Protein Powder & Bars: Good or Bad?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.


Breaking news!


Did you hear?


Cheerios with protein really doesn’t have much protein!





With all the emphasis on the subject in mainstream news media, you would have thought someone had discovered the cure for cancer or something.


Nope, not quite the case.


In essence: General Mills is facing a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, secondary to the cereal maker’s ‘false claims’ and misleading advertising that its hottest new cereal on the market—Cheerios with protein—really only has more sugar than its other siblings, not protein (Cheerios, Cinnamon Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, etc.)


Even though a regular serving of Cheerios technically contains only 3 grams of protein, and there are a whopping 7 grams in a single serving of Cheerios Protein… look at the back of both labels, and you may notice another difference:


  • a serving of regular Cheerios is 3/4 a cup;
  • a serving of Cheerios Protein? A cup and a half.


Do the math.



Practically the same (amount of protein).


While this claim does have some validity for consumer well-being (i.e. lying and false advertising is not cool), is it really breaking news?


Seriously people.


If you were reaching for protein, were you hoping that some O-shaped cardboard sweetened with corn syrup, refiner’s syrum, malodextrin ,brown sugar, carmelized sugar syrup, rice starch, honey, caramel and plain ol’ sugar, was going to do the trick?


Try again. You are the Weakest Link, good-bye.


Nevertheless, as absurd (and somewhat humorous) as this notion may sound (i.e. it’s like the lady suing McDonald’s for serving burning hot coffee that she spilled on herself)…don’t laugh so fast.


After all, you, too, may very well be the ‘victim’ of what is known as “false advertising” in the health industry…and not even realize it—in the name of “healthy eating”, body-building, “bulking up” and simply “recovering from a workout.”


I’m talking your beloved protein powders and protein bars (a.k.a.=false advertising).


[Disclaimer: I’m not talking about ALL protein powders and bars (see below resources for several higher quality brands and recommendations), but generally speaking to the powders and pills and bars you grab pre- or post-workout in order to “take advantage of that 30-minute window”, “prevent muscle loss”, or “fuel up” in order to get your pump on]


Before we explore the pros and cons of protein powder and bars, it’s first important to take a look at how much protein do we really need in a day?


Unfortunately, just like our protein powder and bar options, the consensus is a mixed bag:


According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you only need 5 ounces of protein per day. One typical serving of a chicken breast, steak or fish—served most anywhere— is approximately 6 ounces.


Protein Recommendations from NASM (National Academy of Sports)-one of the most reputable fitness authorities out there—prescribe Protein needs to be varied, depending on the individual’s sports and endeavors, including:

  • Endurance exercise-1.0 g/kg to 1.6 g/kg per day depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise
  • Strength/power exercise typically range from 1.6 to 2.0 g/kg/day.
  • Athletes involved in exercise activities that are intermittent in nature (e.g., soccer, basketball etc.)- 1.4–1.7 g/kg.


And, protein prescriptions from Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain and Brain Maker, suggest, a balanced diet that takes in 60-70% of its calories from fat, with the remaining 20-30% coming from protein, and 10-20% from carbs; that’s about 0.8 – 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for ‘optimal’ health.


With so many varying opinions, if you are looking for a definitive answer as to how much protein you need, it looks like you are pretty much left in the dark when it comes to the figuring out the perfect amount.


However, chances are, if you are reading this post, I will assume you are somewhat interested in your health and well-being—feeling amazing in your own skin, and taking the best care of your bod as you can.


That being said, we’ll take an average of the above numbers, and say as a baseline, you need about 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight each day—without necessarily factoring your exercise or body composition goals in.


Meaning, if you are a 140 lbs. individual, you need approximately 64-76 grams of protein each day (or about 20-25 grams of protein each meal) as a foundation.


120 lbs.? About 54 grams as a minimum.


160 lbs.? 73 grams total as a base.


So how do you get that amount in?


Of course, there are eggs, steak, and chicken…


But what if you’re on the go? Or you also workout?


Protein powder and bars are the easy answer, right?!


After all, for years—ever since you’ve been aware of the health, wellness and fitness world, you’ve heard that protein powder is an essential component of a smart nutrition routine (from strength gains, to weight and hunger management, a quick breakfast, and everything in between).


Quest bars satisfy a sweet tooth, while fulfilling our protein needs. Powders in our green smoothies give us more balance to an otherwise sugary start to our day (lots of fruit). A chocolate protein shake helps conquer cravings at nighttime, instead of reaching for ice cream. Protein bars and shakes just sound healthy—so they must be, right?


Not always.


Unfortunately, many of us rely on fake sources of food (protein, bars, etc.) with names of ingredients we can’t pronounce and claims that they will make us ‘stronger, fitter, healthier…only to leave us…


  • Still striving to make ‘gains’;
  • Wondering why the ‘secret sauce’ is not working;
  • Bloated;
  • Constipated;
  • With skin breakouts;
  • Shelling out $40-$100/month on supplements alone;
  • And/or unfulfilled (not fully satisfied)


While bars and shakes can have a place in our diets, they should not make up the bulk of your nutrients and caloric intake if you really want the ‘slight edge’ on your competitors.


Here’s why:




If there is one thing  the health and fitness world can agree on, it is that processed foods are not good for us.


No one in their right mind is going to recommend that you load up on Pop-tarts, hydrate with Coca Cola or and down a bowl of ‘hearty’ Cocoa Puffs if you want to improve performance, increase strength or simply have more energy in the day.


So why is it that we think that anything with a label that says: “More protein” (i.e. Cheerios) or “Strength building” or “Burn fat” falls within the realm of ‘acceptable foods’?


Have you ever considered this oxymoron:


Health and vitamin stores are actually one of the unhealthiest ‘supermarkets’ on the planet.


Walk into any conventional pop-up vitamin store or supplement shop and you are BOMBARDED with choices:


Chocolate Milkshake. Tropical Vanilla. Berry Zest. Peaches & Cream. Oreo.


Can anyone say: Grown-up ‘candy’ (i.e. processed foods)?


In fact: addicting grown-up candy.


Americans spend more than $3 billion each year on sports nutrition powders and formulas according to Nutrition Business Journal.


While many of these formulas and powders are “sugar free”—typically enhanced with artificial sweeteners—flip over to read the back of the label and answer this pop-question:


What is…


Whey peptides?

Acesulfame Potassium?

Cocoa Processed with Alkali?


And the lucrative “Natural and Artificial Flavors”?


(Pen drop.)


Ya. I don’t know either.


Protein powders are highly processed and typically heated to the point that the protein is denatured, which makes it practically impossible for the body to recognize and use.


The result equals higher levels of acidity and toxicity in the body.


Filled with preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allergens like dairy (whey protein isolate) and soy, and other synthetic toxins like aspartame, saccharin, and artificial flavors, the ingredients are a far, far cry from the basic building blocks (straight up amino acids) your bod needs to repair, rebuild and sustain the structure of your cells and muscle gains.


And even though protein powder is seemingly nowhere near a processed protein source like Cheerios Protein (something most of us would not ever even think about consuming), here we go again, falling for the claims that protein powder is, hands down, a “healthy” option if we want to be “healthier”, improve our ‘gains’, feel and look our best…


Quite the contrary, it could very well be making us sick.


A study from Consumer Reports actually revealed that many protein powders on the market contain dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals — specifically arsenic, cadmium and lead.



For instance, Muscle Milk samples contained all the heavy metals mentioned: lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury with the daily recommended serving yielding 5.5 micrograms of cadmium (5 micrograms is the safe limit), 13.5 micrograms of lead (10 micrograms is the USP safe limit), and 12.2 micrograms of arsenic.


These heavy metals are essentially: No bueno.

  • Lead intake is linked to headaches, abdominal pain, impaired memory, male reproductive problems, and weakness, pain or tingling in the extremities.


  • Cadmium is associated with kidney damage, since it can take 20 years for the body to eliminate even half the cadmium absorbed today.


  • Arsenic has been pegged as a “cancer causing” agent of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidneys, as well as heart disease.


  • And, mercury acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system; it can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and numbness of the fingers and toes.


That’s a lot of side effects!


In addition, most every brand on the mainstream market out there contains some sort of artificial sweetener, ‘artificial flavor’ or even high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, some of them even list cookie crumbs as an ingredient- making it really challenging to believe any marketing pitch of a protein shake being ‘healthy’ seriously.


Artificial sweeteners are another topic for another day, but long story short, several side effects include:

  • headaches,
  • nausea,
  • change in heart rate,
  • depression,
  • impaired memory,
  • abdominal and joint pains,
  • insomnia and sleep problems,
  • change in vision


…Just to name a few.


And, just this past year, several lawsuits have come into the public eye, with allegations that several protein companies have false claims around the amount of protein in their products—for example, a lab test of MusclePharm’s “Arnold Scharzenegger Series Iron Mass” that revealed that just 19 of the promised 40 grams of protein were present, according to exhibits in the lawsuit.


Another report by Consumer Lab, revealed false-advertising problems with several popular brands, including:


  • A protein powder from a popular brand was missing 16 grams of protein per scoop — the majority of the protein it claimed to provide. Instead, it contained an extra 16 grams of carbohydrates (including an extra 3 grams of sugar)
  • A powdered meal replacement shake was contaminated with 12.7 mg of lead per serving
  • A popular protein energy meal with spirulina had an extra 6.7 grams of carbohydrates (including an extra 4 grams of sugar) and an additional 25.7 calories per serving
  • A protein powder, claiming 0 cholesterol really had 10.2 mg, and another claiming 5 mg of cholesterol actually had 14.2 mg


In other words: No bueno.


What you see is not what you always get.


So What Do I Eat or Drink Post-Workout or on the go?

The verdict (an unsexy answer): REAL FOOD IS ALWAYS BEST.


No matter if you workout or just live life—your body knows and recognizes a handful of pulled chicken or pork, eggs, almond butter, tuna salad, or a ‘real foods’ smoothie way better than it does packaged, processed fake protein ‘candy.’



Check it out:


  • One 3.5 oz. serving of chicken alone boasts 30 grams of protein; a chicken thigh, 10 grams.


  • A 4 oz. hamburger patty has 28 grams of protein; and 6 oz. steak, 42 grams.


  • 4 oz. of pork loin equates 29 grams of protein.


  • And, 1 egg alone has 6 grams (make an omelet with 2-4 eggs).


Nevertheless, with a WIDE ARRAY of protein powders available on the market, and for convenience sake, if protein powder IS your best bet or go-to protein-source of choice, there ARE some options, and there is ONE question you should ask yourself, no matter what brand you try:


How does it make me feel?


How is your digestion impacted (Positively? Negatively? Neutral?)


Protein powders are often linked to gas, bloating and constipation.


Why all the digestive woes?


The most popular versions of protein contain whey—a derivative from milk and dairy—and unfortunately most adults’ guts lack the enzymes to properly digest this little booger.


Even if your powder claims it is “lactose free” (safe for those who are lactose intolerant), the problem with this is that even a small amount of lactose (milk-sugar) can be enough to set off a chain reaction of health problems.


For those who are lactose intolerant (yes, you probably are if you’re not a baby or not choosing raw, whole, unprocessed versions of dairy), just that small amount of lactose found in whey goes undigested in your digestive tract and trigger excessive activity with bacteria in your gut.


The result? Yup: bloating, distended stomach, and gassiness.


Lactose aside, back to point one above: the laundry list of un-prounounceable ingredients=a rough time for your digestive system.


As for “vegan proteins”, like soy-based powders, it is a similar story. Many if these proteins are hexane extracted (hexane, as in gasoline) and the same story results: not pretty. ,


Some “better choices” (meaning: the least amount of processed ingredients; sweetened with stevia—a more natural sweetener) with which I’ve experimented (and referred to clients) include:


Wild Whey


Revive RX Protein


Natural Stacks 2:1 Collagen: Whey Blend


Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein 


PaleoPro Beef/Egg White Isolate Protein


Great Lake Beef Gelatin


Vital Protein Collagen


As for protein bars, here are some options:


RX Bars




Exo Cricket Flour Protein Bars (Try a small variety pack of Exo Bars for $10.)


Paleo Life Bars


Perfect Bars


Tanka Bars & Epic Bars


Paleo Protein Bars


But what about Quest Bars?!

If you want to eat packaged food with only ingredients that have been picked from a tree or the ground, these bars are probably not for you. Quest Bars are more processed and contain some ingredients that you may not have heard of. The worst offender though? Artificial sweetener. However, you do have some options—some flavors without sucralose include:



A little “dirt never hurt” and if a Quest Bar happens to be your “dirt” then so be it.


The bottom line?


Food ACTUALLY impacts how you FEEL and your resultsit’s not just about the taste, or what you’ve been told foods will do for you (ex. “you must drink this pre-workout powder OR protein powder post-workout”, or “protein powder is the way to fight cravings”, or “avoid sugar by using articficial sweeteners”, etc.).


When consuming your powder of choice—really dig deep and ask yourself: how does this powder or bar make me feel? Help me recover? Am I just drinking it to drink it? Or am I ending up in the bathroom, after nearly pooping my pants every time I consume it? Do I feel bloated much of the day? Have I seen a difference in my strength, body composition or recovery (for the better) from it?


Be mindful of what it is you are consuming.


Not all protein powders are created equal.


You may be ‘smarter’ than to fall for the Cheerios Protein health claims, but use that same noggin of yours to invest and consume quality drinks if you so choose.


Oh yeah…and eat real food.


If you want a quick grab-and-go meal or snack, try one of these smoothie recipes:


Whole Foods Smoothie



¾ cup unsweet coconut milk or almond milk or water

1-2 fruits of choice (½ cup frozen strawberries/blueberries, ½ orange, ½ banana, mixed berries, peach, kiwi, etc.)

1 cup spinach or other greens of choice

2 pasture-raised eggs (yes real protein) OR 1-2 TBSP Collagen or Hemp protein


½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract or half a vanilla pod like this (adds amazing taste and contains no nasties – but only suitable for high speed blenders)

¼ teaspoon Cinnamon

Healthy Fat: (¼ cup almonds, chia seeds, or pumpkin seeds; or 1 tbsp nutbutter; or ½ small avocado)

Ice (for thicker shake)



Protein Chocolate Banana Milkshake


1 cup chocolate almond milk (unsweet)

1 serving chocolate protein powder

½ banana or handful frozen blueberries (optional)

1 tbsp. almond butter or cashew butter (optional)

heaping handful spinach (optional)

ice-1/2 – 1 cup (the more ice=the thicker the shake)


Blend all ingredients together and enjoy!


Join Waitlist We will inform you when the product arrives in stock. Please leave your valid email address below.