What's in your protein bar?
Protein supplement bars are big business and recent growth of 'health bar' sales in the UK has ensured the market is now worth over £400 million! But are protein bars actually a good, healthy source of post-gym fuel, and do you know exactly what you're feeding your muscles on leg day? We take a look inside the shinier-than-ever wrappers and see what's really in your protein bar...
The main selling point of protein bars is of course the protein content - but the purity of the protein can vary depending on the type of bar you choose. As demand for protein bars has risen in the UK, the price of whey protein has spiked, so many protein bar manufacturers now blend it with soy or other, lower quality proteins, which could affect how available the nutrients are to our muscles, as well as how easily we digest the protein, fibre and nutrients. Your bar may scream "24g of protein!" on the label - but check the ingredients list to make sure it's pure whey isolate that you're actually getting.
One of the most popular types of protein bars are wholegrain oat-blend bars. These can provide you with up to 30% of the fibre needed in a day - look out for bars containing bean gum for extra fibre!
No added sugar
Unfortunately, there's usually a reason why protein bars taste so good (and it's not always because you're ravenous after your workout). Many leading brands sweeten their bars with crystaline fructose - just small quantities can provide intense sweetness and save the manufacturers' money too. But eating too much crystaline fructose could lead to liver damage in future, so look out for it on the ingredients list next time you're protein bar shopping. If you're buying bars imported from the US, look out for high-fructose corn syrup on the ingredients list, as this is commonly used in the States.
Keep your eyes peeled for hydrogenated palm oil in protein bar ingredients - it's basically saturated fat hiding under a different name, so you're unlikely to make the connection between it as an ingredient and heart health! It's often used to bind ingredients not only in protein bars but also in other sweet treats such as flapjacks. Luckily, a new EU ruling means manufacturers will have to clearly label their products, so it should become easier to spot these hidden nasties when shopping for protein bars.
A great alternative..now and again
Artificial flavourings are often added to protein bars such as salted caramel, banoffee, toffee - these do little apart from add yummy flavour to the mix, but it's not always a bad thing. A protein bar can be a healthier alternative to a dessert, doing less damage to blood sugar levels whilst keeping your sweet tooth satisfied with the flavour of your choice. The extra fibre and protein these bars contain will also ensure you feel fuller for longer than if you ate a Twix or a Mars Bar! Just don't indulge in either every day.
Protein bars can be a healthy choice post-workout, but they're not the only source of protein you should rely on. Try to look for bars containing pure whey protein isolate and avoid those with ingredients you don't recognise. Of course, you could always make your own protein bars so you know exactly what's going in them - why not try this recipe?
To make one bar, you'll need:
- 1 1/2 scoops of protein powder
- 2 tbsp coconut milk
- 1 tbsp flaxseed meal
- Unsweetened cocoa powder, to taste
Combine all your ingredients thoroughly in a bowl, then spray some tin foil with cooking spray and spoon the chocolate mixture onto the foil. Use the greased foil to form the mixture into a bar shape - then remove the bar from the foil and dust with cocoa powder. Delicious!