What comes to mind when you hear the word “carbohydrate?” It’s a dirty word to some, a saving grace to others. Even the fitness world seems to be divided on whether or not carbs should play a part in a healthy diet. As you examine the strict fitness routines of bodybuilders and Crossfitters from different walks of life, it becomes clear that each person’s carbohydrate requirements are different. If you’re here reading this you’re probably following a diet focused on limiting your carb intake, which can make fitting protein bars in and staying compliant difficult. Fortunately, low carb protein bars are becoming easier to come by.
A low carb diet is more than just a trend. Like any other eating plan, the first place to start is by asking questions. How do carbohydrates affect the body, and what health benefits can a low carb diet offer?
First we’ll take a look at our picks for the best low carb protein bars, then we’ll dive into the science behind carbs. If you’re following a keto diet be sure to also check out our list of the best keto meal replacement shakes.
The Best Low Carb Protein Bars and Why We Love Them
The impulse to head over to the drive-thru for a snack fix, especially if you’re trying to get away from an unhealthy lifestyle, can easily steer you away from the eating plan you’ve set for yourself. It’s quick and convenient, and when you’ve just finished a trying day at the office or a parent-teacher conference, the drive-thru can be an attractive option. To keep things low carb (and to save you money), your best bet is to have a low carb, high-protein source on hand for a quick fix.
Most low carb protein bars are tailored specifically towards a particular diet; they’re advertised as “low carb keto protein bars” or “Atkins high-protein bars.” If you’re unsure about a particular kind of protein bar, check the macronutrient ratios: how much protein does it offer compared to its carb content?
As a general rule, the ratio should be 2:1 — two grams of protein for every gram of carbs. Most protein bars don’t fit this bill, however, so we’ve listed a couple of options below with the best protein/carb ratio.
The Atkins Endulge Nutty Fudge Low Carb Brownie Protein Bar is available as an add-on item from Amazon, this protein bar packs 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, with no sugar and only 2 grams of carbs per serving. The best part? The Atkins Endulge Nutty Fudge Low Carb Brownie Protein Bar is much more cost effective than other low carb protein bars you’ll find. This is an easy choice for anyone looking for a delicious low carb protein bar that won’t break the bank.
These low carb protein bars from Quest are a classic choice for those with a sweet tooth. Each bar is soy and gluten-free, contains 21 grams of protein, and is keto-friendly for those following the keto diet. The bar comes in multiple flavors (the most popular of which is chocolate chip cookie dough) and is available on Amazon and in many local grocery stores.
Does It Matter When I Eat My Low Carb Protein Bar?
From a scientific standpoint no – when you decide to eat your low carb protein bar doesn’t matter. There are misconceptions that protein bars need to be eaten after a workout or need to be eaten earlier in the day. The best time to eat a protein bar (low carb or otherwise) is whenever works the best for your diet plan. Remember, protein bars are supposed to be tools that help you meet your fitness goals
If you want to use it before or after your workout to help aid recovery, that’s great. If you’re always on the go and want to eat protein bars to hold you over on your next meal or work as a meal replacement, that’s great too.
Just like with the best keto meal replacement shakes, we don’t recommend that you frequently use protein bars as meal replacements. It’s important to eat enough food so that you don’t damage your metabolism and are able to manage your hunger. Trust me – if you’re starving it’s hard to stick with your diet plan. Replacing meals with even the best low carb protein bars won’t do you much good if you find yourself binging out later in the day.
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and cellulose found in grains, fruits, and veggies. Right off the bat, we have a dilemma: if carbs are the enemy, how can fruits and vegetables be healthy? Carbs fall into two categories: “good” carbs (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and “bad” carbs (refined sugars and processed flours). For those who choose to include carbs in their diets, making the distinction between good and bad carbs is crucial.
Many people prefer to keep their carb intake low regardless of the source. Some avoid carbs based on a doctor’s recommendation, while others have simply noticed a positive difference in the way they feel after trying a low carb diet. Either way, the diet options are virtually limitless.
Tried-and-True Diets vs. Designing Your Own Plan
Maybe you’re looking for a ready-made eating plan with no guesswork involved. In that case, many of the most popular diets (including paleo, keto, and even the South Beach Diet) are great for low carb lifestyles. Some of the benefits of each are listed below.
- Paleo – an eating plan modeled after prehistoric human eating habits. You’re avoiding added sugars and refined foods, including grains, so you’re immediately cutting out a huge source of carbs.
- Keto – a low carb, high-fat diet that’s specifically designed to encourage your body to burn fat, not carbs, as energy. You’re relying primarily on protein and healthy fats like coconut oil and avocado for nutrients. Before you start following a Keto diet make sure you’re aware of these common symptoms of Ketosis.
- Atkins – considered the low carb diet that started it all. With this diet, your eating habits involve high-protein and high-fat with almost no carbs. Healthy carbs (those found in fruits and veggies) are gradually reintroduced.
- South Beach Diet – a modification of a low carb diet. Rather than getting rid of carbs entirely, the South Beach diet focuses on a reasonable quantity of healthy carbs. There are different phases of the diet, and each one involves a good balance of lean protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbs for complete nutrition.
While these diets with meal plans at the ready are helpful to many, some people prefer to create their own low carb meal plans specific to their needs, particularly those who are picky eaters or those who have food allergies. Those with busy lifestyles also need to consider what foods they can realistically prepare and consume on a timetable. That’s where low carb protein bars come in.
Science and Low Carb Diets
Opinions about the importance of carbs in the fitness world seem to be constantly changing. The most recent studies, including one published in August of this year, indicate that moderation is key: high-carb and low carb diets, when followed long-term, have been shown to increase mortality by up to four years. A diet consisting of about 50-55% carbs is best for long-term health, studies are finding.
This new research raises several questions. Why are low carb diets still so popular, and is there any real value to them? Low carb diets do serve a purpose, even if not for the long-term. In the short-term, low carb diets are considered one of the healthiest (and quickest) ways to lose weight. In fact, many diets involve a short period of restricted carb consumption, followed by a gradual reintroduction of healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables in order to ensure you keep the weight off.
Other Reasons to Go Low Carb
A study conducted in 2007 showed that those who began a low carb diet in conjunction with a low-fat diet showed decreased appetites because they automatically consumed fewer calories. Additionally, compared with those who stuck to a low-fat diet, those who consumed fewer carbs lost significantly more body fat in the abdominal region, which is one of the “problem areas” for weight loss. Many people find it difficult to lose weight in the stomach area even with a concerted effort; a low carb diet actually seems to target that area.
For those with Type 2 diabetes, studies have shown that a diet low in carbs can cause blood sugar to drop significantly; in fact, diabetics who take medication to lower their blood sugar should speak with their doctors before beginning a low carb diet, because the dosage generally needs to be lowered by as much as 50% when carbs are cut out.
Many people are aware that the keto diet is (and has been) used to treat epilepsy in children who did not respond favorably to traditional medications. Now, diets low in carbs are being studied as possible solutions for other brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
And of course, a low carb diet can aid in the prevention of certain conditions, not just the treatment. Just about any diet designed to help you lose weight, as is often the primary goal of low carb diets, can help prevent and even reverse the effects of such conditions as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure. The potential for health restoration is enormous.
Quitting Carbs Cold Turkey?
One of the biggest downsides reported by people switching to a low carb diet is the tendency to fall back into old eating habits by binging on carbs. This is especially common for those who lower their carb intake suddenly and significantly – for example, going from a Big Mac every other day to a purely protein and fat-based diet. For some people, quitting carbs cold turkey is effective. For most, however, a number of other possibilities exist. Carbs may turn into the enemy, and they’ll no longer derive any joy from eating. They may do well with the diet for a few weeks and then binge on carbs at a family event. Or, they may be so hung up on their body’s lack of carbs (the fuel source) that they aren’t careful to consume an appropriate amount of protein and healthy fats in the absence of carbs, and their health fails as a result. Reduced carb doesn’t mean zero carb. Unless you’ve been instructed by a doctor to keep your carb consumption extremely low, it’s important to include reasonable portions of healthy carbs in your diet.
Make It Your Own
Now that you’ve done the research, it’s time to make some decisions for yourself. Consider whether you want to try an established diet like paleo or keto, or whether you’re setting your own rules about what foods to eat. Know yourself enough to set realistic goals, and don’t deny yourself the occasional treat. Above all else, it’s important to keep in mind that food is fuel, not the enemy.