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.