How to Make Energy Bars: The Perfect Package-less Cycling Snack
Gosh, I wish someone would have told me that sports nutrition doesn’t need to come in a package! The Peanut Butter + Date Bars below are easy to make, easy to pack and perfect for a long day on the bike.
The Vineman Iron-Distance Triathlon was just a few short weeks away and I was on my last long training ride in the East Bay Hills, outside of San Francisco. I’d left my house early that morning, with mist still shrouding the peaks, and spun my way east into the steamy valley beyond. I’d pedaled my heavy, steel-framed training bike over 110 miles, across the summit of Mt. Diablo, and through the golden hills.
Now, the mid-summer afternoon heat was beating down on my back. Not even the pride for what I’d accomplished that day could hide my exhaustion. And with two more massive climbs and another 30 miles to go before I was home free, fatigue reared its ugly, emotional head.
Metronomic, my pedals turned. My cycling computer ticked off the miles and minutes, reminding me to eat and drink at 15-minute intervals, just as I would on the 120-mile Ironman route. I felt that familiar, deep hunger creep up within me. A hamburger. With fries. And a milkshake. That was what my body was asking for. But all I had in my jersey pockets was a crinkled, half-eaten and sort-of-sticky package of margarita-flavored energy chews. Cringing, I kept pedaling, but the hunger mounted. There was nothing comforting about energy chews. Nothing rewarding, nothing even remotely delicious. My pedals slowed and my mind became clouded. “Why was I doing this to myself? Pushing so hard? Putting my body through so much pain? This is so DUMB.” The starving athletic devil on my shoulder began whispering, pushing my mind further from excitement for the race to come, and all because the last thing I wanted to put in my mouth was another energy chew. I was too deep in discomfort to ignore my hunger. My body needed calories, and my mind needed a jolt of energy to shake the voices; I knew eating – that familiar, ritual of self-care – would remind me again that I’m a strong woman out doing something I enjoy.
As I reached the top of the second-to-last hill, the stoplight turned red and I allowed my bike to come to a stop. Standing over the top tube, I reluctantly reached into my pocket and fished out the crumpled, sweaty package of energy chews. Whimpering, with my eyes watering, I put a piece in my mouth and tried to chew. Nearly tasteless now, the chew stuck to my teeth and caught in the back of my throat. “Just get home,” I told myself. I finished the package with the dedication of a 4-year-old determined to eat just enough peas on their dinner plate to have a shot at dessert. Then I turned up that last hill and headed for home.
At that point in my professional racing career, I hadn’t figured out that fuel for the ride didn’t have to come from a package, and didn’t have to be an “energy food.” But these days, whether I’m racing 8 days through South Africa during the Cape Epic or riding from Geneva to Nice through the French Alps and attempting to hit each climb on the map, I’m making my own packable snacks to stash in my jersey. Because it means I’m eating only real, whole foods that my body recognizes as fuel. Because then I never have to run to the store to buy something in a package. And, because having something delicious and appetizing with you when you ride, something that excites your taste buds and makes you happy, is good for your body and your athletic mind.
Peanut Butter + Date Energy Bar Recipe
Once you’ve got these bars down, you can start experimenting with adding your own favorite ingredients: swap out the peanut butter for almond butter, pecan butter or even a mix of favorite nut butters. Add cherries and figs to the dates, or even a little bit of cocoa powder for a chocolatey undertone.
Make them your own, and make your ride delicious AND nutritious!
Makes 16 bars
- 1 ½ cups // 227g medjool dates, pitted and soaked for 10 minutes in warm water
- ½ cup // 269g natural peanut butter, crunchy or smooth as you prefer
- ¾ cup // 60g rolled oats
- ¼ tsp fine grain sea salt
Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper, and then set aside. Strain the dates, squeezing them to remove as much water as possible. Discard the water. Place the strained dates in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse and blend them to a paste. The dates will naturally form a ball in the food processor, so you’ll need to stop the machine, spread and press the date mixture out again to make sure it blends evenly. Once you have a nice paste, add the oats and peanut butter, pulsing until combined. If your mixture is very sticky, or if you like more dense bars, add some more oats (up to ¼ cup.)
Transfer the bar mixture to the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to spread and press the mixture evenly into all corners of the pan and smoothing to be sure the bars are even in thickness. Transfer the pan to the freezer to set - roughly 15-20 minutes. Then remove, slice into 16 squares, and wrap in plastic or parchment paper. Pop into your jersey pocket and enjoy!
The bars will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks or in the freezer for several months.