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What’s in It: Protein Bars
Protein bars offer convenience, but they can also contain as much sugar as a candy bar and the calorie count of an entire meal.

Powering Up
Unlike other snack bars, the protein bar contains large
concentrations of protein. Protein helps build muscle. Research
also shows that it may make you feel full, and thus avoid
overeating. Kellogg’s Special K Protein Bar flags this idea on its
wrapper: “Satisfies Hunger Longer.” But more rigorous
studies are needed to assess the bars’ long-term
usefulness in fighting obesity.

What Kind of Protein?
Whey, the milk fluid produced (and often discarded) in
cheese-making, is a major source of added protein. But rising
demand in China has sent whey prices soaring, and
manufacturers are increasingly using a less expensive source:
soy concentrate and other soybean derivatives. Pea flour is
gaining ground, too.

Added Sweetness
Unfortunately, processed whey and soy proteins
taste awful. So bars use lots of low-calorie
sweeteners, including sugar alcohols that can
cause upset stomachs, or other sweeteners,
including high fructose corn syrup.

Calories Count
While protein bars were originally marketed to young athletes, they
are now popular with mainstream shoppers, including dieters and
the elderly, the market research firm Mintel has found. Dieters need
ample protein in their diets, but should eat less food altogether and
beware of snacks. “Many bars have the same calories and protein as
a turkey sandwich,” said Carol A. DeNysschen, an associate
professor of nutrition at SUNY Buffalo State, “and I think
people will be more satisfied eating the sandwich.”

So What About Athletes?
The Journal of the International Society of Sports
Nutrition in 2009 published the results of an
intriguing trial at Buffalo State. Twenty- eight men,
overweight and exercise averse, were given rigorous
workouts for 12 weeks, along with added protein — either
whey or soy. Neither was more effective for building muscle and
losing fat. But the real surprise was this: a third group given no added
protein got just as buff and heart-healthy. On the other hand, a recent
review that averaged the results of 22 exercise trials found
that protein supplements increased muscle mass

Nutrition on the Go
No one really needs supplemental protein, the American College of Sports
Medicine says. Athletes require more protein than the rest of us, but can
generally get it through meals. Still, protein ingested just after a truly
vigorous workout helps you recover and gain muscle mass. If you can’t have
a meal or a snack of nuts, an egg or yogurt, a protein bar can fill the gap.
“It’s a convenient source of that protein, but there are excellent food
sources of protein, and if someone wants to get it by bringing a chicken
sandwich, then absolutely,” said Eric Zaltas, the global head of research
and development for Nestlé Performance Nutrition. “Real food has other
nutritents in it that are important.”

More on the Way
Big food companies are making protein bars under successful
brands like PowerBar (owned by Nestlé), Odwalla (Coca-Cola)
and Lärabar (General Mills). Post Foods announced last
month that it was buying Dymatize, which makes
protein powders and bars. And added protein is
showing up in canned soup, cereals, pretzels and
cheese: Last fall, Kraft released a new cream
cheese called “2X Protein.” 



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