Athlete Food: DIY Energy Bars

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My previous attempts at DIY energy bars all ended at the grocery store. I would walk in with a long list of ingredients and walk out with a half-dozen pre-packaged, healthy-enough snacks from the aisle full of options. Baking bars had been high on my should-do list for years, but why spend time cooking something I could buy so easily?

Because after a while, all the packaged bars start to taste the same.

More: Athlete Food: Melissa's Stovetop Fajitas

A quick search pulled up the recipe I'd thought about for years: The Bakery's 30-year-old energy bar recipe that Melissa scored for a Runner's World story. Savory with tahini, sweet with honey and supercharged with nuts and seeds, these are the only bars I've ever had that fill me up for three or four hours. The Bakery is in New Paltz, New York, and is a favorite refueling destination for climbers, cyclists and runners.

Every ingredient in the bars is naturally gluten-free, so I didn't have to fuss over substitutions. But I did tinker with the recipe to incorporate my Athlete Food staples: coconut oil, ground flax seeds for omega-3s and pumpkin and chia seeds.

The Bakery shapes the bars individually. I shaped half of my batter and spread the rest out in a sheet pan, then cut them like brownies after baking. The shaped bars cooked much more evenly and held together better, so form them before baking if you have five extra minutes.

More: Athlete Food: Roasted Shrimp Rice Bowl

Making these bars was a bit of a workout, (at least by my current standards) with the tahini to stir, the dates and nuts to chop and the sticky measuring cups and bowls to clean. Was it worth it? I think so.

The bars are so addictively tasty that I had to freeze them to stop myself from polishing off the whole batch. Can't say I've ever had to exercise restraint on a packaged bar, even the ones laced with dark chocolate.


Update: Melissa recently made a batch of these bars and they accidentally got crushed in her overflowing pantry. She was left with crumbly bits of energy bars, so she reinvented them -- first as cereal with almond milk and then as an ice cream topping.

Four-Seed Tahini Coconut Energy Bars

Two sets of measuring cups come in handy here. If you only have one set, measure out the dry ingredients before greasing the measuring cups.

Time: 30 minutes, plus 20 minutes baking

1 teaspoon olive oil, for greasing the pan and measuring cups
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted salted cashews, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a baking sheet and 1-cup and ?-cup measuring cups with the teaspoon of olive oil. (Greasing the measuring cups prevents the honey and tahini from sticking.)

Stir together the honey, tahini, vanilla, coconut oil and sea salt in a very big bowl. Add the dates, oats, coconut, almonds, cashews and the sesame, pumpkin, ground flax and chia seeds. Combine well.

Spread batter into a one-inch-high rectangle on the greased baking sheet. Cut into 12 2-inch-by-3-inch bars. Pat the larger stray pieces back onto the bars. Bake until the edges are golden, 20 minutes.

Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for four days or in the freezer for up to three months. Since the bars stay soft and sticky, freeze them first, then wrap individually in plastic wrap.