‘Is that a protein bar?’

…usually accompanied by a puzzled look and silence when I reply ‘Yep’.

This is something that comes up quite frequently, and it did on a recent trip abroad. I decided to address this because it’s a pretty legitimate question to wonder why someone would bring these bars away with them. Nobody really ever seems to ask ‘Why are you eating it?’. Maybe people either don’t care, they think they already know, or just don’t want to ask. If you’re reading this and are going to continue to read on, my assumption is you want to know why.

I’ll keep the answer as short and concise as I can.

I train quite frequently, that is 6-7 days a week and sometimes double sessions per day. The intensity varies but the point is that I’m fairly active. I train because I love it, it’s part of my job and because I want to look good physically.

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Lifting things – I only do it so I can eat lots of protein bars*

If you want to change your body composition whether it be to add slabs of muscle, ‘tone up’ or lose body fat you HAVE to have your nutrition on point. Exercise is hard, I don’t do it with a huge smile on my face all the time! I want to give myself the best chance possible to make good progress sooner rather than later – to do this I make sure I eat what I need to attain my goals (this is not impossible to do with food you actually like by the way).

Protein Requirements

There are more pieces to the nutrition puzzle than this, but as the topic is protein bars I’ll just deal with protein.

A decent guide for someone who is quite active and lifts weights regularly would be 2 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of bodyweight (this can vary from 1.3-2kg depending on the individual and variables such as gender/training age/goals etc).

For me, this works out at 170 grams daily. I don’t hit this number on the button every day, it’s usually a few grams out here and there.

From a body composition perspective – getting enough protein in daily helps promote muscle gain and sustain my current muscle mass. From a performance perspective – It helps me recover so I can go again. Think growth and repair. Basically I train my ass off, I want to look good and this helps me get there. It also helps me stay there. The idea of going through gruelling sessions and then hoping I’ll look good is not a smart way of approaching things.

Eat for your goal.

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Eat lots of healthy, tasty, nutrient dense food. A protein bar is a small piece of the puzzle

I eat the protein bar because I have to hit my goal of 170 grams daily. This is MY goal.

This can be challenging, I have a busy job and lifestyle so I need to be prepared. Ideally this goal would be hit through whole foods, but this can be difficult. Here’s where it fits in…

The protein bar is 20 grams toward that 170 gram goal. In isolation it doesn’t do much, if I train hard all week and expect a protein bar to make some incredible difference without hitting those 170 grams I’ll end up very disappointed.

If you ARE NOT active and think a protein bar mixed in with poor nutrition will somehow help you attain your goal… it won’t. It doesn’t sprout muscle, it doesn’t shred fat (remember – a caloric deficit is needed for weight loss, if you are eating too many calories a protein bar doesn’t reverse this, or have special fat loss powers).

But if you are doing lots of things right – regular exercise, getting 8 hours sleep, keeping stress levels down, hitting your nutrition goals using a healthy, varied diet, hydrating properly – then that protein bar can be a small cog which helps the big machine run more smoothly.

Don’t let it be the first thing on your shopping list if you’re unsure about nutrition. Fix the big things first.

Considerations – cost, convenience and adherence

They can be an expensive choice, food companies recognise the lure of a ‘healthy’ product that might be perceived to make you look better. For some context here a chicken fillet can usually be bought for €1 and has almost the same protein content. Protein bars can run at up to €3.50.

This is where convenience comes in, you might not be able to prepare that chicken fillet so the protein bar is an easier alternative. BUT (using my target of 170 as an example) the other 150 grams of protein ideally would be from food sources. Your body wants nutrient dense food to grow and repair.

What about protein shakes? It’s the same deal, it’s just something to supplement your regular nutrition to try help you top off to that goal. I prefer a bar than a shake, the reason being is that some of them are INCREDIBLY tasty. My personal favourite brand is Fulfil (pictured below)

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Peanut and Caramel FTW!

Eating a bar I really enjoy helps me adhere to my plan, I’m human like everyone else, I enjoy food that tastes good. Keep that in mind for yourself, it may help you stick to what you need to do.

I brought some with me when I was going away on holiday as I knew I’d struggle to find any where I was going. It helped me keep on track for the 4 days. I hit my goals through whole foods with a small bit of supplementation. Business as usual!

I mentioned in a previous post that fitness is an ongoing process. You can let your hair down when you go away, but if you’re smart and plan ahead you can pretty much stay on track while doing so.

I hope this helps clear up some questions you may have had about protein bars. They are not some magic fitness panacea.

If you have any questions get in touch.

phillykinsella@hotmail.com