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Protein bars have become a popular go-to snack for people who want to increase their daily protein intake. But recently, concerns about whether protein bars can cause you to gain weight and become fat arise. I’ve done extensive research on this issue and here is what I discovered.
Does protein bar make you fat? Having a protein bar pre- or post-workout or as a midday snack is fine and will not make you fat as long as you include it as part of a nutritious, balanced diet. However, not all protein bars are healthy. You need to choose one with a decent amount of ingredients and eat them right.
Truth be told, most of the protein bars available in the market are bad for your body, no matter how healthy they might sound like.
You need to know what to look for in a protein bar to sort out ones that are genuinely healthy. Or you might end up eating a “candy bar in disguise”!
Aside from looking into the ingredients of protein bars before buying them, there are other crucial considerations that you need to watch out for if you decide to include them in your daily food intake.
- Can protein bars cause weight gain and make you fat? Experts’ verdict.
- How protein bars make you fat? Protein bars benefits and side effects.
- How to choose a healthy protein bar without gaining the extra pounds?
- Related Questions
Can protein bars cause weight gain and make you fat? Experts’ verdict.
Instead of picking up junk food on the go, protein bars seem like a healthier choice, especially for those who have little time to prepare a good meal.
But recently, the surprising scandal about the dangers of protein bars is buzzing across the internet which mainly discusses how protein bars can destroy your weight loss journey and make you fat.
So where did the protein bars go wrong? And how much of these statements are facts or fallacy?
Being a protein bar consumer myself, I was curious about this issue and conducted in-depth research to see what the dietitian, nutritionists, doctors, and fitness experts actually say about them.
So here’s what I found out.
While experts have differing opinions about whether protein bars are actually healthy, the fact remains that protein bars can indeed cause you to gain weight and become fat if you are in all or one of the situations below:
- Consume too many calories in a day
- Eating too much protein
- Consume excess sugar
Let’s take a look at what each situation entails.
How protein bars make you fat? Protein bars benefits and side effects.
As I mentioned earlier, protein bars that are rich in protein are supposed to be okay for you to eat.
However, protein bars do make you gain extra pounds if you eat them the wrong way.
Here are three common mistakes that will make you gain weight when eating protein bars.
Mistake #1: Consume too many calories in a day
Okay, here’s the thing.
Regardless of which diet strategy you are following, weight management always comes down to controlling your calorie intake.
In case you didn’t know what calories meant, calories are actually a unit of energy that you will get as you eat food or drink.
You can usually find the number of calories a food has by reading through its nutrition information or facts under “serving size”.
The basic of weight maintenance is to limit your number of calories to the amount that your body can burn.
This means that if your body burns about 2,000 kcal per day, then you need to make sure you eat about the same amount of calories to maintain your current weight.
If, however, you were to eat below the number of calories you burn in a so-called low-calorie diet, then your body will burn the remaining calories inside your body, which will eventually lead to weight loss.
For instance, if your body burns 2,000 kcal, but you only eat about 1,500 kcal, your body will burn the remaining 500 kcal from your stored energy or calories.
On the other hand, if you consume more calories than you can burn, the extra calories will either be transformed into physical energy or stored as fat in your body, which will eventually lead to weight gain.
According to Mayoclinic, if you’ve accumulated an extra 3,500 calories, you will gain around one pound.
One published research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has proven that a moderate increase in protein intake is an effective and practical way to lose weight. But you do need to take it along with controlled calorie consumption.
Okay, you may be wondering why I keep talking about calories. What’s the connection between calories and protein bars anyway?
Well, you may not notice but apparently, aside from containing a large amount of high-quality protein, protein bars also contain a high amount of sugars, high-energy confectionery fats, and salt.
Each of these ingredients adds up to the protein bars’ total calories.
In fact, most protein bars available in the store contain a high amount of calories.
Recent research conducted by Protectivity studied the content of about 50 popular protein bars. They discovered that the worst bar in the list contained the same amount of fat as that of a Big Mac burger!
Moreover, a recent survey of high-protein snack foods involving adults in Ireland and Northern Ireland revealed that protein bars, on average, have about the same amount of calories as that of a standard small chocolate bar.
Shocking, isn’t it?
So before you go out and randomly pick up any “healthy” protein bar that catches your eyes, watch out for its calories.
Also, make sure you do not overeat or exceed your daily calorie intake, or you might start to stack up the extra pounds!
Mistake #2: Eating too much protein
The main reason you pick up a protein bar is likely because you’re familiar with the advantages of high-protein diets, especially when it comes to weight management and building muscle mass.
And you’re right.
In fact, high-protein foods are by far the most filling food that makes you feel full for much longer.
A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that overweight women who consume about 30% of their calories from protein successfully lost up to 5 kg in just 3 months, even if they did not practice any diet restriction deliberately.
Aside from reducing hunger hormone and helping you to suppress your cravings, several studies published in the US National Library of Medicine suggested that foods rich in protein also gives you a lot of other health benefits, which include:
- Increase muscle mass and strength
- Promotes bone health
- Lower blood pressure
- Prevent sarcopenia
- Minimize the risk of heart disease
- Improve lipid profiles
- Repair the body after injury and speed up its recovery
Protein bars with a rich amount of protein can be such a life-saver, right?
Even so, this does not mean that you can just eat any protein bars whenever you feel like it and assume that they will benefit your body.
Any food, regardless of how nutritious they are, can pose a certain risk if you eat them too much on a regular basis. The same is true for protein and protein bars.
Current studies published in the National Institute of Health suggest that the recommended daily dietary protein for a healthy adult who does little exercise is around 0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight.
On the other hand, people with minimal, moderate, or intense physical activity are recommended to consume 1.0 gram, 1.3 grams, and 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day, respectively.
Side note: ‘Grams of protein’ refers to the amount of protein within a food, NOT the total weight of the protein food. For instance, a large egg that weighs about 50 g contains only about 6.3 g of protein.
If you always exceed your recommended daily protein intake, you are bound to suffer undesirable health effects.
One of the negative effects of overeating protein is weight gain.
Excess protein that your body does not use for repair and growth will typically be stored as body fat. Over time, these fats will eventually cause you to gain weight.
In fact, a study published by the Clinical Nutrition Journal found that high dietary protein consumption was linked to a higher risk of weight gain.
The study reported that weight gain is more likely to happen when protein replaces carbs in a diet, instead of fat.
Moreover, a recent study published by Food & Function suggested that chronic high-protein intake, which is over 2 grams per kg body weight per day, may lead to renal, vascular, and digestive anomalies.
According to experts from Harvard Medical School, adverse effects or health risks associated with eating too much protein for an extended period include:
- High cholesterol and a higher risk of getting heart disease
- Higher risk of cancer
- Kidney stones and kidney disorder
Medical experts from Healthline added a few other related potential conditions to the list, which include:
- Bad breath
- Loss of calcium
A recent study published by Gut has also suggested that high-protein diets increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, especially amongst the elderly and overweight people.
So, if you don’t want to gain weight and experience these undesirable conditions, you need to start observing your daily protein intake and limit it to an ideal amount.
For the same reason, eating protein bars as your main source of food will consequently make you gain weight if you don’t watch out for your overall protein consumption.
As a matter of fact, a recent study shows that most Americans have satisfied their daily requirement of protein.
Most typical adults in developed countries eat far more protein than they actually need, including Americans.
Most American adults consume around 100 g of protein every day, which doubles the amount of general daily recommended intake for protein.
So if you’re not an athlete who needs plenty of protein for muscle-repair or muscle-building, chances are, you may not need extra protein from the protein bars after all.
So be sure to keep track of the amount of protein you’ve consumed throughout the day before grabbing a bite on your favorite protein bar.
Remember, eating too much protein bars is not necessarily better and can actually bring you more harm than good.
Side note:Experts from Harvard Medical School noted that while high-protein diets may be linked to the above-mentioned conditions, this does not mean that the protein is the culprit that causes the conditions. Rather, these conditions may be due to how the protein is eaten or what kind of nutrients it replaces.
For instance, a high-protein diet that includes plenty of red meats and high-fat milk may result in high cholesterol with a higher chance of getting heart disease and colon cancer. On the other hand, a high-protein diet that contains mainly plant-based proteins, might not cause the same risks.
Mistake #3: Eating too many sugars
Aside from being oh-so-convenient, another reason you may pick up protein bars in the grocery store is that you “assume” they are a tad more nutritious compared to other tasty snacks like cookies, biscuits, and chips.
Besides, protein bars come with various delicious flavors, including chocolate.
For a chocolate lover like myself, chocolate protein bars are like the best tasty and healthy snack that I can eat without feeling guilty.
Protein bars are just amazing, isn’t it?
But what I discovered after in-depth research truly changes my perception of protein bars.
Did you know that most protein bars contain more sugar than a doughnut?
Surprising, isn’t it?
A recent survey by Safefood studied over 35 popular high-protein bars and discovered that 77% of these bars were rich in sugar.
Over 40% of the bars contain sucrose, while almost 70% of them contain sweeteners.
Other sources of sugar prominent in these bars were syrups and fruit purees.
Compared to other types of high protein snacks, such as yogurts and dairy drinks, protein bars had the highest amount of sugar per 100 grams.
This discovery is devastating, especially since sugar is well-recognized for being one of the culprits that will cause you to put on excess fat!
Aside from causing you to gain weight and become overweight, multiple systematic reviews, studies, and analyses have reported that the consumption of too much sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages significantly contribute to the increased risk of several conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Some cancers, such as colorectal cancer
- Fatty liver disease
Excess dietary sugar also affects oral health and is the most crucial risk factor for dental caries.
Because of the prevalence of chronic conditions across the globe over the past 3 decades, such as diabetes and obesity, multiple well-known scientific organizations have recommended a limitation on the sugar intake’s upper limit, including the World Health Organization and the Scientific Advisory Council on Nutrition.
Back in 2015, the Scientific Advisory Council on Nutrition in its report entitled, “Carbohydrates and Health,” stated a new sugar restriction. It recommended that only up to 5% of free sugars should come from your total dietary energy.
On the other hand, WHO released its latest guideline recommending both children and adults to reduce their daily free sugars consumption to less than 10% of their total energy consumption.
WHO also stated that if you reduce your daily sugar intake to below 5%, which is about 25 g of sugar, you would gain extra health benefits.
So if you don’t want to gain extra weight from eating sugary protein bars, be sure to look through their sugar content in the nutritional information section before buying them.
(Don’t worry, I’ve provided simple guidelines and tips below to help you choose the best protein. So read on…)
How to choose a healthy protein bar without gaining the extra pounds?
If you have read everything I’ve just written so far (without skipping!), then you would have known that:
- Protein bars are healthy as long as you get enough nutrition from whole foods in your meals.
- Protein bars will not make you fat if you do not overeat your daily recommended calories, protein, and sugar.
- Most protein bars contain too many calories and sugar.
So if you really want you to include protein bars in your diet without stacking up body fats, the most important thing that you need to do is to choose a healthy protein bar.
Again, the information that you need to look for when selecting a protein bar will be stated on the protein bar’s “Nutrition Information” or “Nutrition Facts” label, which is usually at the backside of the protein bars wrapper.
If you want to learn more about the nutrition facts label, you can head over to U.S FDA’s website here.
Here are some details that you may need to watch out for when picking out a protein bar.
Okay, first things first, you need to look at how many calories the protein bar contains.
Some famous high-protein cookies consist of about two servings in a package and contain roughly around 500 kcal, which is pretty high, especially for a small lady who has minimal exercise.
If you burn about 2,000 kcal per day, eating this type of high-calorie protein snack can easily make up to ⅓ of your daily energy needs.
Be it for midday, afternoon, pre- or post-workout snack, you need to carefully pick a protein bar with calories that are meant for snacking.
Experts recommend about 220 kcal to 250 kcal for an ideal snack.
If for whatever reason you want to eat a protein bar in place of your meal, experts recommend choosing one that contains about 300 kcal to 400 kcal.
If protein is the primary nutrition that you are looking for in a protein bar, which is the case in most people, then there are two things that you need to consider, namely:
- Protein content
- Types of protein
When it comes to protein content, what you need to pay attention to is the amount of protein inside the protein bar.
Since it’s a protein bar, you might be thinking that it’s a given protein is its main ingredient, right?
Well, you’re wrong.
Plenty of protein bars that you’ll find in the grocery store today are more like energy bars rather than protein bars.
In other words, these so-called “protein bars” contain a lot of calories that will give you energy yet do not have enough protein to give justice to their name.
While the amount of protein you need to eat each day may differ depending on several factors, generally, the Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA for protein is about 0.8 g per kg of body weight.
This means that women who weigh about 60 kg and do little exercise need to consume about 48 g of protein per day.
Likewise, sedentary men that typically weigh about 70 kg need to eat about 56 g of protein every day.
The general daily recommended intake for a healthy adult is 46 g of protein for women and 56 g for men.
However, when it comes to snacking, there’s a whole different value.
How much protein should a protein bar contain? Depending on your recommended daily calorie and protein intake, experts say that a satisfying snack typically contains around 5 g to 15 g of protein. Post-workout snack, however, should contain about 15 g to 30 g of protein, depending on your body size.
If you’re eating protein bars as a snack in between meals, then you need to make sure the protein bars you’ve chosen contain enough amount of protein to keep you from getting hungry before the next meal.
During an interview with Shape magazine, the director of nutrition at Trifecta, Emmie Satrazemis, stated that the ideal protein bar contains a minimum of 10 grams of protein for every 100 kcal.
If you want to have a protein bar as a meal replacement, then you need to choose one that has a higher amount of protein.
Experts recommend going for a protein bar that contains at least 30 g of protein for meal-replacement.
However, be sure to control the amount of protein you eat per meal since your body can only digest around 20 g to 40 g of protein at one time, as stated by the nutrition experts from UCHealth.
Types of protein
Protein that most bars contain usually comes from plant or dairy sources.
If you have lactose intolerance or other food allergies, be sure to check on the types of protein the protein bars contain to avoid getting any adverse reaction.
Another crucial component that you need to watch out for when choosing a protein bar is its fat content.
Check out whether the calories of the protein bars come mainly from fat or protein.
Many protein bars contain nuts and seeds, which can swiftly stack up the fat and calories.
While it’s no doubt that these fats are healthy and can make you feel full longer, they are not your ideal go-to snack after a workout.
These fats may cause your body to digest the carbohydrates and proteins you require at a slower rate.
So you’d want to opt for protein bars that have a lower fat content.
But of course, this is not a one-fits-all solution or recommendation.
If you’re doing a keto diet that incorporates a low-carb yet high-fat meal, then a bar with a rich amount of fat might be the best choice for you.
Sugar or Carbs
Here’s the thing.
Most protein bars you find in the grocery store are just another candy bar in disguise.
In fact, the worst protein bars available in the market contain as much as 30 g of added sugar!
Shocking, isn’t it?
Protein bars with artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol and maltitol, which you can usually find in low-carb bars are not your best choice either.
While these sugar alcohols are derived from plant sources, your body doesn’t digest them readily.
When you eat a lot of these sugar, you may feel gassy and bloated.
So when choosing a protein bar, try looking for one that contains less amount of sugar.
According to experts, less than 5 g of added sugar is ideal for a bar.
Another key ingredient that you need to pay attention to is fiber.
Fiber has a pretty high satiety value and can make you feel full for a longer time.
So protein bars with more fiber are more likely to help you combat hunger until your next meal.
Experts recommend choosing a protein bar that contains around 3 g to 5 g of fiber.
Aside from all the common nutrients, you need to check out the protein bars’ ingredients list.
You need to remember that while protein bars contain a lot of goodness, they also contain preservatives, artificial colorings, thickeners, salt, and various other ingredients.
Some protein bars contain a long list of ingredients with some difficult-to-pronounce content, which is probably not a good choice.
Experts recommend choosing a bar with fewer numbers of ingredients; the fewer the better.
Protein bars can be an excellent, convenient snack choice, especially for those who lack the time to prepare proper food.
But the cold truth remains that most protein bars you’ll find in grocery stores are rich in sugar, calories, and other ingredients.
If you don’t control your protein bar consumption and exceed your daily recommended intake of protein, calories, and sugar, you will gain weight over time.
So if you really want to include protein bars in your daily diet, the first step you need to take is to learn how to pick the right protein bar.
When choosing a protein bar, you need to watch out for the number of calories, protein, fats, and fibers it contains.
Make sure that each of these compounds is within the recommended quantity, be it as a snack or a meal replacement.
A better choice of protein bar would be those with a fewer list of ingredients.
Still, no matter how “healthy” you might think protein bars are, they’ve been through a lot of processing.
So it would be better for you to treat them as a supplement, not food.
You should make them a part of an overall nutritious diet, not the main source of food.
To conclude my conclusion, protein bars will not make you fat if you do three things:
So as long as you keep these three golden rules in mind, you can eat a protein bar with a peace of mind without fear of gaining extra weight (hooray for the protein bars lover!).
How many protein bars can I eat a day?
While no conclusive study has been made on this matter, experts recommend eating no more than two bars per day. They should be considered supplemental and included in a well-rounded diet that comprises of high-quality whole foods.
When to eat protein bars to build muscle?
The best time to eat protein bars for lean muscle building is before and after workouts. Eating them with a balanced meal helps you gain muscle mass, lose fat and get energized. Eating them an hour or two before bed can also stimulate muscle protein synthesis overnight.
Is it bad to eat protein bars every day?
Eating a protein bar every day is fine as long as you consume it as part of a balanced diet. Experts from UCHealth, however, stated that you should only eat protein bars in case you didn’t satisfy the recommended daily allowance of protein.