Do you want tasty treats to help energize your workout? Then consider making your own “energy” bars. Beyond great taste, you will have control over the ingredients. You’ll likely save money too!
Although clever marketing fools many, most commercial bars are nothing special. You can create delicious bars in your own kitchen that will power your workout just as well, if not better, than an expensive bar.
And you don’t need special ingredients. In fact, many homemade energy bar recipes tend to be overly complicated and claim to be healthy because of hyped-up ingredients like coconut oil, agave nectar, or a protein powder. Or they boast being “naturally sweetened” implying that something like organic brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, or sugar from dried fruit is better than regular sugar (it isn’t).
Although I recommend limiting sugars when you’re not active, sugar will fuel your working muscles and might help your workout performance if you’re exercising vigorously and/or for long periods. In fact, many of the harms attributed to sugar have to do with how it is metabolized when sedentary, or in sedentary individuals, not in athletes.
Here are five bars that rely on simple whole foods available in most grocery stores. They provide healthy fats, but are generally low in fat, because during exercise your muscles require carbohydrates as fuel.
A potential downside of homemade bars is the time required to make them. But give it a try! Make a batch and freeze so you’ll have a convenient and portable snack on hand when you need it.
These spicy bars are amazingly delicious! The ginger delivers a good zing, and the molasses keeps them dense and fudgy. You can whip these up pretty quickly, which will make your entire house smell pretty wonderful. These bars are great workout fuel, but certainly tasty enough for a lunchbox treat or as a sweet with coffee or tea.
You can substitute a different nut or seed butter for the peanut butter. I’ve tried tahini – sesame seed butter – and almond butter would work well.
These bars feature oats, which are a staple of my diet. For athletes, oats are a terrific and inexpensive source of carbohydrates to help fuel muscles. Also, according to this study, oats might help enhance nitric oxide production, which is important for heart health and might benefit athletic performance. This recipe is quite versatile, so create your own variation by modifying the dried fruit and nuts/seeds to suit your taste. These bars feature whole grains (oats and 100% whole wheat flour), are relatively low in fat, with most of the fat coming from healthful sources (nuts and seeds) that provide other important nutrients.
These bites are simple to make, using only five ingredients. Their bite-size portion is often “just right,” so you can doll out energy as you need fuel during long hikes, runs, cross-country skis, or bike rides.
The oats and raisins are a good source of carbohydrates, the peanut butter provides healthy fats, rounded off with a double-chocolate hit of cocoa and chocolate chips.
These bars are dense and chewy and taste like brownies. They are a bit of a departure from energy bars that are full of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other wholesome ingredients — which is the kind of bar I typically prefer on slower-paced workouts, where the low intensity makes it easy to digest the seeds, nuts, fats, and fiber in the bars. I like these bars for more intense workouts or intervals – when you need a burst of sweetness that goes down easily (kind of like an energy gel that actually tastes good).
For eating outside of workouts, this bar recipe is likely healthier than most cookies or bars. Whole grains (whole wheat flour and oats) replace the more typical refined white flour (and you probably don’t need to worry about the gluten in the flour). I also used this baking strategy, substituting almond butter for most of the butter. Almond butter provides heart-healthy fats instead of saturated fat, as well as protein, fiber, and minerals that many people lack. Peanut butter works in these bars too (and is much less expensive!).
These bites have a double sesame punch with sesame seeds and tahini (sesame butter): these little seeds are very nutritious and most often used as a garnish, so here’s a good way to take advantage of their superior nutrition.
I know, a refined cereal like Rice Krispies seems out of place with the rest of the wholesome ingredients, but the added crunch is worth it. And if you’re going to eat refined carbs and sweet dates, during activity is the best time to do it: your body processes the sugars to use as fuel and help sustain long workouts.