Protein shakes are a great tool for bodybuilders and other athletes looking to increase their protein intake. If you're looking to increase the strength and/or size of your muscles, then the research today points to consuming at least around one gram of protein for each pound of body weight (here).
This can actually get quite expensive and be rather time consuming if you're going to get all that food through your diet the 'old fashioned' way, so protein shake provides you with a simple solution. There are benefits to using chicken and tuna for your protein sources (they're leaner for starters), but then again many protein shakes are designed in such a way as to provide a number of other benefits. Protein shakes are neither a miracle shortcut to building muscle then, nor in any way dangerous or ineffective. They're just cheap protein from milk.
So what about protein bars? Are they similarly a cheap and convenient way to get a shot of protein during the day?
The Problem With Protein Bars
Your average protein bar will contain anything from 10 grams of protein up to 30 grams. This isn't bad when you consider that a piece of chicken or even a scoop of protein shake will probably only score you roughly the same amount of protein.
But then again there are some other factors you need to consider here as well: the carbohydrates/sugar and the price. For starters, a protein bar is generally going to be chocolatey or perhaps flap-jack esque. This might make it tasty, but it also drastically increases the amount of sugar and carbohydrates you're taking in. While an average protein shake scoop might contain 10 grams of carbohydrates (giving it a ratio of 2:1 in favour of protein), the average protein bar will give you about 20-50 grams. That's right – there's almost always as much sugar or even considerably more sugar than there is protein. That's not an at all lean source of protein, which is fine if you're a pro bodybuilder in their bulking stage, but is pretty useless for mostly everyone else.
Another problem is the amount you'll be spending on these bars. In the UK a fairly average price you can expect to pay is anywhere from around £1.50 to £2.50. In the US that's the equivalent of up to $5, though you'll probably find them going for closer to $3-4.
The problem here is that there are countless ways you can get a protein snack containing more protein and fewer carbohydrates for considerably less money. A can of tuna in Tesco for example contains 18 grams of protein for the measly sum of 49p. That's incredibly lean protein too with many other health benefits. Sure, you probably won't want to be seen eating out of can of tuna on the commute to work lest people think you're homeless… but £2.50 will also get you a tub of chicken breast where you get 5 pieces of chicken containing an average of around 15 grams of protein each. Quickly do the maths and you realise that that's 75 grams of protein for £2.50 versus 10-30 grams for the same amount.
On the plus side, I will say that protein bars are quite tasty, although they're certainly an acquired taste. Protein bars tend to be very solid and heavy and very chewy, which can make them something of a workout to eat. If you're craving a chocolate bar though, then this will fill you up more and do more for your cause than eating a Mars Bar. But then again a Mars Bar is a fraction of the price. I'd recommend trying one still, just so you can say you have…
To conclude then, protein bars are certainly not evil and they do do what they say on the packaging. But are they worthwhile for the average Joe? No, not really…