As a cyclist, you probably already know how important protein is for building lean body mass. Hitting your target protein intake can be difficult, especially if you have a full time job or other responsibilities on top of your regular trips to the gym.

Protein bars offer a convenient (and often tasty) way to boost your protein intake. They come in many shapes, sizes and flavours and many of them have other useful added nutrients. However, protein bars can be calorie dense, so it is important that you read the label and think carefully about whether what you are about to eat will fit into your overall diet.

Why Use Protein Bars

If you are following a diet that requires you to eat several small meals per day, then eating protein bars could be a good solution. Many of the more popular protein bars are like mini-meals in a packet, containing enough protein and calories to tide you over until you can eat a proper meal.

Protein bars can also be useful as a post-workout snack, or as a mini meal during a long sporting event or competition. If you need to keep your energy levels up while you are at a weightlifting contest, then nibbling on a protein bar may be easier on your stomach than drinking a full protein shake. Protein bars will take up less space in your bag, too!

When to Take Protein Bars

Protein shakes are absorbed quickly by the body, so are good choices for a post-workout drink. Protein bars take a little longer to digest and are good to consume as snacks throughout the day, or as meal replacements.

If you are planning a long workout, then consuming a protein bar before the workout could be a good way to keep your energy levels steady throughout the workout. Don’t eat too much immediately before exercise, however, as it may make you feel nauseous.

The Downside of Protein Bars

Protein bars are a great source of energy and nutrition, but it is important that you read the ingredients carefully. There is a huge number of supposedly nutritious “snack bars” on the market and many of them are not as nutritious or useful as their names suggest.

Bars that are truly high in protein are a good option for bodybuilders, weightlifters and athletes that do a lot of strength and conditioning training, but you should remember that those bars can be quite calorie dense. If you are on a calorie controlled diet then you may want to look at getting more of your protein from chicken, tuna and other traditional sources, saving protein bars for your workout days. The snack bars that should be avoided are the ones that contain a lot of carbohydrates (especially simple sugars) and very little protein. These bars are of very little value to a strength athlete.

Popular Protein Bars

Protein bars are available in a range of flavours and sizes and you can buy protein cookies and muffins too. Here is a quick look at some of the more popular protein bars that are on the market today:

High Pro

High pro is a whey based protein bar aimed at the bodybuilding segment of the market. It is designed to be used as a pre-workout bar, or simply as a snack for those looking to boost their protein intake. This bar is fairly low in carbohydrates, making it a great choice for people who are following a ketogenic diet.

The bar contains 29.2g of protein and 230 calories. It is low in sugar (just 2.6 g per bar) and high in fibre. It has added Lactospore pro-biotic and is suitable for vegetarians. There are four flavours available Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Orange, Forest Fruit and Vanilla and Honeycomb.

MP MAX Elle Virtue Bar

The MP MAX Elle Virtue bar is aimed at a rather different audience to the average protein bar. This bar is high in protein and fibre and is designed to be a low calorie snack that will fill you up and help to keep hunger-pangs at bay.

This bar is fortified with calcium and contains just 95 calories. Since it is designed as a weight-loss bar rather than a bar for bodybuilders, it is fairly low in protein, containing just 5.3 grams per bar, however, even that small amount of protein is pretty impressive for a bar marketed as a weight loss product. If you usually snack on health food bars from the local supermarket, then this would be a massive improvement, nutritionally, over those high-sugar, low protein bars.

There are three flavours available Double Chocolate, Maple & Pecan and Fruit Burst.

Oats & Whey

The Oats & Whey protein bar is aimed at athletes that are in need of a tasty and nutritious source of both protein and carbohydrates. The bar is generously sized, at 88g and contains 21.6g of milk protein and whey protein. The mix of proteins is a specially designed tapered blend that will last you throughout your entire workout.

Each bar contains 316 calories and 43.8g of carbohydrates. This means that these bars may not be suitable for someone following a ketogenic diet, however there are other choices (such as the High Pro bar) for that target market. The Oats and Whey bar is ideal for endurance athletes that want to increase their protein intake.

This bar comes in three flavours Chocolate Peanut, Chocolate Chip and Real Raspberry.

Protein bars can be a good source of energy for on-the-go athletes, however they are not designed to replace traditional foods. A good diet is one that contains a mixture of nutrient-rich whole foods, plenty of water and supplements as and when they are needed. If you find that you are getting most of your daily calories from protein bars, shakes and other supplements then it may be time to re-evaluate your nutrition. Try to save your protein bars for consumption before a workout, or as a mid-morning snack rather than a main meal.