Many parents and athletes want to know the best nutrition or energy bar to take to school or eat after exercise. What’s best depends on what you are using it for. Are you eating it as your breakfast? Is it to satisfy hunger after school? Are you looking for a preworkout bar, or do you need something convenient for immediately after activity?
Bars with high carbohydrate receive a lot of negative press, but a bar with quick-digesting carbohydrate, low fiber and fat, and just a bit of protein is what a cyclist on a long-distance ride really needs. It can also be a good option for a swimmer who has to fuel up before the next event. That same bar, however, would not be the best choice as you are running out of the house for school. A good bar for breakfast includes complex carbohydrate, fiber, protein, and even a little fat.
A bar to have after activity should contain a balance of nutrients, but the size depends on how exhaustive the exercise was. After an hour-long training session, a smaller 150- to 200-calorie balanced bar might be enough; for athletes with high calorie needs, a 300- to 400-calorie bar might be more appropriate.
Because I get so many questions about the best bar, I want to address how different bars fit into the meal plan. And because not many bars have the balance of high-quality nutrients I want, I share how you can make them as well as how they will fit into your meal plan. This way you can also compare their nutrition facts and ingredients lists to those of other bars on the market. I purposely use a lot of the same ingredients in these recipes so that you can have them on hand.
Balanced Breakfast Bar
2 CHO + 1 PRO + 2 FAT
- 1 tsp (5 g) cinnamon
- 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup almond butter
- 1/4 cup almonds, whole, unsalted, chopped
- 1/4 cup tropical fruit, dried, chopped
- 1 cup crispy rice cereal
- 1 cup oats, old-fashioned
- 1 1/2 scoops (32 g) whey protein powder, vanilla
- 1/8 tsp (0.6 g) table salt
Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). Line an 8- by 8-inch (20 by 20 cm) pan with parchment paper. Cut the paper long enough so that it hangs over the sides.
Combine rice cereal, oats, protein powder, cinnamon, salt, and chopped almonds in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Place the brown rice syrup, vanilla, almond butter, and diced fruit pieces in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds on high. Stir with a spoon until evenly blended.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and use a sturdy spoon to mix. Using a bit of cooking spray on the spoon will help prevent sticking. You can also use your hands to stir. Mix well so that everything is moist.
Once it is mixed, spread evenly into the pan. Use another piece of parchment paper to press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan using a heavy steel spatula. If the mixture isn’t pressed firmly enough, the bar will crumble after cooking. Press firmly around the edges and all areas of the pan. Once it is pressed, remove the parchment paper you used to press. The mixture should appear tight, flat, and even in the pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool. Once cooled, refrigerate for one to two hours, remove from the pan, and cut into eight bars. Refrigerate or freeze.