In Hormones

Is Your Protein Bar Making You Fat?

I worked with a client once who lock, stock and barrel bought the marketing about a certain bar being made just for women. It actually had less protein that I would have recommended and more carbs than she would burn in a cardio session. It was after all, meant to be an energy bar. If you leave your home to go to the gym and you return to your home after the gym, you will probably be OK without an energy bar.

Let’s be clear that I have an opinion. You may or may not agree. Here’s my take. If you are miles from home and can’t carry real food, can’t access it, then there is reason you might need a protein bar.

If you have access to your kitchen… have peanut butter, for goodness sake. Or an egg or a source of real food with real nutrients and no artificial anything. Because frankly that’s hard to find in a protein bar. It’s getting better. But there’s the confusion of which protein bar you need – if you need one. There are bars for endurance and energy filled with carbohydrates and simple sugars. There are those high in protein, so extremely high and with “other” things that make them cause gas or difficulty digesting. There are those intended not to cause a “bonk” in an endurance event. You don’t need those for a leisurely stroll with the dog around the block. Slather some peanut butter on half a banana or skip the peanut butter in that short walk case.

I was recently presenting at the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s National Conference. A tour through the expo hall filled my bag with samples of fish oil, peppermints and protein bars. Here’s what I found from the wrapper of one bar, whose name and company shall remain nameless. I post this as an example of what we’re subject to…reputable brand name, they’ve created a “system” for us mere mortals to know whether this is 1 before, 2 during, or 3 for after exercise. The particular bar in question was for post-exercise. I honestly was excited since I’d packed so hastily I ran out of post exercise fuel a day short. I’d planned to substitute. Until, that is I read the label. Here’s what I got from my detective skills:

Calories: 210

Fat 5g

Carbs: 27g

Sugars: 14g

Fiber: 4g

Protein: 20g

From the List of Ingredients: 

Maltitol is part of a family of bulk sweeteners called sugar alcohols (polyols). It is about 90% as sweet as sugar (sucrose) and is very similar in taste, but boasts significantly less calories (only 2.1 calories per gram). Negative side effects include stomach pain and diarrhea.

Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil – increased saturated fat content. Avoid “fractionated”

Oligofructose – some potential increase in flatulence if consumed in frequent or large amounts or for those who are more sensitive. Otherwise it may have positive effects on the gut and intestinal health.

Fructose – recently exposed as one of the key components leading to obesity due to liver overload and increasing fat storage.

Cane invert syrup – used because it increases shelf life and keeps products moist instead of drying out. About 40% of the make up of cane invert syrup is fructose. Compare that to High Fructose Corn Syrup which is 55% fructose. It’s not as bad but it isn’t good.

Oleic Canola Oil – a healthy alternative to trans fat which it replaced, made from a natural hybrid (not GMO) the only real concern here is that these hybrid fats have been used such a short time that there’s no record yet of how they affect human health in the long run.

Overall, my impression on this one was, pass. Read your labels carefully.

Consider packing up a snack if you’re heading out for a bike ride for hours. Rice in a baggy with peanut butter and a bit of jelly even is a little fast sugar for use right away when you’re tired and a little longer burning energy to get you home. Odd as it sounds, you know exactly what’s in it and it’s a blend of carb, protein and fat very similar to bars without the items you don’t want.

I’ve been known to pack a peanut butter and jam tortilla for long bike rides. For short ones? Most of us don’t need more than liquid calories that offer electrolytes if it’s hot and humid and water if its not and it’s less than two hours.

~Debra

P.S. Got a go-to homemade snack for on-the-go?


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