This is an interesting question that many people have posed on various forums. Can you actually replace an entire meal with a protein bar? The answer is yes, no, maybe, and depends on the bar.
Why so many answers? Really it is not that simple of a question. But let’s look at it from all angles and try and determine which of these answers applies depending on the situation.
What is a Meal?
When you look at any meal it should be considered as a single part of your entire eating plan for the day. During the day you want to take in X amount of calories and X amount of grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Along with these basics you are also looking to get large amounts of vitamins and nutrients into your system.
Different meals have different goals. For breakfast your body really needs carbohydrates and protein because your system was in hibernation mode while you slept. Before a workout you want energy and after a workout you need protein and nutrients to help rebuild and restore. Generally dinner is a smaller and lighter affair so you don’t overload on calories before you sleep.
How a Bar Fits In
So looking at the idea of a meal, it depends which meal you are looking to replace to whether or not it makes sense. On top of that, there are a lot of protein bars available so it depends on which one as to how effective it will be as a replacement.
For breakfast, it is hard to compare oats, eggs, and fresh fruit to a protein bar because that is a lot of nutrition and nutrients. Bu compared to a quick snack of a yogurt or cottage cheese that bar measures up more evenly. By the same token if you need a snack before bed why not indulge in a nice blast of protein to digest and replenish stores while sleeping.
Comparing Protein Bars
Not all bars are created equally. Some are touted as just protein bars. Others are mal replacement bars, pre-workout bars, and post-workout bars. Some people looking to lose weight try and use protein bars as a pure meal replacement to cut calories and fat. But again, depending on which meal, it doesn’t always make sense.
- Nutribar (Stella Pharm) – This is a solid bar with 250 calories, 13 grams of protein, 32 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of fat. It is a nice ratio for a snack replacement, pre-workout energy booster, or something to enjoy while on a long hike or bike ride.
- Protein Plus (MET-Rx) – Serious protein here with 34 grams along with 29 grams of carbs and 8 grams of fat to go with 320 calories. This is pretty close to a solid meal replacement. Honestly if you add some fresh fruit for vitamins and nutrients then you are pretty much there for lunch and dinner.
- Balance Outdoors (Balance) – This is another energy bar like the Nutribar with a solid 200 calories with 15 grams of protein, 21 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of fat. Is a lighter version with less energy but still not a full meal.
These three are fairly typical of the market. Other great protein bars include the Myoplex by EAS, PowerBar (more nutrients), Solid Protein by Nature’s Best, and Source One by MET-Rx (more vitamins and nutrients).
The bottom line is that yes they can replace certain meals, but no, they shouldn’t consistently be used to replace all meals. If you try and replace too many meals you will miss out on a lot of natural goodness from fresh fruits and vegetables. Plus you need to look at the variances between bars and match them up properly because it depends on the bar as to how you use it.