Make your own “energy bars”

The science of eating and drinking while engaged in long duration events (extended backpacking) or shorter events where maximum effort is tapped (mountain biking) escapes most of us. This could be a problem.

I have personally experienced poor nutrition management, and have witnessed others approach the brink of seizures, and even faint to the ground due to a lack of understanding of our unique physical needs in endurance events.

Enter the world of the pre-packaged sports nutrition industry, which includes energy bars, gels, gummy blocks, and liquid foods. I have tried them all. My present needs are now met by eating real foods, or making my own “bars” from real food.
Certainly, one needs to understand the basics of this unique subset of nutrition. I’ve learned as much as I can digest in the two books by Biju Thomas and Allen Lim: The Feed Zone Cookbook (2011) and the more recent companion book Feed Zone Portables (2013).

I have been the butt of jokes from my mountain bike riding group, The Bubbas, for throwing a couple of slices of leftover pizza in my Osprey day pack. The guys are used to hanging with bikers who consume Cliff bars, energy beans, and gel packs. I have even take along Subway leftovers on someday long rides. It works for me: tastes better, and seems to digest fine as well.

I just finished making up some home-made bars of my own. I altered one of the recipes ( Blueberry & Chocolate Coconut Rice Cakes) from Feed Zone Portables yesterday. I didn’t have a pint of fresh blueberries around ( but do have 100 pounds of frozen wild Maine berries in my freezer), so I substituted dried apricots instead.

Here’s a picture of my recent work:

Pile o' real bars
Pile o’ real bars

The ingredients are: 3 cups uncooked sticky rice, water, canned coconut milk, 1/4 cup of raw sugar, juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, half a regular bag of semisweet chocolate chips, and 16 oz. of dried apricots. You get the idea. The only thing cooked is the rice.

For those of you who wonder how these bars match up to commercial sports bars, here’s the breakdown, per bar. (For comparison purposes, the Kim/Thomas analyzed 11 sports bars and averaged out their nutritional values):
Bar Calories                                           Fat Carbs Fiber Protein Water
Home made apricot/coconut/choc 250 6g 45g 2 g 4g 65%
Sports bars (11) 223 8g 33g 3.5g 6.5 7%

The sports bars are very similar to my rice cakes, except for the water content ( 23X by mass). The rice cakes are also 100% real food, where the bars averaged 78% actual food.

How about costs? While not a very thorough analysis, I went online to look at one of the more popular types, the Cliff bar. 25 Cliff bars @ $1.50 each cost $37.50 (sometimes plus shipping). The cost for me to make the 25 homemade rice cakes was $14, a considerable savings.

I’d encourage the endurance hiker/backpacker/rider/swimmer to consider making your own real food bars. It’s a long winter coming up, and I think the mini Mushroom and Swiss Frittatas cooked in muffin tins look pretty good to me.

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