Though some protein bars function like candy bars in wholesome drag, savvy eaters recognize them for what they are: quick, often chemical-laden replacements for actual food. Fortunately, it's as easy to give the DIY treatment to protein bars as it is to whip up a batch of cookies. Having complete control over ingredients and flavor enables even inexperienced chefs to cook something nutritionally and gastronomically superior to most commercially available protein bars in the the city.
Homemade protein bar recipes fall into two camps: baked versions similar to brownies, and bars that are first frozen, then cut (perfect for raw food enthusiasts). Generally, the frozen variety produces a superior texture and allows for greater flexibility with ingredients, but are unreliable for long trips. An amazing protein bar is great; a mess in your backpack is not.
For a long-distance bike ride or quick snack, try this easy recipe for oven-baked bars, which pairs dried apricots with fennel and vanilla. Coconut oil lends moistness and richness.
This low-calorie recipe provides 10 grams of protein per bar. Adding powdered egg whites and nut butters can increase the protein along with the calories, or you can substitute ground quinoa for flour.
For ideas on how to flavor your own protein bars, consider gelato flavors for inspiration. Fruit cobblers or fruit salad recipes often feature inventive fruit, nut and spice combinations that can be duplicated in bars. Boost the taste by using flavored oil and yogurt and substituting tea for water.
Makes 20 bars
1 cup protein powder (vanilla whey recommended)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups oatmeal
1 teaspoon powdered fennel
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup almonds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 package dried apricots, diced
1 cup nonfat yogurt
1/3 cup coconut oil, plus more for oiling pan
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons agave nectar
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix dry ingredients and spices in one bowl. Heat coconut oil in a microwave-safe dish for 20 seconds or until liquid. Add yogurt, vanilla, honey and agave nectar and mix until combined. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients, using a spatula to scrape all liquids into the bowl. Stir with hands until combined well.
Grease a 9x13-inch pan with remaining coconut oil. Pour batter into the pan and spread evently. Bake for 20 minutes until light golden brown. Let cool completely before cutting into 20 bars.
Nutrition information per serving: calories 176.5; total fat 7.7 g; cholesterol 20.0 mg; sodium 145.1 mg; potassium 216 mg; total carbohydrates 18.8 g (dietary fiber 3.9 g; sugar 7.8 g); protein 10 g
Nothing beats what you can do yourself, but in a pinch, here are some recommendations for bars commonly found in supermarkets.
To store in the car or backpack: Soyjoy bars
A soft texture and unconventional flavors make the soy flour aftertaste bearable. I recommend the more adventurous flavors, such as mango coconut.
Best all-round: Kashi GoLean Crisp! Bars
These hit the sweet spot of protein and fiber content, taste and portability with no artificial chocolate-peanut butter flavors in sight. Many brands have more protein and/or fiber, but none strike the balance as well as Kashi. The only drawback is that the chocolate coating melts easily.
Unapologetic protein bomb: Pure Protein
Commonly available in most local markets, Pure Protein packs some of the most protein for the least calories or money, and features what may be the best chocolate-peanut butter version on the market.