The “bar industry” is almost as bad as the supplement industry when it comes to transparency, quality, safety, well just flat-out regulation. If you grab your favorite “protein bar” you’ll notice that it likely just says protein real big in their best marketing font, it doesn’t actually say “High Protein”. That’s because in order to claim their product as being a high-source of protein it must meet some standards first. The general rule of thumb is that for a product to claim it is “high” in something it must contain >20% of the Daily Value (DV) for that nutrient; the DV being based off of a 2,000 calorie-diet.
We can apply this rule when choosing a bar to aid us in meeting our basic nutrient demands and fueling our physical activity. Both a choice that is “high protein” or one that is “high carbohydrate” have their purposes, neither one technically is right or wrong. So, we need to take into consideration why we are taking or seeking out the bar.
There are many reasons that one might be seeking out a bar that is going to provide more carbohydrates than proteins. If we are looking for an energy source, we want to choose a bar that can be truly quantified as a high carbohydrate-source. Later in this post I will break down what quantifies a bar as high protein vs high carbohydrate. High carb bars are used to meet energy needs during or before exercise. Before exercise you need about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates 40-80 grams 30-60 minutes before and after respectively, depending on type of activity preformed. And during specific lengths of exercise carbohydrates may also be needed in specific time intervals. A true high carbohydrate bar could be a great aid to our meals for reaching these carbohydrate needs pre, during, and post workout.
Sometimes we aren’t looking to supplement our energy intake but instead to build and repair our muscle mass after exercise as well as to prevent the breakdown of our muscle mass throughout the day. In this case we want to choose a bar that can be quantified as high protein. While there are plenty of protein-rich foods out there, protein bars can be useful when someone has exhausted these immediate options, has dietary restrictions, or to aid in high protein needs in some athletes. It is needed in a 4:1 Carbohydrate to Protein ratio within 30-60 minutes after exercise. The general population needs about 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per body weight (kg) throughout the entire day and athletes 1.2-1.7 gram of protein per body weight (kg).
After you have determined the “why” behind choosing a particular bar you want to categorize the bar into high protein or high carbohydrate. This is where the rule of thumb of percentage of the DV for “total carbohydrate” or “protein” on the nutrition label comes in handy. Refer to the table below to see what qualifications are needed for a true protein bar versus a true carbohydrate bar as well as some well-known bars and the category they fall in.
High Protein Standard
>20% of the DV for protein or >10gm of protein per serving
Low to Moderate Carb Standard
<5-20% of the DV for total carbohydrates or <54gm of total carbohydrates per serving