Make your own protein bars

June 21st, 2008  |  Published in What to eat  |  14 Comments

I don’t know whether recipes have changed in the last decade or whether my taste buds have, but these days, prefab protein bars disgust me. The ingredient list is like something found on a box of weed killer, and they taste like a reheated dog turd and Brussels sprout burrito bought at the 7-11. Also, the last protein bar I ate, the Atkins Advantage, gave me the uniquely nauseating and painful sensation of very large oily bubbles trying to colonize my stomach through armed insurgency. I discovered after some research that many folks experience “intestinal distress” after consuming the sugar alcohols that commercial protein bars are laced with. Recently I attended a bodybuilding show to cheer on an acquaintance. In the lobby I was offered a bag of “caramel protein popcorn”, which appeared to contain neither caramel nor popcorn, although it had a very long list of multisyllabic ingredients. I discreetly discarded the culinary horror as soon as possible.

I began experimenting with a protein bar fomulation. The most “artificial” thing the bar could contain was protein powder. I discovered a brand of whey protein sweetened with stevia, a natural herbal sweetener. I hit upon the following concoction, which I have expressed as a set of principles rather than a set recipe. Feel free to experiment and add other things.

The two things you’ll need for sure are protein powder and a binding agent to hold it together. The most rudimentary protein mixture is simply protein powder combined with natural peanut or other nut butter. This has a taste and texture rather like halvah. But I find it a bit crumbly, personally. So I decided to add another binding agent and another flour-like substance to give it a bit of body.

Basic ingredient 1: flour. You needn’t use regular flour. Just take large flake oats, or another type of unprocessed grain flake, and put it in the food processor. Whiz it till it’s a fine grainy flour. It doesn’t need to be super-fine; something about the texture of sand will do. If you have a coffee grinder or a really good food processor, you can also make flour from nuts and seeds (great for folks who are on grain or gluten-free diets). Try all kinds of nuts and seeds, including sunflower, poppy, chia, flax, and hemp seeds as well as coconut. This will often lend the bars a wonderful flavour. OilSeedWorks makes hemp, flax, and sunflower seed flour. You can even try carob or mesquite pod flour. What the heck!

Basic ingredient 2: protein powder. Your choice here of whatever type and/or flavour you prefer. I find vanilla works well.

Basic ingredient 3: peanut or another nut butter. Personally I find that I prefer the nut butters to regular peanut butter. They give the bars a more interesting taste. Again, up to you. If you’ve got that food processor out already, you can just whiz up some nuts in it, adding a teensy bit of oil if necessary, and make the nut butter that way.

You will combine these in an approximately 1:1:1 ratio, but the exact quantity will depend on how much you want to make, what texture you like, and what else you combine with the mix. What you’re aiming for is a mixture that holds itself together, like a cookie dough, without being overly gooey.

you’ll need:

  • A food processor
  • Wax paper
  • A rolling pin (optional)
  • A cookie sheet or shallow square or rectangular roasting or cake pan (optional)

basic process

Step 1: Whiz the grain in the food processor until it’s a flour. Remove about one-third to half of a cup of it from the food processor and set it aside. I do this instead of leaving it in the food processor because I never know whether I’m going to add too much binding agent later in the process, and end up with something too gooey because I don’t have more flour to dump in. It doesn’t seem to work if you add just whey powder later on, so I save a little of the flour, just in case.

Step 2: Dump in the protein powder and zip that in the processor for a second till the flour and powder are combined.

Step 3: Add the nut butter a little at a time, blending between additions, until the mixture has the texture of cookie dough and holds its shape when pressed together.

Step 4: Either lay out a sheet of wax paper on the counter or on the cookie sheet, or line the roasting pan with it.

Step 5: Dump the mix on the wax paper. You can cover it with another sheet of wax paper and roll or pat it out into the desired thickness, or you can just press it into the roasting pan with your hands. Cover with another sheet of wax paper or saran wrap if it fits better on top of the pan.

Step 6: Put the thing into the freezer. Chill for a few hours.

Step 7: When nicely frozen, remove and cut into bars of desired size. Wrap each bar individually in wax paper. I like to wrap a few then put them into a container or plastic bag which I then put back into the freezer. Keep the bars chilled until just before eating, if possible. You don’t need to be overly fastidious about this (i.e. you could leave one in your bag for an afternoon), but staying cold helps the bars keep their shape, and keeps them from going bad. I keep mine in the freezer then grab one out on my way to work and keep it in the fridge at work. If you want to be able to eat them immediately after retrieving them from the cooler, you may want to just refrigerate them instead of freezing.

variations

OK, now here’s where it gets fun. There are lots of things you can do with the basic recipe to spruce it up a bit.

The first thing I like to do is add mashed fruit to the mix in step 3 to make the texture a little chewier. Adding any kind of fruit puree will give the bars a moister, chewier texture. Bananas are a good option but lots of things will work: apples, cranberries, stonefruit (i.e. peaches, plums, etc.), kiwi, really most fruits you have on hand except for citrus. I’ve also used things like mashed squash, shredded carrot, and yams. Before I do step 1 above, I just whiz up the fruit in the food processor, often using the shredder attachment, to make a puree.

In Step 1, I also often add dry spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Here you can also add nuts or seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Just grind them up with the flour. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds will add omega-3s, and Brazil nuts will add selenium (an antioxidant). Shredded coconut adds good fats too.

In Step 3, you can add dried fruit and/or a wee shot of vanilla. Just remember in the second case that you’ll need a little extra flour to compensate for the added liquid.

In Step 5, you can use foil muffin cups instead of wax paper/cake pan and just press the mix into the muffin cups. This will give you a relatively consistently sized “protein cookie” instead and if you leave the “cookie” in the muffin cup, you don’t have to worry so much about it getting squished.

To figure out the nutritional breakdown (i.e. calories, fat, protein, carbs), just total up everything you put in, and divide by the number of bars you made (assuming you made the bars more or less the same size).

Enjoy!

Looking for photos of this recipe? Check out EcoJoe’s step-by-step photos here.

Responses

  1. Amy says:

    June 8th, 2009at 1:07 pm(#)

    Thanks for this. The recipe I’m currently using also includes yogurt (and, er, chocolate chips), and you bake the bars for a while, then cut them, then bake them some more.

  2. women's workout says:

    July 5th, 2009at 7:01 pm(#)

    I find that oatmeal works great, I don’t even have to grind it up… I also use: whey protein, eggs (but not much) and fat free cream cheese. If i don’t have cream cheese then dates added and mix all ingrediants in the processor works really well! bc of the eggs I cook it at 350 but just for about 6-8 minutes.

  3. Kristen says:

    September 13th, 2009at 10:51 am(#)

    Great recipe, Krista! I made some, they were delicious, and now I brag about them to everyone and oftentimes get recipe requests! Although I have to admit I dumped in 1/4 cup of brown sugar to sweeten them up a bit.

    I bought soy protein for mine because it came in a smaller quantity and was thus cheaper than whey. Does soy contain less protein than whey? Are there any other downfalls to using soy?

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    September 19th, 2009at 6:05 am(#)

    I don’t really recommend unfermented soy. See here:
    http://www.wholesoystory.com/

  5. 50thpercentile says:

    November 24th, 2009at 1:32 pm(#)

    Soy is harder to digest than whey, other than that protein is protein. If you’re looking to add mass in a weight training, you might want to add l-glutamine powder to the mix. And, if you’re looking for a post workout snack, hydrolized whey is best.

    Also, nut butters may contain nuts which have caused allergies in the state of California. ;-)

  6. Kara says:

    January 18th, 2010at 2:23 pm(#)

    Krista, I love your recipe. I just made a batch today and I have a couple of questions. I did the 1:1:1 ratio and ended up adding more peanut butter because the texture was still too grainy. But even after that, I added a little bit of water. Does this happen or should I still be playing with the measurements? Also, I made the mistake of not calculating before mixing and the amount of protein is a little lower per bar than I would have preferred. But now I know for next time! They tasted yummy though!

  7. Mistress Krista says:

    January 18th, 2010at 5:07 pm(#)

    Kara: Yes, you often have to adjust on the fly, depending on what consistency your protein powder and the raw ingredients offer you. If you’re having trouble with it sticking together you can use some ground flax and a little water, which will help make it more “gluey”.

  8. Shari says:

    February 21st, 2010at 12:31 pm(#)

    Krista, I love this recipe. It gives me so many options. My only question is about the protein. I know people have asked about the difference in soy and whey, but what is the difference between whey protein and plant protein? Is plant protein ok? Is it better than whey? Why do most recipes call for whey? I am new to the protein powders as you might guess. Thanks for your help.

  9. Jill says:

    May 9th, 2010at 12:58 pm(#)

    Shari, I make protein bars with something akin to this recipe (4/3 cup oats, 4/3 cup whey protein, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 tbs cocoa powder, 1 large banana) and found that using pea protein made the bars much, much drier because the powder has a different texture. It’s possible to make ones that taste fine, but you need to fiddle with the recipe (add more peanut butter/nut butter/oil, add more banana/other squishy fruity thing).

    Personally, I’d stick with whey, but if you’re vegan, it can work with a little experimentation. Mmm. Experiments.

  10. Kerry says:

    June 28th, 2010at 2:57 pm(#)

    Is there any possible substitute for the nut/peanut butter? I’d like to make these but I really dislike nuts/peanuts.

  11. Mistress Krista says:

    July 2nd, 2010at 9:32 am(#)

    Kerry: You can use another oil (e.g. flax, hemp, coconut) or fruit puree.

  12. Eric says:

    March 2nd, 2011at 1:53 pm(#)

    Yo, did this it was great thanks for giving me a substitute to those expensive protein bars, I used uncle sams cereal. It was very good

  13. Jenny says:

    May 17th, 2011at 2:03 am(#)

    I just made some very tasty protein balls with peanut butter, pea protein powder, oat flour and date syrup to bind it together. They are a bit crumbly, but taste wonderful. Thanks so much for the idea.

  14. daisy buchanan says:

    June 10th, 2011at 1:11 pm(#)

    I went to the store yesterday and spent almost thirty dollars in protein bars for the next two weeks. You just saved me a butt load of cash!


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