For those of us workout buffs and workaholics out there, a high protein bar can save the day (especially a very busy one—sometimes I find myself busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!) The problem is there are so many protein bars out there it’s hard to sort through them all. There seems to be more new bars on the market than web sites going up. But which protein bars are the best? How can they be beneficial? What do you need to know before purchasing them? How about low carb protein bars vs. higher carb protein bars? Well, never fear, the answers you have been looking for are here. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ingredients found in protein bars.

Most of us know that quality nutrition and supplementation is the key to achieving athletic and physique success. It is important to eat 5-7 small meals daily to increase nutrient absorption, enhance metabolic rate, and help stabilize blood sugar (and insulin) levels. High protein meal replacement bars allow you to get all your meals in a convenient and generally tasty manner (I sure don't have the time to cook 6 food meals daily!). They help improve overall nutrition and give you key nutrients your body needs to improve health and physical performance.

Protein bars usually contain protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals, and additional functional ingredients. High protein/moderate to high carb bars are best suited for athletes and workout fanatics looking to get quality protein and carbs for increased energy. They are excellent for after a workout to enhance recovery and recuperation and enhance carbohydrate storage (glycogen) in muscle tissue.

Most protein bars usually start out with a "proprietary protein blend". Quality whey protein isolate has benefits including providing intact immunoglobulins to support immune function, providing the highest concentration of BCAA's (branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine which play a key role in the muscle building process-about 25%), it has a high biological value (BV) which means it is readily absorbed and utilized by human muscle tissue, and it may even support IGF-1 levels.

It is very important to look at the processing techniques of different whey proteins. The processing will determine whether the important protein microfractions (the compounds that give whey its functional benefits) are still intact and not. Look for ion exchange whey isolate. The ion-exchange process separates proteins based on their electric charge, which is controlled using various chemicals. Two other good choices are "ultrafiltered" or "cross flow microfiltered" whey. Both processes use a very high tech cold microfiltration process that utilizes ceramic filters to remove the fat and lactose thus separating out or "isolating" the protein without damaging it. Whey protein concentrate is a less processed and consequently less expensive form of whey protein. Whey protein concentrate is not as pure as whey isolate in that some fat, lactose and minerals are still left in the protein.

Casein is another milk protein that seems to have a timed-release effect as it forms a gel in the gut to slow the transit time of amino acids. This effect may enhance absorption. It has a very high natural glutamine content. Most of the glutamine in casein is found in the peptide form for better absorption (due to peptide transport systems in the digestive tract). Glutamine is a very important amino acid that has many benefits including supporting lean muscle mass. In a recent study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, whey protein was compared with a casein protein hydrolysate (which contains about 20 % glutamine peptides) and a hypocaloric diet with regards to lean muscle mass, strength, and body fat. The results of this study showed that the casein protein hydrolysate group lost more body fat, gained more lean muscle mass, and had greater strength increases. The authors of the study stated that, "this significant difference in body composition and strength is likely due to improved nitrogen retention and overall anti-catabolic effects caused by the peptide components of the casein hydrolysate". Milk protein isolate contains both whey and casein and it is a decent source for these two proteins.

Soy protein isolate has been shown to enhance thyroid hormone output, which can increase metabolic rate to support fat loss. The isoflavones in soy have been shown to have numerous health benefits including cholesterol and triglyceride lowering effects. It contains an excellent ratio of glutamine, arginine, and the BCAA's. It is a fairly low priced protein source and can have positive benefits for women mainly, but men as well.

Egg albumin protein is the "regular old Joe" protein. It boasts a great amino acid profile but does not offer very many functional benefits. Hydrolyzed protein is also another source of protein found frequently in bars because it is inexpensive. This protein is heat-treated (and pre-digested) and most of the microfractions are destroyed. However, it does contain peptides that are easily absorbed in the body.

Most high protein bars on the market are not baked nowadays so if the raw materials were quality, then the protein microfractions stay intact. However, the raw material ingredients that make up a bar may have been subjected to heat. Ask manufacturers of bars to provide you with certificates of analysis for the proteins in the bar (and for the bar itself for that matter). This should give you peace of mind about the quality of the protein you are getting. Bars that contain rolled oats and some granola type bars are baked and the proteins in them lose the microfractions due to baking.

The basic bar making process from a quality manufacturer goes like this: first the main ingredients (including the proteins) are mixed together (manually or using an industrial sized mixer) with water, then the mixture is laid on a table evenly and goes through a "cooling" machine process using a cooling tunnel/extruder. Next, the bar is taken out of the cooling machine and enrobed (coated) with chocolate. Finally, the bar sheets are cut and ready to be wrapped. Keep in mind this is a greatly simplified explanation of the process.

Protein bars contain carbohydrates as well. Typically the main source is glycrerol (glycerine) which is a trihydric alcohol. Glycerol forms the backbone of triglycerides in the body. It is used in bars to help keep them soft and moist since glycerol is very good at drawing moisture. It also helps sweeten the bar. Although many companies do not list this as a source of carbohydrates, the FDA defines it as a carbohydrate. It has a very low glycemic index so it does not impact blood sugar levels greatly. Interestingly enough, there are ergogenic benefits associated with ingesting glycerol such as increasing the amount of water retained in the body and enhancing hydration (maybe even enhancing vascularity). Bars loaded with glycerol may cause stomach discomfort in some people so unless you want to hit the porcelain throne throughout the day, drink plenty of water with these protein bars. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (dextrose), rice syrup, maltitol, honey (invert sugar), turbinado sugar, sucrose (which is glucose +fructose), crisp rice, and fructose are all used as carbohydrate sources in bars. Fructose is fruit sugar and is added to bars not only to provide a source of carbohydrates but also to sweeten the product as it has a very sweet taste. Fructose is mainly metabolized in the liver and therefore has a lower glycemic index. Consuming high amounts of fructose can lower metabolic rate and cause de-novo lipogenesis (the conversion of sugar into fat) since the liver can only metabolize limited amounts of fructose.

Protein bars also contain fat. The usual fats found in these bars are partially hydrogenated oils, fractionated vegetable oils, palm kernel oil, and peanut butter. A few bars have added essential fatty acids (EFA’s) but it is very difficult to preserve the quality due to their sensitivity to light, heat and oxygen. Most of the fat (especially the saturated fat) found in bars is in the coating. Saturated fats have been linked to many health problems including cardiovascular disease. Partially hydrogenated oils produce trans fatty acids (along with other altered fats) during the hydrogenation process. They are also very detrimental to health and have been known to increase cholesterol and interfere with the livers detoxification system. Hydrogenated oils increase shelf life of products, which is usually 9 months to 1 year for most protein bars. Fractionated oils seem to be better for you. Fractionation is the process of separating an oil into two or more different triglyceride fractions. In other words, it allows weaker oils to be changed into better oils.

Protein bars contain a blend of vitamins and minerals to support overall health and many chemical processes in the body. Pre-mixes from companies like Roche are usually added to formulas. Vitamins and minerals are usually ancillary items to bars and many minerals in the formulas actually compete for absorption like calcium and magnesium plus they are generally not in the higher absorbable chelated forms. Chromium is added to some bars (usually in the better polynicotinate form) to support optimal blood sugar levels and help aid in fat loss.

Check out our new Almond/Coconut bars to get your source of protein without the junk.
‹ Go back to the blog


Leave a comment

comments have to be approved before showing up

Signup to our mailing list & Save 10-50% on future orders!