When to Eat Protein Bars & Shakes

Protein bars and shakes are a convenient way to get in protein when you're on the run. While nutritional supplements should never take the place of whole foods in your diet, there are times when a bar or shake is a perfectly acceptable alternative to food and, in fact, could even be a better choice.

Homemade nut-and-seed energy bars on cutting board
A batch of homemade protein bars on wax paper. (Image: katyenka/iStock/Getty Images)

Running Low

According to sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, sedentary adults need around 0.4 gram of protein per pound of body weight, but athletes and active people need a lot more, at between 0.6 and 0.9 gram per pound per day. Even recreational exercisers need 0.5 to 0.75. Someone who weighs 150 pounds and trains hard, looking to build muscle, needs between 105 and 135 grams per day. If you're struggling to get this much from food alone and reach the end of the day under your target, opt for a bar or shake to help top up your intake.

Building on Breakfast

One of the key components of a healthy breakfast is a protein-dense food, notes nutritionist Ryan Andrews. A shake or a bar can be an acceptable choice if you're in a rush in the mornings and can't spare the time to cook a few eggs or some lean bacon. Try to combine a breakfast bar or shake with something a little more substantial too, such as a piece of fruit or some yogurt, to help keep you going until lunchtime.

It's Workout Time

Drinking a shake or eating a bar around the times you train could be of benefit. Jim Stoppani of the Muscle & Fitness website recommends consuming 20 to 40 grams of protein and 40 to 80 grams of carbs in the 30 minutes before you start your workout, or even while training, and suggests a bar or shake. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Sport notes that a liquid meal like a shake can be useful for providing energy with a low risk of causing gastrointestinal upset.

On the Go

If you're in the car on your way to the gym, dashing between meetings at work or generally struggling to find time to sit down to a full meal, supplements can be handy. Keep a couple of bars or some protein powder in a shaker in your desk at work or in your car so you always have a protein-dense snack nearby and aren't tempted to turn to junk food when hunger kicks in.

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