Are protein bars really much better than normal chocolate bars?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Weight Loss

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Are protein bars really much better than normal chocolate bars?

Protein bars vs chocolate bars

On a recent trip to the supermarket, I decided to do some nutritional Sherlock Holmesing.

One protein bar I came across had 20 grams of protein, 32 grams of carbs, and 11 grams of fat, for 324 calories.

That’s pretty calorie-dense for a “healthy” snack.

But here's where things get a little interesting...

A popular chocolate bar contains just 230 calories.

Now yes, the chocolate bar doesn't have the protein.

But depending on where you are when you want the high protein snack, I have a better alternative: if you're out on a building site for example, working on top of the scaffolding, then a protein bar is great because you pull it out of your pocket, eat it, and you're done.

But if you have an office job, and have time to make a protein shake too, then do that -- and eat the chocolate bar!

That way, you're likely getting MORE protein (depending on the protein bar you chose) from the shake, plus the sweet goodness of the chocolate bar, for basically the same amount of calories.

And obviously, you can't start mixing a protein shake easily on top of a building site. So it really comes down to your lifestyle and how easily you can consume this protein snack when you want it.

And keep in mind, the extra calories from protein hardly do anything to harm your waistline, anyway.

I've spoken a few times about this study that overfed resistance-trained gym-goers 800 calories from whey and casein protein for 8 weeks.

And guess how much fat they gained?

None.

What? Why was this?

A few factors, but mainly, the thermogenic effect of protein.

The thermogenic effect of protein is 30 per cent, which means you lose 30% of the calories consumed from protein by simply digesting it. That's how much it costs your body (in calories) to ensure it's used.

So whey and casein protein is great to consume on a weight loss diet, and obviously not going to wreak havoc on your waistline.

Now another important thing to point out -- fibre content.

Some chocolate bars, like Hershey's for example, have 7 grams of fibre, whilst some protein bars have 1-2 grams. Then, of course, there are other protein bars that have 13 grams of fibre.

So keep this in mind when you're choosing your option.

But remember, your daily fibre intake should be roughly 14 g/1000 kcal consumed. Now, a protein bar or shake snack might not be where you plan on getting the bulk of your fibre from, but if you ensure you're hitting fibre numbers throughout the day, then this is of little consequence.

Make sure you’re getting enough fibre daily from all your meals.
Make sure you’re getting enough fibre daily from all your meals.

The other thing to remember with protein bars is their cheeky marketing tactics.

A "low carb" bar isn't always as low as you think.

Now in case you haven't caught up with this truth: low carb diets aren't any better for fat loss and carbs don't make you fat.

Ok, now back to business: understand that these ingredients in protein bars are all types of carbohydrates, but have about 50% of the calorie value.

  • Sorbitol
  • Maltitol
  • Glycerol

Even though they have half the caloric value as carbohydrates, just keep these calories in mind.

Now we're not talking about a big difference here, but it's just something to be aware of.

Seriously, just eat the chocolate bar if you want it.

There's no point in having a protein bar (for basically the same amount of calories, maybe more) if you want to eat the chocolate bar.

Just. Eat. It!

We've seen in many studies how a flexible approach to dieting (eating the sweets we like within our macronutrient limits) beats out a "rigid" approach to dieting.

By rigid dieting, I mean eating "perfectly" (which makes no sense) every meal, like "chicken and broccoli." Or, a "protein bar, because it must be better for me." It isn't.

Don't rob yourself of a sweet if you really want one!

If you feel like the chocolate bar, then just eat it!
If you feel like the chocolate bar, then just eat it!

The bottom line on protein bars

Is that protein bars aren't this perfect alternative to chocolate bars if you can have a protein shake with it, too. You can still consume either or whenever you like, just don't get bogged down in the fallacy that "protein bars are good, chocolate bars are bad." Because there's plenty of nutritional science to challenge that stereotype. Focus on a balanced and flexible diet for great weight loss success.

References:

  1. Antonio, J., Peacock, C.A., Ellerbroek, A. et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 19 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19
  2. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.
  3. van Baak MA. Meal-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system and its cardiovascular and thermogenic effects in man. PhysiolBehav. 2008 May 23;94(2):178-86. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.12.020. Epub 2008 Jan 2. PMID: 18281067.
  4. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, McManus K, Champagne CM, Bishop LM, Laranjo N, Leboff MS, Rood JC, de Jonge L, Greenway FL, Loria CM, Obarzanek E, Williamson DA. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009 Feb 26;360(9):859-73. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748. PMID: 19246357; PMCID: PMC2763382.
  5. Fluhr JW, Darlenski R, Surber C. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. Br J Dermatol. 2008 Jul;159(1):23-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08643.x.Epub 2008 Jul 1. PMID: 18510666.
group of product images for proteins
group of product images for proteins