homemade energy bars for runners

Reviewing Runner’s World Homemade Energy Bars for Runners

I was intrigued by the Runner’s World article on diy or  homemade energy bars for runners which featured the recipes of four professional chefs who also run. In the article they shared the recipes for their own, as they say, perfect fuel snack. I decided to investigate them to see if they are compatible for people who avoid trans-fats and eat a low saturated fat diet that is both gluten and dairy free.

The first featured chef in the article is Dennis Marron from Pittsburgh. For him taste, texture and sustained energy are the important features of an excellent energy bar. His personal best homemade power bar contains steel-cut oats, dried apricots, dried cherries, goji berries, unsweetened shredded coconut, hemp seeds, blanched almonds, non-fat dried milk powder, toasted wheat germ, semi-sweet chocolate baking chips, agave syrup, honey, turbinado sugar, chunky peanut butter, orange and zest and orange extract.

The content sounded pretty tasty to me. There is a lot in these to give a wide variety of nutrients, too, including anti-oxidants from the fruit, healthy fats and protein from the powder, nuts and more.


Where I saw problems with Marron’s homemade energy bars for runners:

I best go through the content list one by one.

  • Steel-cut (or pinhead) oats are oats that are cut into slices as opposed to rolled oats. I’d have trouble sourcing a gluten free steel-cut oatmeal product unless I order it over the internet. As it happens I as  have become quite practical about smaller details like that. I would probably substitute them with gluten free rolled oats.
  • None of the dried fruit mentioned in the recipe are a problem so I move on to the shredded coconut. Unfortunately coconut is one of the few nuts that have a very hight content of saturated fats and are thereby to be avoided as I strive to eat saturated fat free. Are there possible alternatives? I could pulse blend some flaked almonds until they have a similar consistency to shredded coconut.
  • Like the dried fruit, hemp seeds and blanched almonds are ingredients that don’t pose a problem for me either.
  • The non-fat dried milk powder can probably be substituted with soy protein powder so I’ll move onto the next ingredient on the list, wheat germ. If you are gluten intolerant you will know wheat germ is out of bounds. As an alternative we could possibly choose shredded buckwheat.
  • If you are following a no-saturated fat diet, you will have learnt that chocolate is completely out of the question because the cocoa butter used to make chocolate is very high in saturated fats. Pure cocoa powder on the other hand can be tolerated as an occasional treat also because of it’s anti-inflammatory properties. I’m not sure if I want to find a way to work pure cocoa powder into this recipe though.
  • The next ingredient on the list are the sweeteners agave syrup, honey and turbinado sugar (less refined, brown sugar with larger crystals than demerara sugar), none of which pose a big problem and are somewhat of an essential when trying to create an energy bar for people with a high calorific need.
  • Commercial nut butters are always a problem for people who are concerned with the quality of fats as the refining process can alter the molecular structure of the fats changing them from, healthy, good fats to bad fats. I’d advise to make your own nut butter preferably from nuts with a low saturated fat content such as almonds or walnuts.

You could see the list of food for the recipe for these diy energy bars featured in the Runner’s World article wasn’t really compatible with my dietary requirements. So I moved on to the next one.



Is the next recipe in the article on how to make your own homemade energy bars for runners any better for my dietary requirements?

The next featured chef is Bill Lynch from Louisville. Before even reading the ingredients list the article pointed out these homemade fuel bars are gluten free (next to delivering quick and slow release carbohydrates and protein with their combination of ingredients). Straight away I got a bit more hopeful in finding a very compatible recipe for my dietary needs.

  • The recipe requires bananas, dark brown sugar, canola oil, vanilla extract, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, soy flour, rolled oats, shredded coconut (or more rolled oats as an alternative), pecan nuts and golden raisins.
  • All the above ingredients are ok to eat for me as long as I make sure to use gluten free rolled oats and gluten free baking powder and soda. I would also make sure to use cold pressed canola oil instead of any refined oils if I was to make power bars from this recipe.

I then looked at the preparation instructions to see if any of the steps required heating the fat containing ingredients. I was very pleased to see that they are baked in the oven at 300˚F/150˚C which is a very low temperature that should maintain the healthy properties of the fats in the ingredients.

This recipe is definitely one that can be recommended to anyone following a gluten and dairy free, low saturated fats, anti-inflammatory diet.


How about the Four-Ingredient-Bars featured in the article as my go to recipe for homemade energy food for running?

A Keep-it-Simple-Stupid (K.I.S.S.) and also additive free prerogative next to wanting to have an energy bar that actually taste better to her than many of the commercial brands made Pam Anderson created a four-ingredient, no-fuss, no bake bar. They have sweetness, texture and crunch without adding any sugar or other additional sweeteners.

The recipe ingredients are the following four:

  • Walnuts, pitted dates, dried cranberries and unsweetened coconut.

If you’ve read the above you will by now have gathered my reservations about coconut (for it’s high content of saturated fats) in any form as an ingredients in the foods I eat. As this is a very simple ingredient list though I am quite prepared to swap the coconut and replace it with shredded almond flakes instead.

As before it is important to look at how these bar are prepared to ensure any methods used don’t alter the fats in the nuts to a point where they become unhealthy.

The recipe requires you to toast the walnuts at 325˚F/160˚C which is a pretty low and thereby a safe temperature to enhance the nuts and increase their flavour by making them that bit more fragrant. If it wasn’t for the toasting they would be a real no bake energy bar!

I did like that there is no added sugar or any other sweetener used in this recipe for a home made fuel bar. By simply swapping out one ingredients this recipe can be altered to a point where the energy bars could become one I’d like to have with me myself when going out on a long run.


Could the final recipe for PackFit Bars in the article be a great recipe for a home-made-fuel-bar for runners?

The final recipe in the article came from Will Artley in Virginia, a pizza chef who started running to loose weight. The bars he makes form his own recipe aim to refuel for quick energy release like a gel pack and he also included some other ingredients for what he calls “hastened recovery”.

The ingredients list includes golden and brown flaxseeds, chia seeds, steel-cut oats, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, dried, tart cherries or chopped apricots, pitted dates or fresh figs, cinnamon, coconut flakes (which are optional), vanilla protein powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, honey and a pinch of salt.

Again I wanted to look at this list of ingredients in detail before I would deem this recipe suitable to my low saturated fats, gluten and dairy free diet.

  • Both brown and golden flaxseeds are great sources of omega 3 oils. They are best consumed shredded though because they are not really digestible and simply pass through your system if they are left whole.
  • Chia seeds have become very popular and are readily available to buy even in small country towns like ours and as they are loaded with nutrients (healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, anti-oxidants, and calcium) and free from gluten they are good thing to have in any bar.
  • Steel-cut oats as an ingredients have already been flagged as problematic in the very first recipe mentioned above. As in the very first recipe substituting them with rolled oats might be an option here.
  • Cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries or apricots, pitted dates or fresh figs don’t pose a problem either.
  • As the coconut flakes are optional I would omit them allowing me to move straight to the next ingredients, vanilla protein powder. As I follow  non-dairy, vegan diet I would have to ensure that the protein powder is made from something like soya as oppose to whey, which is an animal product.
  • The next ingredient is unsweetened cocoa powder. Cocoa powder can be tolerated if consumed in moderation on my diet. As the recipe contains a little less than one tea spoon of cocoa powder per bar these homemade energy bars might fall into the above mentioned ‘occasional treat’ category provided they pass the test otherwise.
  • The sweetener used for these bars is honey. There is a lot of talk about refined sugars, syrups etc and honey seems to be favourable to many when compared to sugars because of their additional nutritional values and anti-inflammatory attributes. I certainly welcome a recipe that offers alternatives to pure sugar though that is probably just a reflection of my person taste. I am sure you could swap the honey for another sweetener of similar viscosity if you prefer.
  • An ingredient in this bar that doesn’t feature in any of the other ingredients is salt. If you follow a low sodium diet then chances are you probably could do with a bit of salt in a bar that aims to help you during long runs. Depending how much you sweat during run, your body looses salt. If you replenish your liquid stores with water you might be wise to replace some of the salt by eating an energy bar containing some salt like this one.

Now that we’ve looked at the ingredients I can see the potential of a bar made with from a slightly altered list of ingredients from this recipe. Looking at the methods used to prepare the recipe I would advise anybody to use a non-stick silicone baking pan or a teflon lining to avoid using a cooking spray which most likely is made from low quality oils.

The recipe combines all the ingredients in a food processor. I would advise anybody who wants to prepare these energy bars to first shred the flaxseed to unlock their nutrients and to be able  to digest them. Likewise I would make sure to combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl before adding the wet ingredients as the resulting ‘dough’ is bound to be quite tough. I imagine it could be hard to really thoroughly mix the dry ingredients if you add the wet ingredients at the very beginning with everything else. It is the only recipe that doesn’t require any baking, these bars are a real no bake energy bar!


The final verdict

Recipe 1 for the Marronthon Bars has a very long list of ingredients that would require quite a lot of adjusting. At the same time they do contain some very tasty and unique nuts and seeds combined in an unusual way. I’m always up for a challenge and I can see myself trying out the recipe once I’ve changed it around enough to make it fit my needs. Watch this space ( or subscribe to my newsletter to get notified) for an updated, adjusted version.

Recipe 2 for Bill Lynch’s great energy bars is the only recipe that requires you to bake the bars. It also declares from the beginning that the bars are gluten free and that the coconut is optional. It uses fresh fruit, spices and a selection of nuts which makes them not just attractive as a runner’s energy bar but also a nice, tasty snack or desert recipe. I would say they are the best energy bars for runners out of the four recipes for someone who wants a recipe for gluten, dairy free power bars that avoid saturated fats or trans-fats.

Recipe 3 is most likely the quickest energy bar recipe created by Runner’s World own chef Anderson. It is minimal as it uses only four ingredients and I’m willing to test the recipe once I can find a suitable alternative to the shredded coconut. The verdict is out until I’ve tested it in my kitchen but if I can make something similar I will share the recipe with you here.

Recipe 4 for the PackFit Bars created by Will Artley is a recipe for an energy bar with a big focus on slow release carbohydrates. These are homemade nutrition bars packed with ll sorts of goodness and once I alter the way I make them, I could imagine they are a great bar for recovery or very long endurance activities.

I have come up with a very tasty recipe myself that reminds me of the above energy bars. In  their original form they made a lovely nut desert but from now on they will go by the name of race biscuits! Stay tuned for the recipe and in the meantime have fun cooking, baking, exercising, running!

Be well,