteins are the building blocks for cells in the human body. They are involved in a vast number of processes in the body and perform many different tasks. Among other things, protein is found in the skin, hair and nails in the form of keratin. Protein is also necessary for the transport of hemoglobin. In the case of athletes, it is essential that a substantial proportion of the proteins in their diet are structural proteins for muscle-building. That’s why it’s vital that we get enough protein in our diet – whether we’re athletes or not. A distinction is made between animal proteins and plant proteins. Animal proteins are found in dairy products, meat, fish and eggs, for example. Plant proteins come from foods such as pulses, wholegrain products and a range of different vegetables. Spinach and broccoli have high levels of plant protein, for example.
Your body needs roughly 0.8 grams of protein every day per kilogram of body weight. That’s certainly true for people who don’t do sports. If you train regularly, the amount you need increases to around 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If your muscles are made to work hard during a training session, this amount of protein is needed to avoid muscle wastage.
Protein bars – Are they a good idea?
We have already established that protein is involved in muscle-building. If we push our muscles, we have to feed our body more protein accordingly. If you struggle to get the 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight from the food you eat every day, then a protein bar can be a good idea, especially if you aren’t able to eat anything for a long period of time. Instead of reaching for something else, a protein bar is a really practical solution in this scenario. After all, you can take it anywhere.
That said, it’s important to make sure you go for a protein bar that has truly earned its name. Unfortunately, the multitude of protein bars on the market differ greatly when it comes to their ingredients. If you really want to find a good protein bar, look out for the following things:
- Amount of protein: As the name suggests, a protein bar should contain a correspondingly large amount of protein. So take a look at the list of ingredients. If a protein bar contains more than 20 grams of protein, then it’s a good protein bar with enough protein to have the desired effect. The more protein in a protein bar, the more beneficial it is in increasing your protein consumptions levels.
- Whey protein: A good protein bar contains whey protein or a whey/casein mixture. This form of protein is extracted from milk. If you see whey on your protein bar, that’s a good sign.
- Ratio of protein and carbohydrates: Protein bars don’t just contain protein, of course. They have other ingredients in them, too. All too often, that means lots of sugar and carbohydrates. Yet if sugar and carbohydrate levels are too high, a protein bar won’t have the effect it’s meant to. To avoid this, use the following rule of thumb: the more carbohydrates a protein bar has, the more unhealthy it is and the less suitable it is. Sugar is usually listed as maltitol or erythritol. A protein bar should not have too much of these, either.
- Sometimes less is more: If a protein bar has lots of different ingredients, that’s usually not a good sign. The fewer ingredients it has, the better it is. That’s something to bear in mind with other foods, too. Always take a closer look at anything with more than ten ingredients listed!
If athletes look out for these four things and use protein bars to help provide the extra protein they need because of their training, then protein bars can be a good idea.
Energy bars – What exactly are they?
Whereas protein bars are designed to supply the body with sufficient protein, energy bars are instead intended to replenish carbohydrate stores. Endurance athletes rely on them in particular. Your muscles can only summon enough energy for a marathon, a road race, or a triathlon if your carbohydrate stores are full. If you do 90 minutes of endurance sports, then your carbohydrate stores will be empty. In this case, an energy bar will help you top up your reserves and maintain your performance level.
Energy bars – Are they a good idea?
Handy, easily accessible, and with enough carbohydrates – energy bars provide nearly three times more carbohydrates than a banana. And bananas provide 20 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams. Those intending to train for more than three hours should top up their carbohydrate stores after one hour, and then keep doing this every 30 minutes. However, it is worth looking closely at the ingredients in energy bars to make sure the energy bar you choose is doing what it’s supposed to. When buying an energy bar, look for the following things:
- A good energy bar must contain sustained-release carbohydrates which are fast-acting.
- The energy bar should contain a little or a lot of protein, depending on the nature of the sport. Endurance athletes should pay more attention to carbohydrates, while strength athletes should focus more on the protein content.
- As a guide, a good energy bar should be at least 60 percent carbohydrates, up to 30 percent protein – depending on the physical exertion – and no more than 20 percent fat.
So energy bars and protein bars can both be a good idea. The important thing is making sure you buy the right ones and integrating them into your everyday diet.