Protein bars and shakes review and compare

Do you really need them?
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:1 Jul 2006
 

01 .Introduction

Protien-bars-and-shakes

In brief

  • It’s likely only elite athletes really benefit from protein bars and drinks. For the rest of us, they’re just an additional source of kilojoules and little more than an expensive snack. See Protein products as snacks for details.
  • If you’re tempted by chocolate bars when you’re exercising, protein bars and drinks can make an OK, if expensive, alternative. But have them as occasional treats only, just like chocolate.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2006 but is still a useful guide today.


Do we need more protein when exercising?

Verdict: In most cases – no.

The Australian Institute of Sport says a few specific groups of elite athletes may need extra protein on occasion:

  • Endurance athletes (such as marathon runners) undertaking a heavy training program or an extreme competition or race may need extra protein to cover a proportion of the energy costs, and for repair and recovery after a workout. Protein needs: anything from 1.2–2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Strength-trained athletes (such as body builders) undertaking a heavy training program use additional protein to increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training. Protein needs: 1.2–1.7g/kg body weight per day.
  • Adolescent athletes have greater protein needs: 2g/kg body weight per day.

For normally active people, the maximum protein need is only about 1g/kg body weight per day, or just 0.8g/kg for people who are sedentary.

Are we getting enough?

The last National Nutrition Survey found that on average men were getting 109g of protein per day and women 74g from their diets — more than enough for your normally active average weight man (80kg) or woman (65kg). And even the protein needs of elite athletes in the groups described above can usually be taken care of by eating a varied diet that focuses on nutrient-rich foods.

Good sources of protein include:

  • Lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods.
  • Many plant foods (soy, bread, cereal, nuts, pasta and rice, for example) contain significant amounts of protein too.

For most people, the 20, 30 or 40 grams of protein in these protein bars and drinks is surplus. With a bar costing as much as $6, that’s a lot of money to fork out unnecessarily.

Can we have too much?

The short answer is yes.

  • If you have more protein than you need for growth and repair, the excess is used to provide energy.
  • Once energy requirements are met, surplus protein, just like carbohydrate or fat, tends to be stored as body fat.

Energy and exercise gives you an indication of the exercise you’d need to do to use up the energy these bars and drinks can provide.

 
 

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02.Protein for performance

 

Some of the claims made by products in our table

  • “Feed your potential”
  • “To help you perform at your best and surpass your goals”
  • “For a leaner, stronger and more muscular body”
  • “Helps build and maintain muscle tissue for up to 6 hours”
  • “For muscle recovery and growth”

Promises like these are attractive to athletes in elite competition, where very small differences separate the winners from the rest of the field. And it’s just as easy for recreational athletes to succumb to the marketing hype. But not all the claims on protein bars and drinks can be substantiated.

Can high-protein products improve performance?

  • Some protein products contain additional amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and so-called ergogenic (work-enhancing) compounds like creatine and L-carnitine, which are involved in exercise metabolism or recovery pathways. The theory goes that by bumping up our intake of these components we can supercharge metabolic processes and boost performance.
  • There are varying levels of scientific support for the benefit of some (like creatine) and none for others (like carnitine). And considering that foods can usually provide amino acids in the amounts required, there’s little to be gained from buying products with them added.

Protein helps build muscle and assists in recovery from exercise, but the bars and drinks don’t provide any advantages over normal dietary sources of protein.

Does the type of protein make a difference?

The protein in the bars and drinks in our sample comes from milk (casein — ‘curds’ — or whey) and soy, and appears in the ingredients list as:

  • Milk protein isolate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Whey protein concentrate or isolate
  • Soy protein isolate.

Some brands jazz the protein up with a scientific-sounding proprietary name, like MLO’s Biocytein and EAS’s Myopro2, giving the impression that you ought to be looking out for a particular type of protein.

Whether it’s from whey (once regarded as a waste product of the cheese manufacturing process), soy or any other source, there’s not enough evidence to argue that any one particular type of protein has more benefit.

03.Protein products as snacks

 

As a snack, are protein bars and drinks OK?

Convenience

  • Because they’re shelf-stable, portable and ready to eat or drink, protein products can make convenient snacks when you’re exercising, if food protein sources — sandwiches or smoothies, for example — just aren’t practical.

Nutrition

  • If you’re choosing between a protein bar and a regular chocolate bar such as a MARS bar, a protein bar can be a better option nutritionally.
    Of the 26 bars in our sample, all but six (AUSSIE BODIES HPLC Bar, AUSSIE BODIES Protein Break Bar, ENDURA Protein Bar, FOODS OF THE WORLD High Protein Slice Amaranth, GNC ProPerformance Mega Whey Bar and MUSASHI P40 Protein Bar) have less fat and/or saturated fat than a MARS bar, and they all have less sugar.
    However, a third of the bars have more kilojoules, and several of the drinks do too. That and their comparatively high price are good reasons for having protein products as an occasional snack only, or not at all.

Carb conscious?

If you’re on a low-carb, high-protein diet of the Atkins variety, the bars and drinks like the ones in our survey might appeal to you too. But don’t assume that high protein automatically equals low carb. Some products vie with MARS bars in the carbs stakes, while others can have fewer carbs per serve than ones that make a low-carb claim. It pays to read the label.

If you’re exercising, it’s preferable to have a combination of carbs and protein. Carbs have a protein sparing effect — that is, they provide the body with energy, saving protein for its normal function of maintenance, repair and synthesis of new muscle tissue.

Protein bars and drinks Nutritions per serve2
Brand / product1 (in order of protein content, lowest to highest) Protein (g)* Carbs (g)* Energy (kJ)* Serve size (g or mL)
MARS Bar (A) 2 42 1160 60
POWERBAR Pria (mint chocolate) 5 16 495 28
BIG M Flavoured milk drink (chocolate) (A) 10 31 1055 300
FOODS OF THE WORLD High Protein Slice Amaranth 10 6 1290 60
AUSSIE BODIES Protein Break Bar (creamy chocolate) 11 10 795 38
SUSTAGEN Everyday Nutritional Drink (Dutch chocolate) 13 41 1050 250
HORLEYS Women Sculpt High Protein Nutrition Bar (apricot chocolate crunch) 14 23 755 48
MUSASHI Growling Dog Bar (chocolate) 14 35 990 65
BOUNCE Premium Protein Ball 15 19 880 49
MUSASHI Creatine Bar (apricot) 15 38 940 65
HORLEYS Women Sculpt Protein Shake (chocolate) 18 14 570 250
POWERBAR ProteinPlus High Protein Bar (cookies & cream) 18 20 1070 65
RED 8 La Femme Reduced Carbohydrate Protein Bar (chocolate crunch) 19 11 720 45
AST SPORTS SCIENCE VYO.PRO High-Performance Protein Bar (chocolate brownie xtreme) 20 24 835 62
AUSSIE BODIES Protein FX Energy Bar (choc mint crisp) 20 29 1020 65
ENDURA Protein Bar (double choc) 20 28 1340 63
HORLEYS Pro-Fit Instant Protein Shake (chocolate) 20 22 750 250
HORLEYS Protein 33 Flavoured Protein Bar (chocolate fudge) 20 27 930 60
NATURE’S WAY Edge High Performance Bar (chocolate) 20 32 1065 65
MLO Bio Protein Bar (chocolate) 21 41 1240 81
MUSASHI P20 Protein Bar (double choc) 21 16 945 60
AUSSIE BODIES Protein Delite Bar (double choc) 23 5 840 50
SANDRA CABOT’S HEALTH FORMULATIONS Guilt Free Chocolate Bar 23 4 760 50
WELL, NATURALLY Low Carb Snack Bar (chewy chocolate) 23 8 980 60
EAS Myoplex Carb Sense Drink (chocolate fudge) 25 5 630 330
EAS Myoplex Carb Sense Bar (chocolate chip brownie) 28 24 1130 70
AUSSIE BODIES Lo-Carb Protein Revival Drink (Dutch chocolate) 30 10 1060 375
AUSSIE BODIES Protein Revival Drink (chocolate) 30 30 1105 375
GNC Pro Performance Mega Whey Bar (caramel fudge) 30 30 1170 85
MAX’S Hydroxy-Phase+ Bar (choc malt) 30 27 1340 85
MUSASHI P30 High Protein Flavoured Milk Drink (choc malt) 30 26 1025 375
NATURE’S WAY Edge High Performance Drink (chocolate) 30 18 900 375
MAX’S CVGM High Protein Bar (choc malt) 31 43 1550 95
MAX’S Hydroxy Phase+ Low Carb Shake (choc caramel) 31 8 955 375
BSC High Protein Bar (chocolate) 34 9 1260 85
MUSASHI P40 High Protein Flavoured Milk Drink (choc malt) 40 34 1370 500
MUSASHI P40 Protein Bar (choc hazelnut) 40 19 1330 90
MAX’S Power Protein Shake (chocabolic) 42 43 1535 500
EAS Myoplex Original Drink (chocolate) 43 20 1295 500
AUSSIE BODIES HPLC Bar (chocolate) 45 6 1620 100

Table notes

* Figures for protein and total carbohydrates are rounded to the nearest gram, energy to the nearest 5 kJ.
(A) Not marketed as a good source of protein — included for comparison.

1 Brand/product
We bought ready-to-eat bars and drinks that have a specific reference to the protein content on the packaging. Some products come in a variety of flavours, so for ease of comparison we’ve provided nutrition information for a chocolate flavour (where available). MARS bar and BIG M details are also provided for comparison.

2 Nutrients per serve
This was taken from the nutrition information panel on product packaging, or product websites.

05.Energy and exercise

 

Ultimately, protein products are a source of energy, which you’ll need to burn off if you want to avoid putting on weight.

For example:

  • An average woman (weighing about 65 kg) would need to put in around half an hour of light running to burn off an AUSSIE BODIES Protein Revival Drink
  • An average man (weighing about 80 kg) would need to spend slightly longer than that on a rowing machine to use up the kilojoules consumed in a MUSASHI P40 Protein Bar.

The table below gives an estimate of the total kilojoules used over 30 minutes by an average man and woman for different activities.

Kilojoules used over 30 minutes
Activity kJ / kg used Total kJ used if you’re 65 kg* Total kJ used if you’re 80 kg**
Aerobics, low impact 10.5 683 840
Running, light (8 km/h) 16.8 1092 1344
Rowing, moderate 14.7 956 1176
Running, moderate (12 km/h) 26.3 1710 2104
Weight training, light to moderate 6.3 410 504

* Average woman
** Average man

To calculate the kilojoules used per 30 minutes of exercise for your own body weight, multiply the kJ/kg figure by your body weight in kilograms.