Does the world need another energy drink?
Several entrepreneurs seem to think so, despite the fact that a search on Amazon for the word “protein” turns up some 40,000 shakes, powders, cookies, protein-enhanced foods, power bars and supplements. And, as of 9 a.m. on May 16, when Toronto innovators Amar Gupta and Josh Barr launch brüst, a low-sugar, cold-brew coffee enhanced with grass-fed protein, it’ll be some 40,001. That momentous event will happen at the DROP Boxing studio (161 Spadina Ave.).
Why do we need brüst? According to Gupta and Barr, it’s an alternative to the energy and protein drinks they encountered when training for their competitions — squash and Ironman distance triathlons, respectively — which they felt were all too sugary, chalky-tasting, or pricey.
This confirms all the worst fears of a person (me) who has never had a protein drink or, for that matter, a protein bar, shake or supplement in their life. Since one of my parents grew up in Argentina and I’m the only person in my immediate family born here, our protein came in the form of a pork roast and an energy drink meant espresso. Protein snacks fail to conform to my ideas about what food looks like. Or tastes like.
If there are new, nonchalky, alternatives, however, maybe I’ve been cheating myself. So, I decided to try a few of the new offerings in this brave new world of smart eating — under professional supervision, of course. I called up Kyle Byron Nutrition, a downtown Toronto practice, to ask about when I most needed a protein boost. Should I eat a power snack before working out? Or, perhaps, a protein drink after?
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“No one ever needs a power bar,” says Byron, a nutrition coach with a background in fitness training. “They’re convenience items. Everyone has the time to get a proper meal, they just didn’t prioritize it and now they’re stuck with this protein bar. Or they eat them because they taste good. That’s a whole other thing.”
Since Byron says the vast majority of Canadians need to eat less food, not find new ways to up their calorie count, the short answer is don’t eat or drink these products — especially since we digest protein snacks quite quickly. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as young athletes, who need, say, 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day. In addition, Byron lays out scenarios when a 200-calorie protein bar might be a better choice for an “emergency feeding.” Like, if you were on a road trip and that bar saved you from an 800-calorie burger-and-fries combo at a fast food outlet.
That said, Byron warns that not all protein products are created equal. Some are high in sugar, some are packed with preservatives, some have too much Omega-6 from excessive sunflower oil (we tend to need more Omega-3 and less Omega-6, thanks to the composition of the North American diet). What are the good ones, then?
“My favourite brand right now is called RXBAR,” he says. “It has the ingredients listed in big bold letters on the front and they’re doing their best in terms of trying to keep it to being real food. I found them in Chicago two years ago and I bought one and I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ I could totally binge out on them. It’s like eating candy.”
Now this is a coincidence, since this Chicago-based company has recently launched its product in the Toronto market and sent me all six of their flavours to try. RXBAR is a “clean-label,” gluten free, dairy-free and preservative-free snack, which aims to be both healthy, natural and transparent about its ingredients. And, while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it candy, it’s not bad-tasting. The chocolate chip one (“3 Egg Whites; 6 Almonds; 4 Cashews; 2 Dates; No B.S.”) is insanely chewy, with a nutty crunch and a light touch of caramel — sort of like a less-sweet chewy toffee. It may not look like natural food to me, but it pretty much tastes like it.
So does brüst, which tastes like a cross between a mild coffee and an unsweetened Yoo-hoo. Neither made me feel a surge of energy, despite the fact that the drink has 20 grams of protein, which is nearly half my recommended daily allowance (46g is the recommended amount of protein for women). And both RXBAR and burst have more protein than carbohydrates, which Byron tells me is another thing to look out for.
Bars with more carbs than protein are usually an indication that you’re making a worse choice for an emergency feeding than you could, so I’m sorry to read the back of the Fit Cricket package, a Toronto company that makes a chili/chocolate protein bar made of, yes, crickets. I really wanted to like this, since I’m pro-cricket and think chili and chocolate is a delicious flavour combo. The taste is OK — it’s way less chewy than the other and tastes more like a crumbly carob bar — but, I was worried about the fact that it has 25 grams of carbs and only 10 grams of protein. Maybe they need to add more crickets. And chili, while they’re at it.
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Nobody will be surprised to learn that this is the end of my foray into protein snacks. I’m not the target demographic, since, I like most people who work at desks, need less food, not more. While all were better-tasting than I expected, none of them were as good as a pork roast.
If I start training for an Ironman at some point, though, and need to get my calorie and protein count up, at least I’ll know what to look for and make a less-bad choice for an emergency feeding.
Christine Sismondo is a Toronto-based writer and contributor to the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @sismondo