So here's the thing: It would be super easy for me to get up on my soap box and tell you that you should never, ever drink a protein shake or eat a protein bar... But that is an over-simplified answer to a not-simple problem, and that's not what I'm about if you couldn't already tell.
Ideally, nobody would ever have a need for protein shakes and bars, and it shouldn't be hard to see why I say that. They are both highly processed, and thus don't really qualify as "real food" in my opinion. They are often loaded with scary chemicals and more sugar than you'd think (many protein bars have upwards of 20 grams per bar!) for something touted as being healthy.
In the real world, however, life happens and we get into situations where we are unable to eat something really healthy. If you have a choice between fast food (or worse- gluten! Yikes!) and a protein product, I'd rather you choose the protein product as long as it's good quality. I see protein shakes and bars as a viable emergency food-replacement, but not as real food. It's better than eating something downright harmful, and it's better than starving and getting a hypoglycemic headache, but I can't say much more beyond that for most folks.
1. Never eat protein bars or shakes for more than 2-3 meals per week.
2. If there is a viable, healthy, real food option available eat that instead
3. Always get a good quality protein shake or bar.
4. Always eat some fat with your protein product. Pack some "fat bombs" to take with your shake and you'll be good to go!
Allow me to elaborate on each point.
1. If you find yourself consuming meal replacements for more than 2 meals per week it's a sign that something in your life needs to change. That may mean that you need to cook more, plan better, or hire a personal chef to cook for you, but something needs to change so that you rely on these items less.
2. Number two needs no further explanation, I hope.
3. By "good quality" I mean you should be able to pronounce everything in the product and having at least a vague idea of why it's there. This basically eliminates anything that you can buy in a store, including Whole Foods. Undenatured Whey can be good if you can handle dairy, but make sure it's from a grass fed source. For those of us who can't do dairy, I recommend (and carry in my office) Thorne's MediPro Vegan, which is a pea protein shake.
4. Fat is needed to properly digest and use dietary protein, and eating a large amount of protein without fat is just asking for trouble. If you don't want to take a shot of coconut oil with your shake "fat bombs" are easy enough to make and there's a million recipes on the internet. Simply search for fat bomb in Pinterest or Google and have at it. If you are sensitive to dairy, you will obviously want to make varieties that use coconut rather than dairy.
Now it's time for you all to spill the beans! Do you feel that you rely too heavily on protein shakes and bars? If so, what do you plan to do about it? If you're in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina be sure to check out this paleo-friendly personal chef!