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Protein bars are frequently promoted as a snack, or something to consume following a workout. That may have you wondering if they could also be eaten as a breakfast meal too.
Are protein bars good for breakfast? Protein bars are a convenient breakfast option that offers fiber, micronutrients, and of course protein. A protein bar that includes high fiber as your breakfast will help control blood sugar and aid in keeping you satisfied longer, while the protein will help build and repair muscles.
But, choosing a protein bar with the right ingredients is key. Not all protein bars will be appropriate as a meal replacement. So, if you’re looking to start your day off with a protein bar, let’s look at how to do it properly.
In this article we’ll cover:
- The benefits and drawbacks of eating a protein bar for breakfast
- Things to consider when choosing a protein bar for breakfast
- Whether eating a protein bar for breakfast is good for weight loss
- The best protein bars to eat for breakfast
Eating Protein Bars For Breakfast: My Practical Advice
Some people are going to scoff at the idea of incorporating a processed protein bar into your breakfast plan. There has been a lot of focus on “clean” eating, or eating foods that haven’t been processed and are in their natural state, including proteins.
Why scoff? Simply because many will recommend focusing on getting all your dietary protein from whole food sources (meats, eggs, dairy, beans, etc).
Processing means to alter something either chemically or mechanically in order to change or preserve it. That said, as soon as you cook something, you process it mechanically. As soon as you freeze, can, dehydrate, or alter the food in any way, it can be considered processed. Processing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, after all, cooking isn’t a bad thing.
As a Nutrition Coach, I won’t often recommend my clients eat a protein bar for breakfast regularly, especially daily. But, a protein bar at breakfast still stands above no breakfast or a refined carbohydrate, such as a sugary cereal or donut.
As such, eating a protein bar for breakfast does have its time and place, which I’ll discuss next.
Should you take whey protein? If so, when and how much?
Benefits Of Protein Bars For Breakfast
The four benefits of eating protein bars for breakfast are:
- Protein bars are more convenient due to not requiring cooking time
- Protein is important to include in our breakfast
- Protein will help keep you full for longer periods
- Protein bars may contain fiber and other micronutrients
1. Protein Bars Are More Convenient Due To Not Requiring Cooking Time
Finding time in the morning to grab a breakfast that contains all the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) can be difficult.
For example, 2 eggs for 12 grams of protein, a cup of slow cooked oatmeal for about 25 grams of carbs along with a tablespoon of peanut butter for 7 grams of fat, would take cooking and prep time. A pre-packaged protein bar will be substantially more convenient.
If you’re someone who regularly skips breakfast due to lack of time, a protein bar is a great option that doesn’t require any cooking time.
2. Protein Is Important To Include In Our Breakfast
Including protein at breakfast can help increase feelings of fullness, and if you exercise in the morning, protein is what the body requires to repair and build muscle.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that active individuals consume 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.
For example, someone weighing 65kg (143lbs), should aim to eat 80-130 grams of protein per day. When you break that down into four meals per day, each meal would need to include at least 20-25g of protein.
Many people struggle to achieve this target, especially if they start skipping protein from meals.
You could get around 25 grams of protein by eating 4 eggs for breakfast, or most protein bars will have this amount of protein too.
3. Protein Will Help Keep You Full For Longer Periods
Protein is more satiating than refined carbohydrates. This simply means, eating protein with your breakfast will help keep you feeling full for longer than a refined carbohydrate option such as a breakfast cereal or a bagel. The protein in a protein bar at breakfast will help to keep you from feeling hungry longer than a breakfast bagel will.
Thus, if your breakfast choice is between a bagel with cream cheese or a protein bar, the protein bar is the optimal choice as the bagel option will leave you feeling hungry sooner than the protein bar due to the added protein.
Controlling your level of hunger throughout the day is important, especially if you have weight loss goals because feeling hungry may lead to unnecessary snacking and overeating at other meals throughout the day, which can lead to an increased caloric intake.
Related Article: Is Eating 3 Protein Bars A Day Bad?
4. Protein Bars May Contain Fiber and Other Micronutrients
Depending on the protein bar you’ve decided to enjoy for breakfast, you might also get some added benefits of fiber and micronutrients.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals found in foods and are required in small amounts but necessary for all bodily functions. Vitamins aid in immune function, energy production, and other functions. While minerals are important in bone health and keeping your body in balance.
For example, RxBar will offer you 3-6g of fiber as well as some added calcium, iron and potassium.
- Fiber can decrease risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
- Calcium is important for bone health. This includes building strong bones and teeth.
- Iron is an important component of red blood cells and supports muscle metabolism as well as healthy connective tissue. Red blood cells also carry oxygen from the lungs around the body.
- Potassium is important in cellular function and heart health.
To learn more, check out Protein Bars vs. Shakes: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
Are There Any Downsides To Eating Protein Bars For Breakfast?
Despite the benefits above, there are also a few drawbacks to consider when eating a protein bar for breakfast.
1. Can Be High In Sugar
Not all protein bars are created equal. Some are the equivalent of a chocolate bar with some added protein. They are loaded with sugar and offer no additional benefits of fiber or micronutrients.
You likely wouldn’t think it optimal to eat a chocolate bar for breakfast, so eating a protein bar with the equivalent amount of sugar also shouldn’t be a first choice.
2. May Include Hydrogenated Oils
Hydrogenation takes a liquid fat and adds oxygen, creating a solid fat. A better option than hydrogenated oil is unsaturated, liquid vegetable oils like olive oil, or to simply opt for bars utilizing nuts as their source of fat.
However, hydrogenated oils are manufactured oils, and are a source of trans fats, which increase the level of LDL, or “bad cholesterol” in the blood which increases chances of heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends 20-25% of calories come from fat per day. They suggest limiting saturated fats to 10% off your daily calorie intake, and trans fats to less than 1% of your daily calorie intake.
In a 2000 calorie/day diet this equals about 20 calories or 2 grams of trans fat per day. For context, you’ll find around 1.5 grams of trans fat in a Mcdonald’s Big Mac.
Also, if a serving contains less than 0.5 grams, the nutrition label will read 0 grams as per the FDA. So ensure you’re reading those nutrition labels and checking for partially hydrogenated oils as there could be a small amount of trans fat.
Remember, it’s okay to be eating small amounts of these trans fats daily, but if you’re already eating other foods containing trans fats throughout the day (such as fast food), you’ll want to ensure you’re steering clear with your protein bar at breakfast.
3. Can Be More Expensive Than Other Breakfast Options
When you compare a protein bar versus other types of breakfast foods, you’ll find that protein bars can be a more expensive food choice.
For example, a box of Quest bars is $22.50 for 12, which is about $1.90 per bar. Which is completely reasonable, or cheap, for a meal replacement. Though this may add up in long term when compared with a breakfast cooked at home, such as eggs.
The cost of a dozen eggs is approximately $1.29. Keep in mind, you’re simply paying for the eggs, not the cost to get them home, and prepare them however you will eat them, or the toast that you might want to enjoy with them.
So, even if you were to have 3 eggs for breakfast, you’re looking at $0.33.
4. May Not Be As Satisfying As A Complete Meal
Eating a protein bar may not feel as satisfying compared with a meal that has multiple food groups on your plate.
Let’s compare two different breakfast choices:
- Breakfast #1: RxBar has 12 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 23 grams of carbohydrates, and comes in at 210 calories.
- Breakfast #2: Whole wheat toast, 2 eggs, and an orange has 15 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrates, and comes in at 250 calories.
While both meals have approximately the same macronutrient profile and calories, breakfast #2 will likely leave you feeling much more satisfied due to the sheer amount of food on your plate. In other words, it is more volume in your stomach.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Protein Bar
When choosing a protein bar for breakfast there are 5 things that should be considered.
1. Sugar Content And Source
Look for a bar that doesn’t list sugar as the first ingredient. The first 2 ingredients on a nutrition label are the most important as the ingredients are listed in order of amounts, starting with the highest. If sugar is listed in one of those 2 top positions, there is a lot of added sugar in the bar.
Ideally, you’d like to see the “added sugar” below 5 grams per bar (note that the serving size may not be 1 full bar). This is a nutrition label trick. Some bars list the serving size as ½ a bar. Therefore the numbers you see, such as 4 grams of sugar per serving, need to be doubled.
Some bars are also sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which you want to avoid.
On the other hand, if you still want to get some ‘sweetness’ to your protein bar, look for the following natural sweeteners: dates, stevia, and honey. These are a better option for the following reasons:
- Dates are sweet and will offer the benefits of added fiber. Dates contain micronutrients including magnesium, selenium, potassium as well as Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin C.
- Stevia, which comes from a leaf, is beneficial as it contains no calories, and is 100-300 times sweeter than sugar. Some people notice that Stevia has a bitter aftertaste, so keep that in mind when shopping.
- Honey has been found to regulate appetite hormones, leaving you less hungry than a breakfast sweetened with sucrose.
2. Check The Fats
Many protein bars get their fats from nuts and seeds, this is a good source of fat. Nuts also contain fiber and protein. The combination of healthy fat and fiber will help to slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer.
Try to avoid the bars with trans fats from processed plant oils like palm, canola, or soybean.
3. Ingredients You Can Read
If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or they look foreign to you, that’s not great. If the bar is full of whole food sources, all of the ingredients will be recognizable.
Try for a protein bar with more than 3 grams of fiber.
The fiber will help slow digestion and therefore keep you full longer. It will also slow down the digestion of other carbohydrates (sugars) and help to keep our blood sugar in check.
Some people experience digestive upset after eating too much fiber. If that’s you, then please check out my list of Best Low Fiber Protein Bars, which also includes a list of reasons you’d consider a low fiber bar.
5. Protein Source And Content
Aim for 10 to 30 grams of protein per bar.
Avoid the whey protein bars if you have a dairy allergy.
For those able to consume dairy, whey protein is a great option as it contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This is also true of bars made with egg whites as their protein source.
For those on a plant-based diet, soy or pea protein are good options as they also contain all essential amino acids.
The Best Breakfast Protein Bars
My top 3 choices for protein bars for breakfast are the following:
The ingredients are fruit, nuts, and egg whites. Offering 12 grams of protein from egg whites, 3-5 grams of fiber, and no added sugar, these are a great option, especially for those seeking a non-dairy source of protein. Grab the Blueberry flavor if you love fruit in the morning, or the Chocolate Sea Salt for something decadent.
These bars boast ingredients such as chia, hemp, flax, and quinoa. The protein, from whey, is high at 22 grams per bar. All while offering 4 grams of fiber, lower carbohydrates (20 grams or less), and between 2 and 4 grams of sugar. These bars are gluten-free and have no artificial ingredients (flavors, sweeteners, preservatives) so you’ll have to keep them in your fridge. Opt for the Cinnamon Bun or the Caramel Salted Peanut.
Offering 16 different flavor options all with 20-21 grams of protein (whey), as well as only 1-2 grams of sugar and a whopping 13-16 grams of fiber. Quest bars are also gluten-free. Grab a variety pack to see which you prefer.
Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?
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About The Author
Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist. In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.