If you've ever walked into a Whole Foods or Vitamin Shoppe and felt overwhelmed by the wall of protein bars, this article is for you! There are SO many protein bars on the market now. It can be really hard to determine which ones can be part of a fat loss diet - and which ones are really just glorified candy bars.
At Fat Loss Foodies, we do believe that protein bars can have a place in your overall diet - BUT, there are a few things you need to consider first.
1. Crunch the Numbers.
Follow the label rule: flip the bar over and find the grams of carbs. From that number, subtract the total number of fiber grams. Then, subtract the total number of protein grams. This is a quick and dirty tool from Metabolic Effect that you can use to determine how packaged convenience foods - like protein bars - will impact your blood sugar.
To be fat loss friendly, the final number from your equation (carbs - fiber - protein) should be at or less than 10. Negative numbers are even better.
Total grams of fat should be 15 or less.
If a bar fits those parameters, it passes the first test.
2. Read the Ingredients List.
A lot of protein bars are marketed as healthy, despite the fact that they contain sugar, soy, and other ingredients that have little to no place in your diet.
We prefer bars that are made with real food and do not contain sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, soy, or gluten. Your personal preferences and tolerances may be different, but that's what I look for based on my body after experimenting with various protein bars over the years.
After you eat a protein bar, pay close to attention to sensations like bloating, cramps, or even just cravings for sweet foods. If a protein bar triggers negative side effects, that protein bar is not a good choice for you.
3. Use in Case of Emergency.
Real, whole foods will always be far more satisfying and get you better results than relying on bars every day. We believe protein bars are tools you can use in those rare occasions when you can't get to real food. Protein bars should not - in our opinion - be a part of your daily life unless you're one of those rare birds who actually does well by eating bars instead of real food. The vast majority of our clients feel their best, look their best, and get their best results from eating mostly real food and using protein bars as a back pocket strategy for emergencies only.
Emergencies like: canceled flights. Meetings running long. Having to run your kids all over town like a freaking Uber driver. Finding yourself trapped at a hotel for a conference where your brilliant bosses ordered chips and brownies for the "afternoon coffee break." (Jerks.) We've all had these moments, and they will ALWAYS happen.
Let's say you skip a meal and go 6-7 hours without eating. What happens as soon as food crosses your path? It's open season on ALL THE FOOD.
You'll eat anything you can get your hands on, and eat more of it. Hunger hormones like ghrelin cause us to seek out highly palatable foods - salty, sugary, fatty - and eat more of them. When you get *that* hungry (or what many refer to as "Hangry" - hungry + angry), good friggin' luck having enough willpower to say to things like pasta, chips, cookies, and pizza.
Our strategy? Cut off hunger before it EVER gets to that point - especially if you're a newbie to this lifestyle and still finding your fat loss formula. Have a stash of fat loss-friendly protein bars in your purse, desk drawer, gym bag for those times when things are out of your control.
There have been MANY times over the years when I found myself trapped in an airport - hours until my next flight, really crappy food options (I'm looking at you, Newark International Airport) and UGH. Hunger strikes.
If I don't have food with me, I'm going straight to the airport convenience store and looking for things like protein, jerky, nuts, bottled water - things that are low in sugar, high in protein and fiber with some healthy fats - to satiate me and tide me over until I get out of the hell (aka Newark Airport.)