It’s one of the busiest times of the year at the gym, when many people are planning for shorts and tank-top season that is right around the corner. And that means more of us are wheeling down the protein bar aisles for pre- and post-workout pick-me-ups.
Traditional protein bars have deservedly been hit with a bad rap as “glorified candy bars,” says New York nutritionist,
Jessica Cording, RD, CDN. “Many are high in sugar and full of processed ingredients – not to mention more calories and protein that the average gym-goer may need,” she says.
Popular protein bars are also replete in ingredients that many of today’s health-conscious are trying to avoid -- preservatives, dairy,
gluten and artificial flavorings. Soy protein isolate, a popular ingredient in healthier bars, remains controversial since it’s usually
genetically modified (GMO). Experts recommend checking the label for “non-GMO” if the element is present.
When choosing a healthier protein bar, it’s important that the nutrients measure up to your needs. “Ideally, you want a bar that offers high-quality protein, fiber, heart-healthy fats like those found in almond butter or the omega-3’s in walnuts, chia seeds, and flax, and carbohydrates from whole food sources like oats and fruits,” Cording advises.
Look for at least three grams of fiber and five grams of protein, and stick to shorter ingredient lists made of pronounceable foods like nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruits. Be wary of “natural” bars that list multitudes of sweeteners such as honey, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar. While these sweeteners are natural, loading up on several in one sitting is no different from eating a high sugar bar, Cording says.
Also, ask yourself if you’re looking for a bite to tide you over, or if you’re replenishing your muscles after a strenuous session at the gym or multiple-mile run. Then choose the calorie load accordingly. “Try to keep calories under 200 if you just need a quick snack,” suggests Cording.
And one word of warning when it comes to the natural category of bars: be cautious of any that contain about 10 grams of fiber, or that ride home may be a very uncomfortable one. Drinking plenty of water helps mitigate the digestive effects of higher fiber bars, according to Cording. (But don’t say we didn’t warn you!)
Keeping all of the above in mind, we’ve investigated the natural protein bar aisle to find the most genuinely delicious options filled with all the good stuff your body needs – with none of the bad junk.
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