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Do Protein Shakes and Bars Help You Reach Your Goals?

May 7, 2024
Do Protein Shakes and Bars Help You Reach Your Goals?

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In this article:

  • Protein is a filling nutrient that can support weight loss.
  • Protein shakes and bars can be convenient and tasty options for getting protein and other nutrients.
  • Shakes and bars are calorie-dense and can contain added sugars and preservatives. They’re often less filling than whole foods.
  • Most people get enough protein from the foods they eat. Lark can help you manage weight with or without GLP-1s as you log food, get tips for eating healthier, and make small changes that can turn into healthy habits.

Getting adequate protein can support weight loss, and manufacturers are quick to claim that protein supplements are the way to go. But is that true? Here’s what you should know about protein’s roles in weight loss, how much you really need, and whether protein shakes and bars are the best sources of protein.

Protein and Weight Loss

Protein is an essential nutrient for every reaction in your body, and it also impacts weight loss. Mayo Clinic points out that protein increases satiety or feelings of fullness. It takes longer to digest than other nutrients. Together, these effects can help you eat fewer total calories, which can help you lose weight.

Protein also helps maintain lean muscle mass which is important for healing and reducing the risk of injuries after workouts. It also helps to maintain g metabolism since muscle tissue burns calories all day. Supporting lean muscle mass is even more critical as you lose weight because you’re likely to lose muscle mass while you’re losing fat as well.

Reasons to Have Protein Shakes and Bars

With all the hype around protein and the variety of available products, it’s easy to see why people turn to protein supplements beyond their protein content.

Here are some reasons why protein shakes, powders, and bars can be attractive.

  • Convenience: They’re easy to carry and consume anywhere just by opening a bar or a shake bottle, or adding some powder to water or another beverage, without needing to cook them
  • Taste: They’re available in a variety of flavors, including sweet flavors like chocolate or vanilla that offer a contrast to savory tastes in whole food protein sources like cottage cheese, chicken, and eggs
  • Nutrition: They often have fiber, vitamins, and minerals added to them, making their nutrition facts labels appear more impressive than food products whose labels don’t include their entire nutrient content
  • Dietary considerations: They can offer specific types of protein like soy, pea, whey, and egg, as well as cater to dietary patterns like low-carb, keto, low-glycemic, or plant-based

Many manufacturers market their bars and shakes as weight loss aids. Their messaging suggests they can be used as a meal or snack replacement and can reduce your calorie consumption.

Disadvantages of Protein Supplements for Weight Loss

Mayo Clinic warns that it may be more sustainable to select nutritious foods than to depend on protein shakes as part of your long-term weight management plan. That may be because they’re less filling than many foods.

Consuming protein shakes and bars can be less satisfying than consuming whole foods. One reason is that protein bars are typically calorie-dense and have more calories than a similar serving of food.

Here’s an example. A protein bar might have 20 grams of protein and 180 calories, and weigh 2 ounces. In comparison, you could get 20 grams of protein from 3 ounces of canned tuna or cooked chicken for under 100 calories. With the remaining 80 calories, you could have a

6-ounce piece of fruit, an 8-ounce green salad, or 4 ounces of cottage cheese. The tuna and accompanying choice might be more filling than a 2-ounce protein bar.

Foods can also be more satisfying than shakes. Chewing whole foods is known to be more satisfying than drinking your calories in liquid form like shakes. Choosing shakes can lead to taking in more calories.

Concerns with Protein Shakes and Bars

Protein shakes and bars can raise concerns, according to Harvard School of Public Health. Many of them are high in sugar, carbohydrates, calories, and saturated fat.

Shakes and bars may contain artificial sweeteners and other processed additives. Bars and shakes that are marketed as “natural” are often high in sugars from sources like dates or other

dried fruit. These sugars have the same effect on your body as other types of sugar. Some natural bars and shakes are lower in protein than other products.

Protein powders that are marketed as dietary supplements have another set of concerns. Dietary supplements are less strictly regulated and inspected than food products. They may contain toxins or impurities.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Do you really need that shake or bar? The recommended amount of protein per day is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 70 grams for someone who weighs 200 pounds.

Most American adults get at least that amount. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that the average American man gets 97 grams of protein daily, while women average 69 grams.

Sample Day with Adequate Protein

Here is an example of how you can achieve 70 grams in a day.

  • Cereal with milk at breakfast (11 grams)
  • 1 ½ cups of bean soup at lunch (15 grams)
  • ½ cup of low-fat cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons of seeds for a snack (18 grams)
  • 3 ounces of fish or chicken at dinner (25 grams)

The above example shows a type of eating pattern that’s feasible for many people. Many people can get enough protein by having a high-protein food at most meals and snacks. Here are some ideas for meals and snacks with protein.

Who Needs More Protein?

Here are examples of groups of people who may have trouble getting enough protein from the foods they consume.

  • People with lower appetites, such as patients undergoing treatment for cancer
  • Patients with malabsorptive disorders or weight loss surgery patients
  • People with higher protein needs, such as elite athletes, pregnant women, burn patients, or surgery patients

Foods with Protein That Aren't Bars or Shakes

Most American adults meet protein needs and get plenty of meat, but they’re low in certain nutritious sources like fish and beans, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Looking for nutritious sources of protein can steer you towards filling, lower-calorie foods that benefit long-term weight management.

Here are examples of high-protein foods that can support weight control.

  • Fish
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Beans and lentils

Skinless chicken

  • Lean ground turkey
  • Tofu and other soy-based foods
  • Reduced-fat dairy products like low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, and nonfat plain yogurt
  • Looking for nutritious sources of protein can also steer you away from high-calorie, low-nutrient foods like cookies, French fries, potato chips, and candy bars.

    Many foods are conducive to getting protein on the go. Here are some convenient sources of protein.

    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Pouch and canned tuna
    • Low-fat cheese and low-fat string cheese sticks
    • Plain yogurt
    • Reduced-fat cottage cheese
    • Nuts
    • Peanuts and peanut butter
    • Nitrate-free turkey slices

    Here are some ideas for nutritious snacks.

    Best Tips for Using Shakes and Bars

    If you want to use protein bars and shakes, consider making your own. That way, you can decide what goes into them. Yogurt and tofu can add protein to shakes, while fruit and greens like spinach can boost fiber and antioxidants. Vanilla, cocoa powder, and cinnamon can add flavor.

    Homemade bars can have ingredients like nuts, peanut butter, bananas, seeds, oats, and oat O’s. Be aware that homemade bars can be high-calorie.

    Here are some tips if you opt for shakes or bars.

    • Check the nutrition facts panel for calories and carbs if you're purchasing them instead of making them
    • Remember that they're typically intended to replace meals or snacks, not to add to meals or snacks
    • Check the content of saturated fat, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients that you're watching

    How Lark Can Help

    Nutritious sources of protein can support weight management, and it’s easier to find the right foods when you have the support you need. Your Lark coach is available 24/7 for nutrition and physical activity coaching and tracking. Lark can help you make healthy choices and establish habits that fit into your lifestyle so you can lose weight and keep it off with or without GLP-1 medications.

    Click here to see if you may be eligible to join Lark today!

    About Lark

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