Making your Own Nutritional Bar

Counter of ingredients for homemade protein bars
June 18, 2015

Dave Sheanin


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Last fall I was making a batch of Rice Krispie treats for one of my kid’s school classes. I got to thinking about how tasty these treats are and how simple they are to make. In fact, the ratio of tasty:simple is pretty much off the charts (in my opinion). Then I started thinking about what I eat when I’m on the bike in training and racing. There are a lot of great products out there and several good recipes for creating your own fuel, but let’s face facts–there’s nothing quite as yummy as a Rice Krispie treat. Most of my training product food choices are either not very tasty, expensive or both. I wondered whether a Rice Krispie treat would be a legitimate replacement for other products.I set out to come up with a solution that fit the following criteria.

1. It had to be something that I look forward to eating. If it’s gross, I don’t care how nutritionally perfect it is. I’m likely not to eat it.
2. It needed to be less expensive (or at least, no more expensive) than the products that are readily available on the market.
3. It must be nutritionally appropriate for consumption during training and racing.
4. It must be easy to carry during training, particularly on the bike.

My tummy tolerated the Rice Krispie treats pretty well and they seemed to keep me fueled, even on longer rides. They are delicious and inexpensive but fail on my third criteria–they aren’t nutritionally appropriate. Since I’m not a nutrition expert, I consulted with a few friends who are and ultimately determined that if I could create a bar that more or less matched the nutritional panel of existing products like Powerbars or Clif bars, I’d be in the right ballpark. Another problem for the Rice Krispie treats is that they are pretty big for the number of calories they contain. I needed something with more caloric density.

I went through about 10 batches of trial and error recipes before settling on the recipe I’m providing here. A couple of the batches were so terrible that they simply had to be tossed. Several of the batches were pretty close but didn’t quite get the taste or size/portability right. What I’ve ended up with is tasty, relatively inexpensive (under $1 per bar), and is nutritionally similar to existing bars.

I’ve done many long training days using only these bars (and water) as fuel. I’ve successfully raced a half marathon and a half Ironman using only these bars as fuel. I will say they’re easier to manage on the bike than on a run. I’ve made many batches that I’ve shared with my kids, my always-game training partner, my daughter’s high school swim team, and members of the CU Triathlon Team. I keep getting thumbs up, so I think the formula is ready to share.

One note on the ingredients–I simply couldn’t get around using marshmallows. I know that they contain corn syrup–something that many folks try to avoid. There are some potential substitutes for the marshmallows, but I haven’t been able to come up with a recipe that works for me. In my research, I’ve come across information that leads me to believe that the corn syrup is a fine fuel source for athletes during training and racing–it’s just not something you should be eating at every meal. You’ll have to make your own decision.

I encourage you to experiment and tweak to get them just right to your taste. Enjoy and please let me know if you come up with a recipe that’s even better!

Ingredients (with notes) – makes 24 servings

  • 21 ounces (13 serving jar) Brown Rice Syrup [I’ve had good luck finding Lundberg Family Farms brand at regional and specialty grocery stores for $4.50-5.50 per jar. It’s usually with the honey and other baking items but occasionally in other places including a natural foods aisle or with the pancake syrup.]
  • ¼ cup Maple Syrup [Use the real stuff--not imitation. This masks the bitter aftertaste of the brown rice syrup.]
  • 6 TBSP butter [You might be able to reduce this a bit but I haven’t come up with a good recipe that eliminates the butter.]
  • Electrolytes [I’ve had a great experience using a product called Boulder Salt ( and adding potassium. You can probably use just about any salt capsule (like SaltStick caps). For me, adding about 1,500 milligrams of sodium plus about 2,000 milligrams of potassium is the right mix. To accomplish this, I add ¾ tsp (three packets) of Boulder Salt plus 17 100mg capsules of potassium (Boulder Salt contains some potassium as do the Rice Krispies)]
  • 10 ounce bag of mini-marshmallows [I’ve been using Kraft Jet Puffed Miniatures--classic!]
  • 6 scoops of vanilla Intek Protein [Any high quality protein powder will work. I use 186 grams of protein which adds a little under 1,000 calories to this mix. You may not need/want this much protein--it’s okay to use less but note that calories per bar will be reduced. You may want to experiment with different flavors but I’ve found vanilla to be the most pleasing.]
  • 12.5 ounce box of Rice Krispies.
  • It’s also helpful to have a little powdered sugar on hand to sprinkle the final product–it helps prevent the bars from sticking together. 


<1> In a large pot, bring brown rice syrup to a simmer for a few minutes, stirring regularly. It will turn a milky color.<2> Keep the heat on, but very low throughout the process (until you pour the mixture into the pan at the end).<3> Melt butter into the brown rice syrup and add the maple syrup.

<4> Add marshmallows and stir until they are completely melted.
<5> Stir salt and potassium into the mixture.<6> Gradually add protein powder one scoop at a time, stirring each scoop until the mixture is smooth. Be patient–it takes a bit of stirring for the powder to mix thoroughly.<7> Add Rice Krispies and mix thoroughly. Again, work hard and be patient here. Dig all the way to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to make sure you end up with a thorough and even mixture.

<8> Pour into a lightly buttered 15×10 pan. Spread evenly and use your hands to press (hard) into the pan. (If your hands are wet, the mixture won’t stick to them very much.) Your goal here is to get everything compacted and uniform across the pan as much as possible.<9> Once the bars are cool, cut into 24 squares. (Wait about 30 minutes or so–don’t wait until they’re completely down to room temperature. They’re easier to cut when they’re a little warm. Also, I geek out a little and use a ruler to do my cutting–I want my serving size to be correct so that I know how much fuel I’m putting in me.)<10> Sprinkle a little bit of powdered sugar on top and bottom to keep the blocks from sticking to each other. I’ve found this is generally helpful for storage and out on the road. On really hot days, the bars are going to stick to each other a bit, especially if you keep them in your back jersey pocket.

<11> I’ve had good luck cutting each bar into quarters when I take them out with me. This gives me one inch square (approximately) blocks of 60 calories each. Easy to eat in one or two bites. 

Here’s the nutritional breakdown with comparison bars for reference.

Coach Dave Sheanin shares that his experience has shown him that athletes get the best results when they are both physically fit and technically excellent – yet it can be challenging to slow down enough to work on form. An impatient person can learn anything in a hurry, but they will learn incorrectly.

Coach Dave Sheanin is an advocate for aligning triathletes with their race goals. He believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. He encourages you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.  

Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.  Coach Dave was honored by USA Triathlon with the Community Impact Award.

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