Monday, 13 March 2023
A stroll down the health food aisle has become a choice minefield. Protein powders, functional foods and bars line the shelves, and it seems every product from cereal to yoghurt and chips is boosted with extra protein.
As an avid gym goer and adventurer, I’ve tried many ways to maintain energy and refuel throughout the day. Here I share my top five protein bar picks, explain what protein is, and how to get enough of it.
Ready to level up your protein game?
Although all the macronutrients are essential, the power of protein continues to be having a moment.
Of the three macronutrients that gives us energy, protein is essential for building and repairing tissues (like muscles, hair, and nails), making hormones, and supporting immune function. The king hunger-squasher, protein is also important for those trying to lose weight; if you satisfy your protein appetite, you’re less likely to eat excess calories.
Unlike its macro cousins, carbohydrates and fats, protein isn’t stored in the body. There is no protein reserve. We have to eat protein rich foods each day. Think beans, chickpeas, meat, fish, nuts, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, and eggs.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 2.5 serves of protein per day for women and three for men. For women, this is the equivalent to a can of tuna, one egg and a 200g tub of yoghurt. According to the most recent National Nutrition Survey, 99 percent of Australians obtain sufficient protein from foods alone. But, if you’re very active, pregnant, vegetarian or vegan, training regularly or have a physically demanding job, consider boosting your protein.
If you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, up the protein-rich foods or choose a good quality protein powder or protein bar to supplement.
Don’t overdo it though (like by smashing protein shakes and bars at every meal) because a very high protein diet can strain the kidneys and liver. It can also prompt excessive calcium loss, which can increase osteoporosis risk.
I train hard, bike ride, and hike regularly and find protein bars are the perfect way to maintain energy without eating a whole meal. I wouldn’t eat them every day, perhaps two bars per week, preferring to get my protein from other sources, like nuts, eggs, cottage cheese and yoghurt, small amounts of beef, and fish.
1.Does it contain enough or too much protein? The body can only absorb around 25-30g of protein in one go, any more than this is a waste. If a bar has too much protein, try eating half, waiting a few hours, then have the rest.
Look for bars that contain between 7-15g of protein per serve.
2. Watch out for artificial sweeteners. To reduce sugar content, many protein bars contain artificial sweeteners. Look out for these ones: Sucralose (955), Aspartame (951) or Saccharin (954). Artificial sweeteners are just that – artificial and unnecessary.
The best bars use natural sweeteners like dates, honey, or even stevia.
3. Avoid genetically modified soy, artificial flavours, thickeners and artificial colourings. Some of these additives can cause stomach upset and bloating or unknown long-term effects.
4. Does it contain too much energy? The average Australian needs 8700kJ per day. If a bar provides a fair portion of this, and you’re also eating 3 meals + extra snacks, you could easily surpass your energy needs - a sure-fire way to gain weight.
5. Type of protein Animal protein, like whey contains the full complement of essential amino acids (building blocks) and is easily assimilated in the body, so is typically the go-to protein for most.
However, as more Aussies lean into plant-based living, protein from plants is on the rise. As all plants are deficient in one or more amino acids, ideally your protein bar has a mix of plants (like rice and pea) to obtain the full complement of amino acids. Don’t worry too much though – as long as you’re getting the full range of amino acids throughout the day from a variety of plant foods, the body will sort it out.
My flavour pick is salted caramel. Chewy and delicious, these bars contain known ingredients and are a perfect post workout snack. This is the only bar I eat regularly.
Ingredients: Organic Tapioca, Almonds, Dates, Whey Protein Concentrate, Hydrolysed Collagen Peptides, Himalayan Pink Salt, Chia Seeds, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Serving size: 63g
Protein: 17.2g (1/3 of a female’s daily protein requirements)
Protein type: Whey protein
Energy: 951kJ (11% of average daily energy needs)
Clif bar: Crunchy peanut butter
One of the OG hiking bars, this one tastes like dessert, which is why I only buy occasionally. They’re almost too good! Vegan friendly and dense, these are the ideal hiking snack.
Ingredients: Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats (16%), Organic Cane Syrup, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Peanut Butter (6%), (Organic Peanuts (100%)), Peanut Flour, Rice Flour, Peanuts (4.5%), Organic Soy Flour, Organic Oat Fibre, Organic Soybeans, Organic date paste, Natural Flavours, Sea Salt, Barley Malt Extract
Serving size: 68g
Protein type: Soy protein, peanuts + rice
Ridiculously Delicious Peanut Butter Bar
A spin off from the most delicious peanut butter ever invented, this bar is a super way to get some fibre and nutrients in. If you like peanut butter and chocolate (isn’t that everyone?), this one will soon become a pantry treat staple.
Ingredients: Peanut Blend (50%) [Peanuts (35%), Ridiculously Delicious Peanut Butter Smooth (15%) (Peanut, Salt)], Rice Syrup, Dark Chocolate (22%) [Cocoa Mass (50%), Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Natural Vanilla Flavour], Chia Seed 2%, Rice Bran Oil, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Salt.
Serving size: 50g
Protein type: Peanut
MacroMike: The game changer peanut protein bar
Another one for the peanut butter lovers, this vegan bar is a winner.
Ingredients: Protein blend (peanut protein, pea protein, brown rice protein, coconut sugar, coconut milk powder, natural flavours, Himalayan rock salt, guar gum), rice malt syrup, date paste, shredded coconut, coconut oil, dairy free choc chips (cocoa butter, raw sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa powder).
Serving size: 45g
Protein type: Peanut, pea, rice
Mayver's Super Tasty Crunchy Peanut Butter Wholefood Bars
Special mention for these bars from Aussie company, Mayver’s. Although not as high in protein per serve (they’re smaller bars) these are a yummy snack with a good fibre kick. I would have ½ of one of these bars with ½ a banana for a good post workout snack. They’re vegan friendly too!
Ingredients: Peanuts (42.7%), Dates, Rice Malt Syrup, Cashews, Oats, Tapioca Fibre, Buckwheat, Sunflower Lecithin, Natural Flavour.
Serving size: 30g
Protein type: Peanut, cashew, buckwheat
Another alternative is to make your own protein balls with almonds, dates and protein powder. They’re a good way to boost protein and fibre in a bite-sized snack.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Australian Health Survey: Usual Nutrient Intakes
available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/australian-health-survey-usual-nutrient-intakes/latest-release
Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, Walrand S. (2019) The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 7;11(8):1825. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081825
Kouris-Blazos, A. (2011) Food Sources of Nutrients
NHMRC. (2015). Australian Dietary Guidelines 1 - 5 | Eat For Health. Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-dietary-guidelines-1-5
Schoenfeld, B. J., & Aragon, A. A. (2018). How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
Williams, M. (2005). Dietary supplements and sports performance: amino acids. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2(2), 63–67. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-63
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Sophie Scott is passionate about nutrition, fitness and behaviour change coaching. As a Registered Nutritionist and Environmental Scientist, she takes a wholistic approach to nutrition, focusing on people’s relationship with food and driving a shift to a healthier approach to eating.
With more than 12 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, Sophie has supported hundreds of women along their health journey through her business, fitandfed.
Sophie is an enthusiastic nutrition teacher and accomplished course creator at Endeavour College of Natural Health, inspiring the next wave of nutrition and wellness professionals.
"One of the most important things I learnt was that change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can start small and evolve from there."
- Sarah Marshall