Sunday, 5 February 2012

Homemade energy bars

Insulation is important in climbing. You're there, puffing away (you purebred athlete, you), generating all that heat... so the last thing you want is for it all to blow away when you stop, leaving you to start all over again. However, all the insulation in the world won't do you any good at all if you can't generate that heat in the first place. You have to keep stoking that fire.

So, nutrition is vital. In the winter especially, where you burn energy just to stay warm let alone climb anything, staying on top of your energy needs is critical. In fact, that's one of the many reasons why winter climbing is fun (honest) - it's almost a license to eat stuff other people would consider 'bad' and then justify it with "Well, I'll die otherwise!".

Fat rules, because you generate lots of heat trying to break it down. You also need carbs to keep you going (short and long-term release, ideally), protein to help your muscles stay in good condition, vitamins and minerals to stay generally healthy, fibre to keep things moving inside and also to regulate carb release...

Power bars are popular but are hideously expensive and often don't really contain what you need, especially for winter climbing. Inspired by a recent post by Ed (of iceclimbingjapan) I decided to have a shot at making my own power bars. I basically copied his recipe, eyeballing the amounts (but noting them as I went along) and missing out one or two ingredients I just plain couldn't find here.

To make them I just mixed all the liquidy ingredients together over a low heat to soften them up, then threw in the dry stuff and mixed it all up for a few minutes. Spread it on some wrap, topped with more wrap, flattened it and made it roughly square and then threw it in the freezer to cool. After an hour or so it was cool enough to cut into 'bars', each of about 200 kcal (so you can count what you're eating).

I'm keeping them in the freezer for now but honestly I think they'll be fine in the fridge too. I'll test one or two and see, maybe.

The ingredients (including approximate weights and calorie contents) for both 'rest/recovery' bars and 'active' bars are below.


'Rest' bar - breakfast, evening meal, etc

Ed says: "for breakfast and after climbing your system needs to recover from the last effort and store energy for the next. you want fat and protein, slow release carbohydrates, micronutrients and vitamins, and fibre to keep your system moving. these are for fast breakfasts (can be broken into hotwater if you want), straight after climbing for the day and as a midnight snack if you wake from the cold. think where you will be eating these – at a bivvy, in a sleeping bag etc – so larger blocks may be more convenient to consume."

1/2 jar (170g) smooth peanut butter - 1000 kcal
120g honey - 400 kcal
110g nutella - 580 kcal
100g dried berries - 350 kcal
20g butter - 150 kcal
25g dried shaved coconut - 120 kcal
30g chopped roasted almonds - 180 kcal
25g flax seeds - 130 kcal
30g sunflower seeds - 180 kcal
150g oats (10% oatbran) - 630 kcal

TOTAL = 780g = 3720 kcal

18 x 200 kcal bars (plus a little extra)

'Recovery' bar prior to cooling and cutting


'Active' bar - on-the-go energy

Ed says: "your system is zapping calories during this phase and doesnt want to be redirecting blood and hormones to digestion when youre climbing. you want a mix of slow and fast releasing carbohydrates, sugars to perk your brain up and flavours to make you want to eat, fibre to regulate absorbtion, plus just a hint of protein and fat to keep the system from crashing. these are designed to chow down at belays, on the move or when taking breaks. these will be eaten fast and in less-than-ideal places, so consider chopping them into bite sized chunks you can drop into a pocket or stuff sack and get to with gloves on."

1/2 jar (170g) smooth peanut butter - 1000 kcal
120g honey - 400 kcal
120g choc chips - 580 kcal
200g dried berries - 700 kcal
250g oats (10% oatbran) - 1050 kcal

TOTAL:  860g = 3730 kcal

18 x 200 kcal (plus a little extra)

'Active' bar, as above


I'm sure there's some refining to do (I overdid the chocolate in both cases, I think - I just threw it in but a little seems to go a long way!) but they seem promising and man, they taste great (shouldn't be a problem wanting to eat them... by the time I left Yatsugatake I couldn't stand the thought of eating GORP or muesli ever again...).

I'd also like to add maltodextrin to the active bars, for more slow-release carbs, but I couldn't find it here. People have recommended replacing it with oats, so given the high oat content anyway it may not be a big deal. I'd still like to track some down though.

Both bars set quite solidly and should stay that way in cold conditions. I can't vouch for them in warmer climes but you'd probably want to make a much less fatty mix then anyway.

I'll be taking a lot of these to Kaikoma along with some 'proper' meals for evenings (read: cheese and instant ramen noodles) and good ol' Kendal Mint Cake for those times when you just can't get enough sugar to keep you going...

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