Can Protein Bars Be Eaten in the Morning?

Camille Freking, MS Translational Pharmacology and Clinical Research
Can Protein Bars Be Eaten in the Morning?

Mornings are often extremely hectic in today’s fast-paced world. It can seem impossible to find the time to make a healthy breakfast to fuel your work day. 

Recent polls looking into the subject have found some disturbing realities. Roughly 64 percent of working Americans are so busy during the day that they sometimes have to skip a meal. About 57 percent are too busy to make a healthy breakfast in the morning on work days. As a result, it’s estimated that about one in five people skip breakfast altogether. 

Several negative consequences can happen when we skip meals. The body can lower its metabolic rate, so you’ll burn fewer calories. Not only can that make you feel sluggish on days you skip meals, but it can cause weight gain when you return to a normal eating schedule. 

You don’t necessarily need a full-course meal for breakfast. A quick and simple snack in the morning is all your body needs to avoid experiencing these potential issues. For the best results, look for a breakfast option full of protein. 


Why Is Breakfast So Important?

You’ve probably heard breakfast referred to as “the most important meal of the day.” A moniker like that might sound like hyperbole, but breakfast really is that crucial. The reason is in the word itself: you’re breaking your overnight fast.

The brain doesn’t stop working when you go to sleep at night. Your brain is working hard while you’re sleeping. During this time, short-term memories are converted to long-term memories, toxins are flushed out of the brain, neurons are reorganized, cells are repaired, and hormones are created. 

Each of these important functions requires energy to perform. The brain will be using up a ton of energy, nutrients, and water while you’re asleep. Unless you have a serious sleepwalking disorder, you likely won’t eat or drink during this time. That means the brain and body will use up the supplies in your body for several consecutive hours.

The first thing you eat after waking up breaks your sleep-induced fast. During this meal, you’ll have the first opportunity to replenish the supplies used at night. It’s often why you wake up hungry or thirsty after a long night of sleep. Skipping breakfast delays the chance to resupply your body and brain.


Why Do You Need Protein During Breakfast? 

Now that you know why breakfast is so important to your health, we can talk about how to build the best breakfast. You probably already know that cereal using cartoon mascots isn’t quite the healthiest way to start your day. 

These cereals (along with most breakfast bars, granola, or “breakfast” chocolate chip cookies) are often loaded with refined carbohydrates and added sugars while offering virtually no nutritional value. You might get a jolt of energy from all of the sugar, but there are much better ways to start your day. 

If you know anything about England, you probably know that our friends across the pond are extremely passionate about their breakfast — but the traditional English breakfast is a lot different than an American one

English breakfasts typically include fried eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, black pudding (blood wurst), toast, fried mushrooms, and fried tomatoes washed down with coffee, tea, or water. Finishing just one serving of an English breakfast can be challenging for even people with huge appetites. 

You probably noticed that most of the foods listed in that diet are packed with protein. The reason is that eating protein can help you to feel full for much longer than carbohydrates or fat

A breakfast high in protein can make it much easier to make it to lunch without having to stop for a snack along the way. Nothing makes being at work worse than when you’re hungry and still have hours before lunch. 

While there’s nothing wrong with a healthy snack at work, it’s easier to simply load up on protein for breakfast. The problem is that it's not always possible when pressed for time. 

Pro tip: If you are a vegan, many of these high-protein foods are not an option. Opt for apple slices dipped in peanut butter or almond butter, or use a plant-based protein powder to round out your protein intake in a simple shake.


Can You Eat a Protein Bar for Breakfast?

Cooking a traditional English breakfast isn’t an easy option for most mornings. It would take a very long time to cook up all the ingredients and maybe even longer to eat them all. 

Most days, you’ll probably have to settle for something much faster and more convenient. Many people are tempted to choose cereal, pastries, doughnuts, or bagels specifically for their convenience. 

While these popular breakfast foods might be convenient and tasty, they’re loaded with sugar and offer virtually nothing from a nutritional standpoint. Instead, consider avoiding the sugar bombs and opt for a more nutritionally dense option like a protein bar for your first meal of the day.

It’s important to note that protein bars shouldn’t be viewed as an all-time replacement for your breakfast. Ideally, you should strive for a well-balanced breakfast that includes a variety of lean protein, egg whites, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

The essential nutrients in these foods can’t be provided by any energy bar, so you may miss out on some of the health benefits that whole, fresh breakfast-time foods can provide. However, if you’re in a time crunch, then a protein bar is a better option among a sea of overly processed convenience foods.

The thing is that you can’t just settle for any protein bar. A lot of them out there are only slightly better than the unhealthy options we mentioned earlier. For that reason, it’s important to be very selective about the protein bar you choose to eat.

Here are a few of the most important things that you should keep in mind when looking for a protein bar: 


What Type of Protein Does It Use?

You’ve probably seen the word “whey” in various ads for protein bars, powders, and supplements. Whey protein is generally considered more satiating than casein protein or soy protein. In other words, eating a protein bar that uses whey protein can help keep you feeling fuller for longer. 

The thing is that there are many different types of whey protein. A protein bar with whey protein is a good start, but you may want to check to see if it’s “grass-fed” whey. Grass-fed whey typically contains a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins when compared to other versions of whey protein. 


How Much Protein Does It Have?

You don’t need to get an English breakfast's worth of protein from your protein bar. However, you do want to get the most “bang for your buck,” so to speak. 

Remember that if you don’t eat protein in the morning, you’ll likely get hungry before lunch. A protein bar that features at least 10 to 15 grams of protein is a good way to start your day off right. 


Is It High in Fiber?

A well-balanced diet recommends includes a decent amount of carbohydrates in each meal — about 60 grams on average, to be exact. 

Carbs can make you feel full as they can lower the amount of ghrelin in your blood

Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” because it tells your brain you’re hungry. The stomach releases ghrelin when it’s empty, and your brain signals that you need to eat soon. While you may have heard that it is ideal to choose low-carb options, carbohydrates are essential.

The thing about eating carbs to satisfy hunger is that some types of carbs are much better than others. Refined carbs (like the ones found in white flour, white bread, sugary cereals, doughnuts, etc.) are easily digested by your body — a little too easily. The stomach is quickly emptied, and the ghrelin starts flowing sooner than later. 

On the other hand, complex carbs take a lot longer to break down and digest. One of the best examples of this is fiber. 

The human body has a hard time digesting fiber. While that sounds bad, it helps to limit the release of ghrelin while also helping to keep things moving properly in the digestive tract. Eating protein and fiber first thing in the morning can go a long way toward keeping you full well into your day. Try to look for a protein bar with at least five grams of fiber or more.

Some examples of healthy fiber include whole-grain rolled oats, brown rice, gluten-free amaranth, and sweet potatoes.


Does It Have Any Added Sugar?

The next time you’re in your local grocery store, you should visit the breakfast food aisle and read some nutritional labels. You will probably be blown away by how much sugar is added to these foods. Even the “healthy” ones can sneak in a ton of added sugar. It’s likely to be an eye-opening experience. 

The thing about sugar is that you are almost guaranteed to get more than your daily recommended (maximum) value of it throughout the day without even trying. Really, sugar is in pretty much everything you eat. Your body is extremely good at digesting and using natural sugars to give you energy. 

The ideal protein bar will have as little sugar as possible, which will also help to limit the total calories. But this doesn’t mean the bar has to be bland! To increase their palatability, many high-quality snack bars will include dark chocolate, maple syrup (or other natural sweeteners), sea salt, vanilla extract, nut butter, and more.


What’s the Fat Ratio?

Fat has a notoriously bad reputation, but it’s actually something that you need to eat as part of a balanced diet. Fat is a macronutrient (just like protein and carbohydrates), and your body uses it for several important functions. The thing is that there are several different types of fat. 

The easiest way to look at fat is that saturated fat is bad and unsaturated fat is good. It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s a good starting point. 

Try to look for a protein bar with more unsaturated healthy fat than saturated fat. The higher the ratio between the two of them, the better. Try to keep the total fat content between six and nine grams, with most of it being unsaturated. 


Start Your Day Off Right With Plenty of Protein

In a perfect world, we would have time to prepare a nice hearty breakfast each morning. Combining lean proteins, complex carbs such as fiber, and a little fat is the perfect way to start your day. Unfortunately, that’s not a reasonable possibility for most people. Finding the time to eat anything, let alone a wholesome, nutritious, and delicious meal, can be difficult. 

The good news is that you can still get a healthy dose of macronutrients even when in a hurry. Eating a protein bar that uses grass-fed whey protein, has plenty of fiber, and has a high ratio of unsaturated fat can function as the occasional substitute for breakfast. Bonus points if your protein bar can give you all these nutrients without adding in a ton of sugar!

Looking for more informational articles like this? Explore the MOSH wellness blog here!



What Are Macronutrients | Heart Matters Magazine | BHF

RANKED: These Are the Breakfast Cereals With the Least Sugar | Business Insider

Fiber | The Nutrition Source | Harvard School of Public Health

How Leptin and Ghrelin Control Weight Loss | Endocrine Web

Protein – Which is Best? | PMC

The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations | NCBI Bookshelf

Traditional English Breakfast | Historic UK

How Your Body Uses Calories While You Sleep | Sleep Foundation

Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day? | Cleveland Clinic

Perils of Skipping Meals | University of Louisville

Morning Rush: 1 in 4 Say They Never Have Time To Make Breakfast | Study Finds

Carb Counting Nutrition Guide | University Hospitals

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