Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ultimate Protein Bar Recipe

Ahh, the venerable protein bar.  An easily portable, balanced snack to help you achieve your fitness and dietary goals.  But have you ever read the nutritional label for a commercial protein bar? 

Most protein bars are loaded with wheat gluten, soy lecithin, processed/refined sugars, artificial dies, unintelligible ingredients and a shitload of preservatives to extend shelf life.

The solution to this problem is an obvious one – make your own!  

There are many ways to make protein bars.  This thread on literally lists hundreds of recipes.  But they are all lacking.  It is easy to combine rolled oats, protein powder and peanut butter, and call that a “protein bar.”  Other recipes will have you bake the protein powder, which possibly denaturizes the protein.  But the majority of these recipes are just protein powder combined with fat from nuts and carbs from a grain (oatmeal, flour, etc.).  But we can do better than that!

The biggest obstacle is figuring out how to incorporate the protein powder for maximum benefit.  I contacted Optimum Nutrition to inquire if baking their 100% Whey Protein would cause any loss of potency.  The woman who replied danced around the issue and provided no clear answer, furthering the suspicion that baking whey protein is probably a bad idea.  Armed with this knowledge, the best approach would seem to be a baked protein bar “base” for texture, topped with the minimally processed protein powder. 

The result was… spectacular.  Perfectly balanced macronutrients, healthy fats, complex carbs, and low sugar.  It even looks like a commercial product.  

I am throwing down the gauntlet.  If you have a protein bar that can compete with this, I want to see it.  

Ingredients – 

Protein Bar Base:
  • ~1.5 cups roasted sweet potato (1.5 cups rounds/one-inch cubes, or 1.25 cups small cubes, or 1 cup shredded)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, roasted
  • 1 cup whole, unsweetened cranberry (if previously frozen, thawed at room temp)
  • 1 banana (organic)
  • 1/2 cup cacao powder
  • 1/4 cup cashew butter  (or any nut butter)
  • 5 egg whites (preferably organic, pasture raised)
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds (organic, shelled)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour 

Chocolate Protein Frosting:
  • 8 scoops whey protein
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 cups coconut oil

Vegan version – sub silken tofu for egg whites, plant-based protein powder for whey protein
Paleo version – sub almond meal for quinoa

Ingredient List Explained -
There are five super foods here!
Sweet Potatoes – High In Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and other nutrients.  Low in calories and low GI Index.
Cacao Powder – The basis for all chocolate products, cacao has more antioxidants than any other food on this planet, more than berries, green tea, etc.
Coconut Oil – If you don’t know about coconut oil, educate yourself! 
Berries – High in antioxidants and loaded with other healthy nutrients, low sugar and low GI Index. 
Hemp Seeds – Gaining a lot of popularity, excellent source of Omega 3 fats and protein.

Execution – 
Although not required, a food processor and standing mixer will make this recipe a much faster and enjoyable process.

If you lack the tools, you can do this all by hand.  However, all fitness goals start in the kitchen, invest in a food processor you cheap ass.   

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into rounds or one inch cubes.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, flip over and cook another 15-20 minutes.  During the last ten minutes, place the cooked quinoa on a piece of foil and place in oven.  The quinoa is already cooked, we just want to toast it to add some texture.  Remove potatoes and quinoa and allow to cool.  

In a food processor combine sweet potatoes, cacao powder and whole cranberries, process until mixed.  Add banana and continue processing until combined.  The result will look something like a very thick cake batter.  Transfer to a bowl.

Add sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, coconut flour and toasted quinoa into the bowl with the sweet potato puree.  Don’t worry about mixing these in, we will get to that.

Start whipping your egg whites in a standing mixer.  Beat with whisk attachment until the texture resembles shaving cream (no need to beat all the way to stiff peaks).   About five minutes.   

Switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer.  Fold in the bowl of sweet potato puree, and blend on low until combined.  It will closely resemble a muffin batter at this point.

Spread/pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Cook for 25-30 minutes at 325 F.   

It is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Set aside to cool. 

While cooling, make chocolate frosting.  Using a double broiler, or simply fill a sauce pan with a little water and set a glass bowl inside, liquefy the coconut oil until about half is melted.  You don’t want to cook the coconut oil, just heat it above 78 F so it transforms to a liquid state. 

Process protein powder and frozen berries in food processor.  Pour in partially liquefied coconut oil.  Process until a runny frosting consistency is achieved.  Don’t worry, it will re-solidify in the fridge. 

Pour on top of the still warm but not hot protein bar base, transfer to fridge, and allow to cool until hardened.  Anywhere from 1-2 hours.  Cut with a plastic knife into desired portion size.

Nutritional Value (24 Servings)
Calories: 199
Fat: 11 g
Carbs: 12 g   
Sugar: 3 g
Protein: 12g

Wow, that is a lot of fat!  You bet your ass it is, with ~80% of the fat coming from the coconut oil, a special medium-chain fatty acid that your body can immediately convert to energy. 

And a lot of carbs!  Yep, not all carbs are created the same, and these are all good carbs.  Besides, you can’t feed your starving muscles with protein unless you have some carbs to deliver the nutrients to the muscle.  

So there you have it.  A great tasting, healthy, portable snack or meal replacement.  Enjoy!


  1. This looks awesome! How would the nutritional facts change with the almond meal version instead of the quinoa version?

  2. I love the nutritional value in these foods so I tried the recipe. I had to substitute whole blueberries for the cranberries in the base - just couldn't find whole, unsweetened cranberries in my area (?). I also subbed Salbo (chia) for the hemp for the same reason. I saw cashew butter & almond milk in the ingredient list but couldn't find them in the recipe so I guessed...I put the cashew butter in the base & used the almond milk to help liquefy the frosting. Without the almond milk, I just had a clumpy mess - 8 scoops if whey powder was a lot!! Could the 'scoops' in different brands vary that much in size? Anyway...::sigh:: the end result wasnt very good :(