Time to put the Sugar back in Protein Bars?

Time to put the Sugar back in Protein Bars?

Woah hang on a minute? More sugar in our protein bars? Stay with me.

Too much sugar is bad for you. That isn’t a news to anyone. Sugar, especially simple added sugars like refined  (granulated, demerara etc) or high-fructose corn syrup can play havoc with your body composition, mood and energy levels, not to mention that over-consumption can lead to diabetes.

Whether it’s low sugar protein bars (like our own bar) or high protein flapjack bars, the latest trend is ‘low-sugar’, and not without good reason. These low sugar bars typically contain 2 grams of sugar or less and around 20 grams of protein. As a post workout or dieting snack they offer a few convenient health benefits and are perfect for popping in your bag when you're rushing around.

Now I’m not going to claim for a second that it’s time to ditch low sugar protein bars and go back glorified high-protein Mars Bars with a million grams of protein. No, if you’re looking for a diet protein bar to snack on through the day then true, you probably don’t need extra sugar.

On the other hand, if you’ve just smashed it at the gym, a little bit sugar might actually be a good thing, but before we get to that...

Why is Sugar Bad for you?

First up let’s cover why consuming sugar is such a big bad food bogeyman and shed some light on why low sugars snacks are such a big deal for dieting.


Sugar can really throw your mood out of whack. When you consume sugar, it provides a big burst of energy which in turn sends your blood-sugar levels through the roof. Your body’s insulin response will do it’s best to bring down your blood-sugar levels….You’ve probably experienced the crash that comes after eating sugar. The sugar-crash is not fun.

However, when you’re blood sugar levels are low (after exercise), this issue is mitigated somewhat, and it’ll actually help your blood-sugar levels normalise (as long as you don’t have too much!)

Weight Gain

Eating a lot of sugar can make you fat.

The mechanisms of how sugar works is a little bit too complex for this article, but there are three ‘simple sugars’ and they each function in distinct ways (see this article from Healthline).

Simple sugars that aren’t quickly used by the body are converted into fat by insulin, as it does it's best to reduce your blood sugar levels.

Fructose, one of the three simple sugars, is one of the worst offenders. When you consume large amounts of fructose your liver responds by releasing triglyceride fats into your blood which can have a negative affect on physical performance and blood pressure. Physical activity promotes the production of lipoprotein lipase (LPD), an enzyme which allows your body to absorb those fats and use them as energy.


Diabetes rates have doubled over the past 20 years. Wow.

While this can’t be entirely attributed to sugar, it’s definitely part of the problem.

Prolonged consumption of high-sugar foods can cause your body to become resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood-sugar levels in your body leading to diabetes. For the most part diabetes is a manageable disease, it can also be fatal if not managed correctly through diet or medication.

You haven’t convinced me sugar has a place in Healthy snacks...

Hang on, let me get there.

That's the negative stuff out of the way.
In the right situation, a little bit of sugar can be just what you need. Here's why.

Carbohydrates are an Excellent Fuel Source

Sugar is part of the macronutrient family of carbohydrates. Broadly speaking carbs are made up of sugar, starch and dietary fibre. Starches should make up the largest part of our carbohydrates intake, and are usually the largest part of our diet, generally speaking.

Both of these forms of carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy. Starches are absorbed relatively slowly and are considered low-GI foods, that don’t raise your blood-sugar levels quickly, while sugars as we’ve already discussed raise your blood-sugar levels very rapidly.

Fibre can Counteract some of the Bad Stuff

Only a few grams of fibre in your meal or protein bar can go a long way to mitigating the immediate health issues caused by sugar. Fibre slows down the digestion of high-GI (high glycemic index) foods which cause a rapid increase in your blood sugar levels. This is one of the reasons why most fruits are unlikely to elicit as strong a blood-sugar spike as the simple sugars used to sweets or cakes.

Oats are an excellent source of fibre, which is one of the reasons why we use them in our range.

After Exercise Snacking: The Right Time for Sugar.

I’m going to get a little sciencey here, but I’ll try to keep it as straightforward as possible. Stick with me.

When our body needs energy, such as when contracting our muscles during exercise it’s go-to energy source is glycogen. Stored in the liver and our muscles, glycogen comes primarily from sugars and carbohydrates that we eat.

Strenuous exercise will rapidly deplete your body’s stores of glycogen, at which point it will begin burning fat instead of carbohydrates. While this is great for fat burning, your performance will begin to suffer fairly quickly and eventually you 'hit the wall' or ‘bonk’.

For recovery to start effectively, your muscles need to have enough glycogen to get to work and start to repairing process, before protein synthesis can begin to work effectively. Even worse, your muscles can turn to proteins for glycogen-recovery, robbing your muscles of the resources they need to rebuild and gain more strength.

If you want some serious reading on this subject, check out this article by J Sports Sci Med. I

To maximise recovery you need a source of high-GI carbohydrates to quickly spike your blood sugar levels and recover your muscles glycogen.

That doesn’t Mean You Should Binge

Before you start knocking back the cans of coke post workout it’s important to stress you don’t don’t need that much sugar. 20g grams of sugar will be more than enough to kickstart the process before the slower-acting carbohydrates and whey protein can get into action.

Arguably, there’s some evidence to suggest that if you’ve really pushed yourself, you can easily get away with consuming up to 100 grams of sugar although this seems excessive, and is only applicable if you've really pushed it, say marathon levels of exertion.

More Sugar?

Clearly, more sugar in our protein bars isn’t a cut and dry question. In fact, I bet most of you still think it’s a bad idea. If you’re looking for a snack to get you by between meals, you definitely don’t need any extra sugar.

On the other hand, getting a reasonable amount of sugar after a big workout, bike-ride or run is far more important than we often accept.

While most protein bars (including our low sugar bar) contain less than 2 g of sugar, a little more definitely wouldn't hurt.