There are more protein snacks on the market today than there have ever been before. This is great because high protein diets confer numerous benefits and New Zealanders in general don’t get enough of the stuff. But having so many options can make it difficult to decide which one to buy. High protein treats vary in taste, nutrient composition, ingredients and calories. Some choices will be far better for you than others but how do you know which one is worth getting? Keep reading and we will teach you how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to high protein foods.
Obviously the most important consideration when buying one of these snacks is the protein content. So many products claim to be “high protein” on the label but only contain a few measly grams. Test this next time you are at the supermarket. So many muesli bars and fruit ball products have “high protein” on the box but when you read the nutrition panel, there may be only 4g per serve. Until the Commerce Commission cracks down on these false allegations, we will have to be savvy consumers. When buying a protein snack, especially if you intend to consume it after a workout, look for one containing at least 20g or more. If you don’t get enough post workout protein, your body won’t get the message that it is time to build muscle. Studies show that around 20-25g after training is needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Any less than this is suboptimal and you won’t be making gains. Be fussy with your protein bars and ensure they meet the minimum 20g requirement. Not only will this ensure you feel full after eating but your muscles will appreciate you giving them enough fuel for them to recover.
We also need to read the ingredients first in order to know whether a snack will agree with us or not. Our bodies are very different and some tolerate certain ingredients better than others. For example, someone with coeliac disease can’t have gluten and others may be sensitive to certain sweeteners. Checking the ingredients first is a good practice to ensure you don’t end up with a sore tummy. Ideally you want to pick something with a relatively short ingredient list. Items with a plethora of added sugars, oils, preservatives and stabilisers likely aren’t the best choice. In New Zealand, companies are required to list the major ingredient first. So if the first thing on the list is sugar, it probably isn’t very nutritious. You might also be on the hunt for a product with added benefits. Some options include things like collagen or MCT oil so keep your eyes peeled for those. Your personal circumstances will dictate which ingredients you avoid so it is difficult to give general recommendations. Basically don’t eat anything you are allergic to and choose something that contains a short list of good quality ingredients.
Calories measure the amount of energy in a food. In New Zealand we also use kilojoules as a metric. If you get confused between calories and kilojoules, just remember that 1 cal = 4.2kj. Eating a snack with a large amount of energy will provide you with a lot of fuel to get things done. However, consuming too many high calorie foods will result in fat gain. The trick is to pick a snack with the highest protein content for the least number of calories. As a general guide, anything around 150-300 calories with at least 20g of protein is reasonable. Everyone has different energy requirements and some will be able to fit more snacks into their diet than others. Regardless of your individual needs, a decent protein to calorie ratio is worth looking out for.
Fibre in our diet is important for gastrointestinal health. Insufficient fibre intake means we’ll experience constipation and too much can be deadly. Checking how much fibre is in your protein bar will help you figure out whether you’ll end up on the loo. Ideally you want a snack with enough fibre to help you feel full but not so much that you experience explosive diarrhoea. Around 3-10g per serving is a good amount to look for. You can usually find this on the nutrition panel under the carbohydrate row. If you struggle to get enough fibre in your daily diet then protein snacks can be a great supplement. Those with constipation or abdominal bloating might notice a huge benefit from getting the extra roughage. However if you already hit your fibre intake and don’t need anymore, keep an eye out for protein snacks on the lower end of the recommended 3-10g. Try a range of snacks and see which one agrees with your stomach the most.
A final consideration when buying protein treats is the sugar content. Sweet things may taste good but added sugar confers no nutritional benefit. Most of us already get enough sugar in the form of fruit, cereal and bread so we don’t need to add more through protein snacks. Diabetics especially need to pay attention to this section of the nutrition panel because high blood glucose levels can be fatal. When buying a protein treat, pick one with very minimal added sugars. Under 8g per serving is a good place to start. If a product relies on copious amounts of sugar to make it taste nice then it’s not worth having. Stick to snacks with the least number of empty calories to ensure your diet is as nutritious as can be. After all, your body is a fine engine that deserves high quality fuel. Feeding it only the good stuff will ensure you reach your potential when it comes to performance.
Don’t believe every high protein label you see. Companies are allowed to market their products favourably but the onus is on you to figure out whether a snack is worth having. Next time you’re tempted to buy a protein snack, check the label first. Look for a good protein to calorie ratio, minimal ingredients, 3-10g fibre and minimal added sugars. If it ticks all of these boxes then add it straight to your cart. If you’re unsure where to look first, check out NZProtein’s range of ready to eat snacks and high protein mixes. We practise what we preach so you can trust that all of our products are as nutritious as can be.