You would never chase a workout with a Snickers, but if you scan the ingredients of the chocolate–peanut butter protein bar stuck to the inside of your gym bag, you’ll be shocked to discover what it really is: a glorified candy bar, complete with all the sugar, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and other half-baked ingredients that you go to great lengths to avoid everywhere else. Screw that! Making protein bars at home is easy (many recipes don’t even require an oven), and with the following guide from Camilla Saulsbury, author of Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook, it’s a foolproof way to take your body and health back into your own hands.
Do-it-yourself protein bars afford you the chance to incorporate more whole grains into your diet and work around allergies and eating philosophies (e.g., Paleo, vegan, gluten-free). As a base for your bar, opt for one of these:
Rolled oats: High in both soluble and insoluble fibers, oats promote satiety. Also, beta-glucan—a type of soluble fiber—can contribute to lowering cholesterol.
Quinoa: Because it contains all the essential amino acids, quinoa is the only grain that’s also a complete protein.
Amaranth: Like quinoa, amaranth delivers protein along with a host of bone-building and muscle-feeding minerals, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Wheat germ: Another solid protein source, as far as grains are concerned, wheat germ is also packed with vitamin E, a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
Millet: A crunchy addition to any bar recipe, toasted millet can take the place of nuts while also delivering heart-protecting magnesium and cell-repairing phosphorus.
“The quickest and easiest way to add protein to homemade bars is by using either whey protein powder or vegan protein powder,” says Saulsbury. Nuts (walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios); seeds (flaxseeds, pepitas, chia seeds, hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds); or natural, unsweetened nut or seed butter will also add protein, along with healthy fats and hunger-fighting fiber.
Think bold flavors that won’t cost you too many extra calories. For a nutty, chocolate flavor, stir in cacao nibs, crumbled pieces of 100% cocoa beans that are rich in antioxidants and contain no added sugar. For an intense coffee flavor, use a small amount of instant espresso powder. Citrus zest will add a fresh, fruity flavor, while fall-friendly spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and pumpkin pie spice) can make a bar taste more like a baked good.
11⁄2 cups quinoa flakes
1⁄2 cup nuts,chopped
1⁄4 cup seeds
1⁄4 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
1⁄2 cup vanilla protein powder, sweetened
1 large egg
2/3 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup nut or seed butter, unsweetened
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp lemon zest
1⁄2 cup dried fruit
1) Preheat oven to 350°
2) Line an 8-inch square pan with foil and spray with nonstick spray.
3) Spread quinoa, nuts, seeds, and coconut on sheet and bake until toasted, about 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
4) Combine quinoa mixture and remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.
5) Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake about 14 minutes or until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
6) Cut into 12 bars.
Nutrition (per bar):
227 calories, 11g protein, 20g carbs, 5g sugar, 12g fat, 2g fiber
REAL FRUIT PROTEIN BARS
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup warm water
11⁄2 cups rolled oats
1 cup vanilla whey protein powder
3 tbsp low-fat milk
2 tsp finely grated lemon or orange zest
1) Line a 9 by 5 loaf pan with plastic wrap and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2) Combine fruit and water in a small bowl. Let stand until fruit is soft, about 5–10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
3) Place oats in a food processor and process to a fine powder. add the fruit, protein, milk, and zest. Process, using the pulse mode, until the fruit is finely chopped and the mixture begins to clump together on the sides of the bowl.
4) Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap (coated with nonstick cooking spray) atop the bar mixture and use it to flatten the mixture evenly; leave the paper or plastic wrap on. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5) Using the liner, lift the mixture from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Uncover and cut into six bars.
Nutrition (per bar):
252 calories, 17g protein, 41g carbs, 23g sugar, 3g fat, 41g fiber
CRANBERRY-ORANGE POWER GRAB PROTEIN BARS
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup nut or seed butter
1 1/3 cups low-fat milk
1 1/3 cups vanilla vegan protein powder
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1) Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2) In a food processor, process oats into a fine powder.
3) Add butter and milk to processor jug. Pulse until mixture is smooth.
4) Add protein to the jug, and pulse until incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice with a rubber spatula. Stir in cranberries and orange zest.
5) Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Place a large piece of wax paper or plastic wrap (coated with non-stick cooking spray) atop the bar mixture and use it to spread and flatten the mixture evenly. Cover and refrigerate overnight until very firm.
6) Using the liner, lift the mixture from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Uncover and cut into eight bars.
Nutrition (per bar):
234 calories, 20g protein, 15g carbs, 5g sugar, 11g fat, 3g fiber