The dietary supplement industry has been steadily growing over the past few years. Why? Because they do such a good job marketing their products. The question remains: should you get involved or stick to natural foods? You have to first understand that protein bars and powders are supplements to your diet. They are not a magical solution to getting into shape. When it comes to body composition, there is no magic involved. The biggest mistake people usually make when buying them is using them in the wrong way. Just because you add 25g of protein to your daily intake, it does not necessarily mean you will see muscle growth or weight loss. If your diet is not in check and is far from optimal, all you will get out of these supplements is unwanted weight gain.  

Let’s examine what will happen with the misuse of these supplements. For example, if you are required to eat 2,200 calories and maintain an intensive weight training schedule in order to gain muscle, but instead you eat 2,500, skip the workouts, and you drink protein shakes daily, you are going to gain fat, not muscle. Calories in and calories out will always define how much you weigh. From there, how nutritious the foods are that you eat will determine the way your body looks at any given weight.  

If you are just starting out, and you are lifting relatively light weights, there is absolutely no need to buy $50 worth of protein supplements. However, if you have been consistently training for several months or years, then you probably should take them. The whole point is to meet a certain amount of protein intake each day. For some bodybuilders and consistent weight lifters, these supplements are an easy and efficient way to meet their goals. Getting 200 or 300 grams of protein per day can be a challenge, therefore using supplements alleviates that struggle. But if you are a beginner, you must know they should only be used if you are consistent with your diet and training schedule. Just as procrastination is the thief of time, inconsistency is the thief of diet.  

If you plan on taking supplements alongside eating unhealthy foods, save yourself the money. You cannot expect to get into better shape and gain muscle by pairing those two together. At the end of the day, by doing this you would simply be throwing away hard earned money. Additionally, don’t cheat yourself into thinking you need them. If you notice you are relying on protein powders and bars, there is something wrong. You should buy them to aid your progress and not to control it.  

Now, if your diet is in check, there are many benefits to these supplements. In fact, they are the foundation for proper muscle growth. You may find taking supplements to keep you accountable in your diet. All the hard work you put into your meal planning and training may allow you to see the importance of sticking to a clean diet. Many powders are low calorie, making for quick and nutritious post workout meals. The same goes for bars, though with them you have to be careful for the hidden ingredients. Most protein bars are filled with unnecessary and unhealthy sugars that will hinder your goals. Make sure to read the labels before you make the purchase. Always remember, if you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up. If you find it’s simply another hidden sugar, chances are you may want to rethink which brand to buy. RxBars and Quest Bars tend to be some of the best options these days. 

However, bars can sometimes be dangerous. Some of them are nothing more than candy bars with a small amount of added protein. Others are simply way too calorically dense. Your optimal bar should be right around 200 calories. Anything over 250 is a trap. Those types have significant added sugars and unhealthy ingredients that will end up compromising your progress. If you are questioning whether a bar is right for you, look up the ingredients and brand before you make the purchase.  

After working out, it is essential to get a good source of protein in your body. Powders and bars make a quick meal and a filling one. Whole foods take longer to digest and break down the protein for your muscles in comparison to the 30 minutes or less that powders take. They are an optimal source of quick digesting protein that will surely aid your muscle growth.  

If you are trying to lean out while gaining some substantial muscle, and if you are in a caloric deficit, then incorporating a protein shake or bar into your diet is optimal. As long as that deficit exists, you will achieve your goals. For example, if your caloric deficit to lose weight is 1,500 calories, you take in 1,500 calories per day including the shake or bar, and you train consistently, then you are feeding your muscles that extra protein it needs to expand.  

The great thing about powders is that they can be added to other things besides shakes. If you love oatmeal, take a scoop of whey and mix it in. It makes for a very delicious meal. You can make your own protein bars with powder. Simply mix it in with bananas, a serving or two of peanut butter, oats, and your favorite nuts, and freeze it for a few hours. Compared to the price of bars in stores, you will be saving a lot of money this way. You can also make protein pancakes, or waffles in a similar fashion. All in all, when mixed with the right foods, they can be very mouthwatering and something to look forward to after an intensive hour in the gym.  

Before starting, you should ask yourself whether you can get all the benefits of supplements without actually using them. If you have access to the proper foods and the right amount of them, you don’t actually need supplements. They are simply a convenient way of obtaining what you may not be able to on a regular basis. If you are in need of a quick filling meal on the go, then take a protein bar with you. But do not expect results unless you are using them properly. Pairing an unhealthy diet with supplementation is a waste of time, money, and effort. Pairing a healthy diet with supplementation is a sure way to aid in your progress towards the body you want. The supplement industry is very expensive. You will only be helping yourself to know whether they are right for you. Ask someone you know that uses supplements to help you out. But be careful not to buy a product just because your friends are. Everyone’s diet is different, and everyone has their own goals to meet.  

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I radiate both internally and externally, an infinitude of passion for creative thought, an unending lifelong code of self and peer-improvement, and an idiosyncratic perspective and outlook on all things good, bad, and in between. I believe that when we are, one day, gone, all that will have mattered is what we did to change this world, for better or worse.