Charlie Watson – aka The Runner Beans, a Registered Dietician and keen marathon runner – gives you her favourite ingredients to include in her homemade energy bars. And explains the ingredients that are best to choose to maintain good energy levels.
Anyone else feel a bit of a slump in the afternoon? It usually hits me around 3.30 - 4pm when I get back to the office from the wards in the hospital and I oftentimes reach for the chocolate at this time to push through the final few hours of work.
But recently I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the food choices I’m making, especially looking at why I’m making those choices. Am I choosing the high sugar/high fat snacks because I’m tired? Bored? Hungry?
So instead of being tempted by the vending machine that sits right outside the lifts, I’ve been making my own bars to satisfy the cravings or see me through from breakfast to lunch when I need a quick boost between patients. Making your own means you can control the ingredients you include, meaning you can avoid over processed sugar and too much salt, but it means you can play around with your favourite flavour combinations.
The trick to getting the perfect energy boosting bar is to mix quick release and slow release carbohydrate sources together, so that you get that instant kick without the subsequent sugar crash.
Dried fruit, oats and nuts are all great bases for a homemade energy bar, with the option to add in chocolate, spices, seeds, protein powders, cereal, nut butter etc for added flavour, texture and protein.
As I mentioned, the beauty of creating your own bars is that you can include your favourite flavours. I am a chocolate girl through and through, so almost any bar I’m making is going to include the good stuff. I’ve combined ingredients that are natural energy boosters for my almond mocha bar recipe below.
Whilst I’d recommend reducing your caffeine intake in the afternoons to maximise sleep (our best recovery tool), it can be useful for a pick-me-up prior to an afternoon/evening workout.
Caffeine is one of the most utilised supplements and performance enhancers by athletes. We know that it does work as a brain stimulant (it works by blocking adenosine, a chemical in the brain that makes you feel sleepy and relaxed). It can increase our mental alertness, concentration and heart rate.
I love chocolate so any afternoon treat needs to include some in my opinion. Dark choc is perfect because it’s not high in sugar when compared with milk or white choc. The darker the choc, the more energy boosting caffeine and theobromine your chocolate contains
I also like this study that showed that dark chocolate can help improve V02 Max, the flavanols can help reduce inflammation and help your mitochondria function more efficiently. Cacao releases serotonin, the darker the chocolate, the more of a mood-boosting serotonin.
One of my favourite natural sweet treats, medjool dates are a great source of carbs and fibre, and with a low glycaemic index, the sugar absorption is slow, helping maintain steady energy levels. They taste delicious, like caramel, and add a sticky chewy texture to your baking (they’re obviously great in Sticky Toffee pudding as well as these slightly more nutritious energy bars!).
As well as being a great source of carbs, they’re also packed with potassium, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and a natural source of iron.
These vitamin powerhouse nuts are packed with vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, not to mention protein. Opt for skin-on raw almonds for a great source of fibre. Eating almonds in combination with higher sugar foods help to stabilise blood sugar, maintaining energy levels for longer so see you through your work day or workout!
Other Energy boosting ingredients you could include in your own energy bars/snacks
A great source of carbs, the fibre helps the sugar from the fruit release more slowly into our bloodstream for a steady stream of energy. Plus, they are a natural source of potassium and vitamin B6, both of which are involved in the body’s energy metabolism and storage.
The high antioxidant properties in apples is thought to help slow the release of the carbs from these popular fruits, creating a longer sustained energy boost in our bodies. Don’t forget to keep the skin on for maximum fibre intake.
This protein rich carbohydrate actually has a low glycaemic index, again giving that all important slow release of energy into the body. Plus, it contains the nutrients manganese, magnesium and folate, all involved in the body’s natural production of energy.
A favourite complex carb amongst athletes, they also contain They also contain beta-glucan, a type of fibre that enhances the body’s immune system, helps stabilize appetite, and may reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. You can try these Oat berry breakfast bars from the Spatone blog here.
Chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all plant-based sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body which is a common cause of fatigue.
Fresh and dried strawberries provide carbohydrates and fibre for energy, they are also an often-overlooked source of Vitamin C. Many of our body’s enzymes that use Vitamin C as a co-factor are involved in energy production e.g. L-carnitine which is involved in the conversion of fat to energy.
Another great source of carbs and fibre (just don’t smother it in salt or sugar). These can be great when seasoned with herbs and spices or included in your homemade energy bar for a slow release carb.
Almond Mocha Homemade Energy Bar Recipe
Makes 8-10 bars
1 1⁄2 cup (120g) jumbo porridge/rolled oats
1 cup (125g) chopped almonds
2 tbsp (10g) instant coffee powder
2 tbsp (10g) cocoa powder
1⁄2 cup (90g) dark chocolate chips
1⁄2 cup (125g) almond butter, unsalted
1⁄4 cup (60ml/135g) honey
2 tbsp (30g) coconut oil
1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract
pinch sea salt, optional
Line an 8x8inch/20x20cm square tray with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, almonds, coffee powder, cocoa, and chocolate chips. Set aside.
Combine almond butter, honey, and coconut in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, let bubble for 20-30 seconds, and remove from heat immediately. Stir in the vanilla.
Pour the hot almond butter and honey mixture over the oats. Stir to combine.
Transfer the mixture to the tray, using the back of your spatula to press firmly.
Sprinkle with sea salt if using.
Let cool in the fridge until set, about 30 minutes.
Cut into 8-10 bars.