For sophomore Noah Klein, the best part of going to the gym is leaving it.
The 22-year-old, who works out six days a week and two to three hours a day, gets so hungry sometimes that he has to finish his workout early.
“The first thing I want to do is eat,” said Klein, who is also a Marine. “I need something meaty, like Chinese food.”
But when Chinese is not on the menu, he reaches for the next best thing: a protein bar.
“I wouldn’t eat them normally, but you have to have lot of protein when you’re working out,” he said.
Protein bars have long been used by athletes who want to maintain a high level of energy while working out. Millions of Americans recently have been eating these nutrition bars outside of the gym in hopes to cut calories and lose weight. More than $1.4 billion was spent on bars last year, according to ConsumerReports.org.
But is the bar all it’s wrapped up to be?
Health experts don’t seem to think so.
Nicole Hilburt, a clinical dietician at Temple Hospital, said most of these bars are now being advertised to people who want to lose weight. People eat them as meal replacements to avoid binging later in the day.
“Society is driven by what’s popular,” Hilburt said. “These bars are quick fixes and do not promote long-term health.”
Klein said he likes Detour bars, which contain 310 calories and have nine grams of fat and 30 grams of protein. The average cost of a nutrition bar is between $1 and $2.
“They taste like Snickers bars,” he said. “They’re delicious.”
With the exception of the protein content, many nutrition bars are not that different from candy bars, according to Hilburt. A Snickers bar contains 280 calories, 14 grams of fat and four grams of protein.
“Nutrition bars may be high in protein, but they are still a processed food,” she said. “That means they’re still high in fat, sugar and salt. You may as well eat a candy bar. They taste better.”
Stacey Long, a trainer at Center City’s 12th Street Gym, agreed that nutrition bars are “glorified candy bars.”
The 41-year-old Tae Bo instructor said she rarely eats protein bars, but will munch on a ProMax bar between workouts if she is hungry and cannot get a meal. ProMax bars contain 270 calories, five grams of fat and 20 grams of protein. Long said she prefers to stick to yogurt or fruit.
“You should really try not to make it a habit,” she said.
Nutrition bars have many different names: protein, energy, meal-replacement and breakfast. But despite the names, most of these bars are high in protein, calories, fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrates.
There also are bars tailored to meet the specific needs of women, which include consuming more amounts of calcium and folic acid. The Luna bar, which is a product of Clif Bars Inc., boasts high amounts of calcium and is the leading brand of nutrition bar geared toward women.
Multivitamins, like Centrum, are a much better solution to a lack of vitamins in a woman’s diet, according to Hilburt. Multivitamins, she said, contain zero calories and all of the nutrition a woman would need.
“You don’t need a bar for that,” she said. “If you want extra calcium, drink OJ, milk or eat some yogurt.”
Even celebrities have cashed in on the protein snack craze. Sylvester Stallone has recently launched Instone, the actor’s new line of protein shakes, pills and protein pudding. The pudding contains 20 grams of protein, two grams of carbohydrates and two grams of fat. Instone “delivers products that are uncomplicated and more convenient to use thereby helping people stay committed to their health and fitness goals,” according to Instonenutrition.com.
“Peanut butter, crackers and cheese can give you everything you need if you’re looking for protein or a nutritious snack,” Hilburt said. “They’re [protein snacks] just unnecessary.”
“To be healthy you need to exercise, modify your diet and your eating habits,” she said. These diet fads do not teach people how to live healthy lifestyles.”
Nina M. Sachdev can be reached at email@example.com.