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71fhdthmLRL._SL1500_For the woman on the go, protein bars can become a best friend. They’re portable, they’re sweet and they keep you going. But there are better ways to use a protein bar to benefit your body than simply something to snack on while you’re stuck in traffic traveling from point A to point B. Certified strength and conditioning trainer Holly Perkins has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry, works closely with Promax Nutrition (makers of a variety of protein bars) and helps break down the mystery surrounding protein.

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Calculate your protein needs.

“The first thing to understand is the more active you are, the more protein you need,” says Holly. “Let’s start with someone who’s not super active. It’s hard to say a precise number, but if you’re an information geek like I am you’ll sit down with your calculator and multiply your body weight by .9. If you’re active, you take that up to your body weight times 1. It’s basically our body weight in grams of protein. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 150 grams of protein per day as a basic rule of thumb. Now every individual’s needs are different and they can vary from there. But that’s about where you want to be.

Eat real food.

“First and foremost, it’s important to get the majority of your nutrition from real food sources,” she explains. “Protein bars are designed as a convenience for when you’re in a pinch and there is nothing else to eat. Eating a protein bar is definitely better than skipping a meal altogether. If you’re running around and want a sweet snack in the middle of the day, it’s far better than getting a chocolate chip cookie. So what I recommend to my clients is for that three o’clock to four o’clock hour when they need a snack, eat half of a full-size protein bar or something like the Promax Fit and Crisp which is a smaller, lighter bar that’s perfect for a snack.

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Make your protein bar work for you.

“The amount of protein you eat around a workout is dependent on the intensity and duration of a workout,” says Holly. “The longer or the more intense you work out, you want to make sure you’re getting a little bit of protein before and a little bit of protein after. If it’s a moderate workout, do one or the other, a little protein before or after. If you’re going for a 10-minute stroller, you don’t need to get protein in.”

Time it right.

“(Getting protein in) before your workout is going to be dependent on how you digest,” says Holly. “Ideally it would be 30 minutes to an hour before you would eat a small amount of protein combined with some carbohydrates and then after, again, depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, you want to get the protein in ASAP. So even though, yes, you have a window of about 30 minutes, if you can get it in ASAP, get it in. If you have a tough workout, get your protein in right away and then eat a real food meal an hour later. Think of your protein as medicine around a workout, not food.”

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How do you refuel after a workout? Tell us in the comments or tweet @OKMagazine.

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