With so many meal replacement and protein bars on the market it can be hard to tell which one provides the best quality nutrition.
I use meal replacement bars and also recommend them to my clients, especially if they travel. It is one of the quickest and easiest ways to replace a healthy meal, on the run. My first choice is always real food, second a meal replacement shake and third a high protein, nutrient dense meal replacement bar.
Most bars are either nutritionally unbalanced—not containing the right quantities of protein, carbohydrate, and fats to qualify as a meal replacement—and often are artificially sweetened, flavored, and colored.
Choosing a meal replacement bar can be overwhelming because there are so many claiming to have the perfect nutritional profile. A true meal replacement bar has all the protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, enzymes and nutrients of a perfectly balanced meal.
To help inform choices (and filter out the scams), here are five things to look for in a meal replacement bar.
- Low-glycemic – Carbohydrates in the form of starches and sugars are critical to deliver the body a steady source of energy for a longer period of time. But foods that are high glycemic—meaning they’re fast-absorbing sugars and/or they don’t provide much protein, fat, or fiber in addition to the carbohydrates—are known to cause a spike in blood sugar, which can be followed closely by a crash, and then hunger. Low-glycemic bars ensure a steady source of energy to keep you feeling full longer.
- Whey protein – The type of protein used in meal replacement bars matters in a big way. Whey is shown to promote more satiety and fat loss than any other kind of protein, and when paired with exercise, promotes muscle growth (1). Whey protein in its most natural and unprocessed form is described as undenatured. Research has shown that the consumption of undenatured whey protein has antioxidant effects beneficial for overall health (2).
- Maximum nutrition, minimum calories – As a meal replacement, bars should provide the nutrition normally consumed in a healthy, balanced meal. That ought to include carbohydrates, fats, and protein, but in a fraction of the calories. Carbohydrates and fats have earned a bad reputation, when in reality they are vital to the body’s ability to function. When looking for a bar, choose one that contains healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, natural sugars, fiber, and an ample amount of high-quality protein. Some bars are too high in calories while others are too low. A healthy meal replacement bar should contain around 200 to 300 calories—still promoting weight loss, but not sacrificing any nutrients or your energy levels.
- Satiety – Dieting is often associated with uncomfortable hunger that comes with cutting calories. In clinical trials, consuming a meal replacement bar has shown to curb appetite and lead to safe and sustained weight loss (3). When supplementing your diet with a low-calorie yet nutritious meal bar, cutting calories can be effortless and sustainable because your body is still being properly nourished. When meal replacement bars are filled with high-quality whey protein, they also have the benefit of providing increased satiety resulting in the consumption of fewer calories throughout the day (4). Fiber is also an important part of any diet to enhance gastrointestinal health and function and increase satiety.
- Quality – Not all health bars deliver what they claim to have in them. If the company doesn’t have an established no-compromise quality policy that involves rigorous testing, then its nutritional content could be off—by as much as 15 percent! That could mean extra calories you don’t realize you’re getting, usually from fat and sugar. Plus, if not clinically tested to be low-glycemic, you run the risk of blood sugar spikes that could thwart your health and weight-loss goals.
When you don’t have time to prepare a healthy balanced meal, instead of settling for bars that are not necessarily healthy, I use Isagenix IsaLean Bars. They taste freaking Awesome, they’re well balanced and have the best protein to hold and gain muscle!
Possibly the best part about IsaLean Bars is their convenience. On the run or wherever you are that you can’t make an IsaLean Shake but need a healthy meal, IsaLean Bars are the answer.
- Acheson K, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S, et al. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(3):525-34.
- Bounous G and P Gold. The biological activity of undenatured dietary whey proteins: role of glutathione. Clin Invest Med Volume 1991;14:296-309.
- Rothacker DQ, Watemberg S. Short-term hunger intensity changes following ingestion of a meal replacement bar for weight control. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2004;55:223-6.
- Luhovyy BL, Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Whey proteins in the regulation of food intake and satiety. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007;26:704S–12S.
Do you want to build a strong, fit body? While pushing weights at the gym is key to building muscle and stimulating fat loss, what you eat—specifically protein—should be a priority.
Think of it this way: if your body isn’t supplied with the nutrients it needs for muscle recovery and energy replenishment, are you really getting the most out of your workout? The winning combination is when both diet and exercise are maximized to reach your health goals.
When it comes to making the most of protein, the key is to get the right kind, in the right amounts, at the right time.
Protein can be found in a variety of foods. Eggs, chicken, fish, dairy, and beef are all sources of protein. However, not all protein is created equal.
For a superior protein option, study after study shows nothing compares to whey protein. Whey has a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs), which are quickly absorbed and used to build and repair muscle—especially if consumed after exercise.
Arguably the greatest benefit of consuming whey protein is the ability to maximize fat loss without losing muscle. A study comparing whey protein and soy protein found that subjects consuming whey had 62 percent more fat loss during 5 1⁄2 hours after a workout (1).
Another study looking at the effect of supplementing with whey protein, soy protein, or carbohydrate after workouts for a period of nine months found that those consuming whey had 55 percent more muscle gain than either soy or carbohydrate groups (2). In fact, those who consumed soy protein had similar muscle synthesis as those who ate carbohydrates alone. For fat burning and muscle growth, the kind of protein you choose matters.
It’s becoming more evident that adults could significantly benefit from eating higher amounts of quality protein, especially when attempting to lose weight.
A recent study compared muscle synthesis in men and women who consumed controlled diets that provided three different amounts of protein: the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, twice the U.S. RDA, and three times the RDA (3). Weight loss was induced by restricting total calories consumed and increasing daily exercise. After three weeks, those who consumed double or triple the RDA had greater muscle synthesis than those who consumed the RDA.
The authors of that study said that they believed that the RDA for protein should be based on a level to optimize health, not just to prevent deficiencies. Their data demonstrate that the current RDA wasn’t enough for sparing muscle mass during weight loss. More is key—around 1.2 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
In addition to supporting muscle growth, higher protein diets have also been shown to increase satiety so you are less tempted to overeat at mealtime (4).
Getting the right amount of protein each day is essential for keeping muscle in a constant building state (anabolic) rather than allowing muscle to be broken down and used for energy (catabolic). While the typical American diet does provide a fair amount of protein, it’s not distributed evenly throughout the day.
Most breakfast meals are low in protein (think bagels, pastries, and cereals), providing an average of 10 grams. (See graph below.) For many, lunch may consist of a sandwich or soup and provide around 15 or 20 grams of protein. Then, a massive 60 grams (such as a medium-sized steak) is often consumed at dinner. To keep the body in a constant building state and to support muscle growth, fat burning, and fullness, it’s best to eat around 20 to 40 grams of protein at each meal.
To investigate this theory, researchers compared two groups of people—one that consumed protein evenly throughout the day and one that skewed their protein intake more toward dinner (5). The “even” group consumed 30 grams of protein three times during the day while the “skewed” group ate about 10 grams at breakfast, 20 grams at lunch, and 60 grams at dinner. After just one week of following the diets, those in the even group had 25 percent greater muscle protein synthesis than the skewed group. The fascinating aspect of this study is that both groups consumed the same total amount of protein—90 grams—yet those who distributed protein consumption regularly throughout the day gained more muscle.
In addition to eating protein throughout the day, a key time to take advantage of the body’s muscle building ability is post-workout. After exercise, blood is rushing to your muscles. By consuming whey protein after exercise, it can be quickly absorbed by the small intestine, shuttled into the blood stream, and delivered to muscle tissue. Failing to consume protein after a workout is a missed opportunity to take advantage of all your hard work.
It’s not just about eating protein to get the results you want, it’s about getting the right kind, in the right amount, at the right time. That’s why I use organic, indentured whey protein from New-Zealand! Undenatured means that it still has all of the immune boosting properties and macronutrients that can be killed by high heat processing. Cheap whey is wasted in your gut as not all of it is utilized and then excreted. Use the best – Use proper timing – Make your whey work for you!
Acheson K, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S, et al. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(3):525-34.
Pasiakos SM, Cao JJ, Margolis ER, et al. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized control trial. FASEB. 2013;27(9):3837.
Luhovyy BL, Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Whey proteins in the regulation of food intake and satiety. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007;26:704S–12S.
Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL et al. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in health adults. J Nutr. 2014; E pub ahead of print.
Paddon-Jones and Rasmussen, 2009