Do protein bars live up to the healthy snack hype?

Protein bars. Once reserved for bodybuilders and athletes, these convenient high energy snacks are now mainstream – and yes, they can be a healthy part of your diet.

Wander down the supermarket aisles or through the health food store, and you’ll see a vast array of protein bars on the shelf.

No longer restricted to a world of weightlifting and hard-core exercise, many people have embraced protein bars as a staple part of their diet.

But are they really that good for you?

What’s in a protein bar?

Protein bars are generally souped-up muesli bars or snack bars with ingredients like dates, dried fruit, nuts, mixed with some whole grains and a protein supplement.

Nutrition Australia dietitian Leanne Elliston says many have a soy protein, making them a good vegan option.

“There are also some with a milk-derived protein like whey or casein,” Leanne says.

The quantities of protein vary from brand to brand.

But, the good news is research has shown consuming protein supplements in any form before or after a workout can improve performance and also enhance recovery, making them a good option on certain occasions.

Extra protein can also help build muscle mass and increase aerobic and anaerobic power.

How often should you eat protein bars?

While they make an excellent addition to your diet, just because they’re out there doesn’t mean you should be gobbling them up all the time, says dietitian Skye Swaney.

“Protein bars are a convenient snack option, but unfortunately, a lot of the products on the market don’t offer much in the way of nutrition benefits other than protein and are just another highly processed food,” Skye says.

“So, while it’s a good idea to include protein-rich foods in your snacks to help fill you up, if it’s a healthy snack you’re looking for, you might be better looking elsewhere.”

Leanne agrees, saying if it’s just an everyday snack you’re after, better options include yoghurt, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

When are protein bars beneficial?

While protein bars may not be an everyday food, they definitely still have a place.

“In certain instances, we would actually recommend additional sources of protein like a bar,” Leanne says.

“Certainly, the people who are bodybuilder types need additional protein.

“If you’ve done a really long bike ride, workout or run, you might like one.

“They’re also really good for people who struggle to eat and get the amount of protein they need like elderly people, and anyone with a suppressed appetite like people with cancer going through chemotherapy.”

However, not all bars are made the same so make sure you pick a good one, Skye adds.

“The best options are generally products that contain whole foods, so ingredients such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit.

“It’s also best to avoid products with added sugar or artificial sweetener.”