Protein and Energy Bars and Gels
Protein and energy bars and gels are convenient meal replacement food bars and gels, packed in easy to open and ready to use packages. Such bars and gels come in various sizes and macronutrient ratios, so it is very important to read the labels and to know which protein bar is the best bar for what occasion.
Updated: June 30, 2021.
Main Protein Sources
Protein sources in protein bars and gels come in the form of whey protein, egg protein, casein protein, milk isolate protein, and similar. Vegan protein bars use plant-based sources like soy protein, yellow pea protein, brown rice protein, and similar.
Protein bars based on fast-digesting whey protein are good prior, during, and after workouts to increase energy levels (especially when combined with simple and complex carbohydrates), to improve performances, and to help with recovery and regeneration after workouts. Protein bars based on casein and egg protein are suitable as meal replacement bars since they supply the body with a more or less constant flow of nutrients for several hours.
The type of protein and amount of protein determines the quality of the protein bars. Depending on the size of the bar, the amount of protein ranges from just a few grams to 40-45g of protein per single bar. The relative amount of proteins in bars ranges from just a few percent to 50 or so percent of the bar's weight.
Some manufacturers even add BCAAs, glutamine, and EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) to their bars to increase the amount of proteins even further and to improve the ratio of the amino acids, and make their bars complete protein food bars with excellent amino acid profiles.
Of course, high-end protein bars can be rather expensive, but one gets a convenient meal replacement bar ready to be used when required. And they often taste as a delicacy.
Carbohydrate Sources - Are Simple Carbohydrates Bad?
Carbohydrates in protein bars come as simple carbs (sugars), giving the bars a sweet taste. Cheaper protein bars and especially energy bars and gels contain more simple carbs than other carbohydrate sources and they help increasing energy levels and improving athletic performances during events like long-distance running/walking, trail running, and similar.
Such bars and gels change blood sugar levels and can provoke insulin spikes - good because insulin helps cells to take in the nutrients, bad because insulin 'crash' can occur after some time - very low blood sugar levels (and very dangerous condition in certain situations).
More complex carbohydrates come from oats, chocolate, peanuts, dried fruits, and other similar sources - such carbs are digested over a longer period of time and supply the body with energy for longer periods, without raising blood sugar levels, at least not by much.
Sugar vs. Sugar Alcohol - The Good and The Bad!
Sugar alcohols are prepared from various sugars and are often used as sweeteners in the food processing industry and in various sports supplements, protein bars included. Sugar alcohols provide the bars with a soft, moist texture and sweet taste without increasing overall calories.
The most common sugar alcohols are Arabitol, Erythritol, Maltitol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol.
For example, Erythritol's relative sweetness to sucrose is 0.812, but it provides only 0.213 kcal/g, thus having a sweetness to energy ratio to sucrose of 15 (15 times sweeter for the same amount of energy).
Sugar alcohols are only partially digested and because of that, they may cause flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea when consumed in larger amounts (50g per day for adults and 25g for children is considered as 'safe' daily limit).
Fortunately, if certain protein bars do contain sugar alcohols, they are used in much smaller amounts. If you are sensitive to sugar alcohols, be sure to check the content of the protein bars before eating them - especially be sure to read the 'small letters' :)
Best Protein Bars For Weight Loss
To help with weight loss, protein bars should be consumed only as part of a well-balanced diet and when required to avoid eating junk food.
Although they often taste as delicacy and candies, due to their macro- and micronutrient content, protein bars can be used to fight cravings for sweets, especially chocolate - good protein bars with dark chocolate and peanuts, with some sugar alcohols, taste fantastic and are not loaded with simple sugars.
However, such bars can be even addictive and can help one - gain weight. As always, the key is moderation and balance.
When considering protein bars, especially for weight loss, be sure that their protein/carbs/fats content fit your requirements - generally, the more protein bars have, they are better for weight loss. Also, amounts of simple sugars should be as low as possible - even zero!
Vegan Protein Bars
As said before, vegan protein bars use plant-based protein sources like soy protein, yellow pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp protein, barley protein, and similar.
Such bars also avoid the use of any type of animal ingredient, even honey is avoided.
Due to the use of plant-based protein, such bars generally have lower BV and PDCAAs than protein bars based on whey, casein, and egg proteins. In order to improve on that, some manufacturers use plant proteins blends and even add BCAAs and EAAs derived from plants. Such bars are almost as good as protein bars based on whey, casein, and egg protein. But, such bars cost more.
Vegan protein bars are a convenient way for any vegan to increase daily protein intake and to help with recovery and regeneration.
Note: if you are a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian, you can consume protein bars based on whey protein, casein protein, milk isolate protein, and egg protein.
A good protein bar tastes like a delicacy or a nice candy bar and can be consumed almost guilt-free even if one is on a low-calorie diet.
However, real food is real food, as said so many times ...