A while ago I was covertly encouraged by a certain thru-hiker to do a review and recommend the best energy-protein bar to take on the trail. I’ve been dragging my feet to write this post mostly because to do a review would entail actually trying the bars in question and to be perfectly honest I am not too keen on that – I’d be eating thousands of extra calories! Also, as I am trying to promote wholesome and minimally processed foods it goes against my beliefs to recommend any of these mass manufactured bars. However, as I do understand the convenience of an energy bar while hiking (or at any point during a busy workday) I decided to make my version of a bar that will not only be good for you but it most certainly taste delicious – and I can vouch for the taste-test myself 🙂
5tsp Yacon Gold Syrup (can substitute for honey or maple syrup)
28g Unsweetened Baker's chocolate
2Tbsp Raw Coconut Butter
60g Protein Powder
Chop dried fruit and walnuts
Add all ingredients together and mix well.
Add water as desired to bind all the ingredients.
Line a pyrex dish with aluminum foil and spread out the mixture from edge to edge.
Pop in the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 30-45 minutes.
Now, I know hikers (or most of the serious ones, anyway) are always concerned with the weight of their hiking gear. It makes sense to minimize it as much as possible so that one can hike most comfortably with all the necessary conveniences of daily life – or at least enough to get by. Keeping this in mind I will say that these are not light by any means – I don’t know how they compare to any commercially made bars – however one serving of my bar is 100g. The whole batch weighed at about 860g, so I don’t think you’d be taking the whole batch with you, but with a day hike in mind I don’t think it would be extremely inconvenient to take 2 servings.
PS. If you absolutely have to get a store bought bar I would go for Larabar. Having briefly looked at the ingredients of most readily available bars in a Canadian grocery store (as in no fancy, specialty bars) I can say with utmost certainty that it’s the most minimally processed bar that I would be willing to eat with pretty much the same ingredients as my bar. The weight of a Larabar is 48g, so half the size as my bar, however much denser in terms of caloric value: 190 calories, 10g fat, 24g carbs and 4g protein. Now, from a hiker’s perspective this might be a good thing since it weighs less but packs in more nutritional value. From my perspective, I’d rather have more to chew on, so to me smaller size means I’m chewing less 😉 To each their own!
It’s hip to be on the healthy eating band wagon these days, but what it often times means is buying products that really are just junk disguised as healthy alternatives. Let me explain if you don’t already know what I am about to say. You have surely heard of everybody going on about protein bars, as opposed to candy bars. It has become widely accepted that protein bars are better for you than regular candy bars because of all this protein they contain. Protein – good for you, sugar – no good for you. In principle, yes I would tend to agree, but sticking the word protein on a bar and a bunch of cheaply made whey protein in the bar is not going to make it any more healthy than a candy bar. Heck, many times they are even worse than a regular candy bar. You don’t believe me? Watch!
In my most recent order from SVN I was offered a free gift – they always have this option and mostly there isn’t anything I am particularly interested in, but this time I thought, what the heck it’s free, so I picked a protein bar. Well, let me tell you something, there is a reason why it’s free, it’s because nobody is buying it and why is it that nobody is buying it? Keep reading…
So the protein bar in question is the Muscle MaXX White Chocolate Peanut Butter – sounds delicious, doesn’t it? I picked it thinking I might have it for a cheat meal sometimes, but when it got here and I actually looked at the macros and the ingredient list and I thought to myself : “Sure as hell I will never put this garbage in my mouth!” And I tucked it away. Big, big mistake. I should have ditched it in the garbage and never looked back. But I kept it. I guess the fat kid in me did not want to let go of it that quick. So, what is wrong with the ingredients in this thing? They are not any different or better than the ingredients on a Snickers bar, I would go as far as to say that they are worse. Let me present to you the comparison of the 2 bars in terms of their nutritional value and the things they are made out of. First Muscle MaXX:
So in the spirit of transparency and not assuming any knowledge on the part of the reader, here is what’s wrong with the ingredients of this bar:
It contains Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Rapeseed Oil – the word hydrogenated refers to the fat that is man made that is extremely bad for you (now they don’t list it as trans fat which I am not sure how they get around that). When you look at the labels and you see oils that have been hydrogenated, put it away.
TBHQ is a preservative, meh – stuff that extends the shelf life of packaged foods – you won’t need to consume it if you make your own, because home made stuff does not need to sit on a shelf, you’ll eat it before it goes bad.
Graham Crackers get their own parenthesized list of ingredients and oh boy is it reminiscent of a cookie! That’s because it is a type of cookie. Here you get all the sugars your heart desires starting at sugar itself, high-fructose corn syrup and molasses, as if just sugar wasn’t enough, LOL. You also get a good dose of the hydrogenated stuff, this time only partially hydrogenated, but don’t let this fool you, it’s just as bad.
Coating is composed of some more sugar, some more hydrogenated stuff, some synthetic wax by the name of Sorbitan Monostearate (I’m not going to argue its harmful effects, but if you are following me you understand that I’m advocating minimally processed foods and this bar went through hell to be manufactured) and Polysorbate 60 which is another type of emulsifier that I’d rather not eat, but did I?
So here you have it, a pretty nasty list of ingredients that should not be in anything that bears any claims of health and wellness benefits. Now, the bar does not imply that it is good for you, but it is sold by a company whose website is plastered with ripped bodies so it implies this stuff is OK to eat if you want a six pack – after all it is a MUSCLE MAXX bar, so muscles are in your future if you eat it, right? Well, all that’s in your future is fat from eating this bar. It is a candy bar, not a protein bar – now that I think of it I’m not even sure where all this 13g of protein is coming from. After all, peanuts are predominantly a fat source. Muscle Maxx also claims that the bar is highly addictive and that part I thought they actually got right, after all it is full of sugar.
On to show you ingredients of a popular brand of candy bars, namely Snickers bar:
These were taken straight from the Snickers website and my first thought when I saw the macronutrient breakdown was that it is so extremely hard to read! So I found a better picture from the website that presents the macros.
What you will notice right away is that the macros are very similar to those of the Muscle Maxx (MM). Calories are higher for MM by 40, fat is higher for MM by 4g, carbs are higher for Snickers by 8g and Protein, which is the good stuff is higher for MM by 9g. So, all in all pretty similar.
Now, for ingredients, also very similar: tons of sugar (but we would not be surprised by that, this is a candy bar after all), corn syrup and also a good dose of hydrogenated stuff. So right to the point with the bad stuff as much as the Healthy version. I do have to say though the list seems somewhat shorter than the MM which is always a good sign, however in this case not so much – pretty much everything on the list is bad.
Now back to MM and why I should have ditched it in the garbage – yes, you probably guessed by now I did consume part of it. Why only part of it? Because it was truly the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. The graham cracker, which contained in the middle a softer mushier part, was just that, nothing wrong with the taste of a graham cracker, the coating though really tasted like wax. The really bad part was in between the two crackers – it tasted like mushy cardboard. It was not even that sweet, so I’m sort of wondering about all the different sugars… All in all I understand why SVN is giving them away – anybody who has ever tried them will never pay a cent for these bars and people who haven’t tried them know better by looking at what’s in the bar and are also not buying them. So SVN needs to get rid of them before the expiration date, so they are giving them away for free! Don’t get fooled. Might as well get a Snickers Bar, at least you won’t feel like you are eating cardboard, you won’t be pretending you are doing something good for your body and on top of that you will actually enjoy the bloody candy bar 🙂
Ever since I said good bye to my student life I hadn’t been reading as much as I used to – back then reading was a means of getting a university degree. It was an obligation. An obligation that made left me longing to read for pleasure – books that really interested me, not just the ones from a class syllabus. So many times I’d hear myself say : “I can’t wait to create my own reading list comprised of books I want to read, not just the ones that a professor deemed necessary to read to further my knowledge.” Since I’ve finished university 8 years ago I’ve only gone as far as creating my new and improved reading list and acquiring the books, but reading was yet to happen. There was always something else to do, I would get sucked in by the social media, there would be house chores waiting to be completed or I would be too tired to keep my eyes open. It’s truly been aggravating how I am not able to find the time to read! So I’ve rejiggered my priorities and bumped up “the need to read” way above other daily hurdles. What’s more, I’ve made reading doubly beneficial by incorporating it into my gym routine : reading + biking = learning and losing fat! What can be better!? I’ve always liked biking, so every morning for a warm up I hop on the stationary bike at the gym for 30 minutes. For the past couple of visits, when I had unlimited amount of time, my 30 minutes turned into 50 minutes! Why? Because I have gotten so engrossed in my reading that I forgot I was actually working! So, what was the book that kept me peddling for the past week? – It was me all along by Andie Mitchell.
I tend to try to read books that I can learn from, so several weeks ago I went on a hunt to find some educational reading. It’s not like I didn’t have anything to read on my kindle, there is plenty there. Most things that I have started reading and never finished because the books just didn’t grab my attention that much. And honestly, I find it hard to find well written books in the subject area that I am interested in, namely fitness and nutrition. Those books are either written by non-writers and are incoherent and full of spelling and grammar mistakes – hence are hard to follow. When I do come across a well written book on fitness and nutrition they tend to be academically heavy and don’t make for a good read to take with me on the bike. Those books, even though they are full of good information, are better read with a notepad and a pen right beside – not at all bike friendly. So I kept searching for something new and exciting until I came across “It was me all along”. I immediately thought to myself that I didn’t want to read about somebody losing weight, so I dismissed it right of the bat. But somehow the little chubby girl from the cover of the book kept reappearing in my search results. After an umpteenth time I have given in – I read the description on the cover and I have looked up the author. It turned out she blogs about food and her dishes looked quite fetching. I still felt highly sceptical, thinking to myself that I didn’t want to spend any time reading about somebody struggling with weight and telling me what to do to lose weight. But I figured I can always just get the sample and decide later if I wanted to actually keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve devoured the sample and purchased the book. I have just finished the last few chapters on my 50 minute bike warm up before weights!
Weather you are trying to lose weight or not or you are a foodie or a food blogger or even if you don’t care about all this talk about fitness, food and nutrition – this book is worth your time! It is well written with beautiful simplicity, yet does not make you feel like you are reading an amateur writer. It is simply very accessible without an amateurish air about it. It is an autobiographical account of Andie’s struggle with weight and what she did to develop heathy relationship with food and exercise. What I like the most about this book is that it is NOT preachy. Andie does not prescribe anything to her reader, she understands that we are all different and we all have different goals and what works for one person might not work for somebody else. She is very brutally honest about her own story, she is very open and raw and you never ever get the feeling like she is putting anybody down. If anything she’s hard on herself and her own actions. Reading her words feels like talking to your best friend – she is warm and charming. And I still can’t believe I enjoyed reading her story so very much – mostly because that’s not what I was searching for. I was more interested in something gym related, but boy am I glad I gave this book a try! Even though, I didn’t learn much related to building muscles from this book, I have learned so much more about the feelings of somebody who was so utterly unhappy in her own skin, the struggles she has gone through to come out on top and develop a healthy relationship with food. I don’t regret a single minute spent reading this book! And I could not recommend it more even if I was paid to do it 🙂 (which I wasn’t).
Andie does point out very valuable observations about unhealthy relationship with food and exercise that I think many of us tend to ignore or even not know about:
The amount of food that you eat matters most – wether it be “good” or “bad” food you still have to watch out that you don’t overeat. I have heard it way too many times – people discounting the amount of food eaten just because the food appears to be “a health food”. Just because you are eating coconut oil sautéed broccoli doesn’t mean it has no caloric value. Calories are calories, whether they come from a donut or broccoli – you can overeat on both with just as much harm done to your metabolism. Another side of this coin is that you’d have a hard time overeating on broccoli, but you get the gist.
Just because your friend is eating seemingly the same food doesn’t mean that you will both have the same end result. She might actually not be eating as much as you and you don’t even realize it.
Your exercise of choice must be something you enjoy otherwise you will quit it sooner or later.
Too much and too vigorous of an exercise will make you want to eat back all the burned calories – this is a topic for a whole new post.
Dieters are generally not good at eyeballing the amount of food they are eating – hence should use a scale at least at the beginning to learn portion size.
We tend to eat for company rather than because we are hungry.
We know the how to get healthy and fit, but we are still not doing it – and that one just keeps baffling me.
So if you haven’t already I urge you to give this book a try – don’t expect any revelations, though. The only revelation in this book is that it can be done, but a 180 is needed in your attitude to food and your relationship with it.
Sometimes all you need to get you out of a stagnant rut is a new lunch box! I don’t know if this technique will work for everybody, but when it finally got to my door this Friday I was beyond ecstatic about the meal prep this weekend!
I’ve been using a sixpack lunch bag for the past several years and it has gotten a lot of use, so I figured an upgrade was needed. I enjoyed the sixpack but I did find it a bit cumbersome at times, so I started researching smaller options. I have seen the Isolator bags on social media before and always thought they looked good in pictures, less of a bulky look. So here I am with my 3-pack Isolator bag:
It is way smaller than my previous bag and even though I have not tested it in practice yet, I think I’m going to be happy with the downgrading in size. I might actually use the shoulder strap to carry it. Before, I never have used the shoulder strap because of the bulky size of the bag. However, if you like to smuggle things in your lunch box (simply because your purse is too small) then you probably won’t like the size of the Isolator, because once you put your 3 meals in the main compartment and the 4th in the top compartment, there really isn’t any more room in the bag for anything else. There are the side compartments, but they are not very big and will probably only store my teabags and some extra utensils and water drops. I do like the mesh on each side for a water bottle, though.
And here are my meals prepped for the week in Isolator containers: 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 5 mid-morning
meals and 2 salads (I don’t like to pack salads for the entire week because they get soggy, so I keep them freshly made throughout the week). Call me crazy but I do like the even look of those containers! It will make it so much easier to figure them out first thing in the morning, grab and go. Usually all my meals would have been in whatever containers that I happen to have ready, so they would not be all identical and I don’t know about you, but I’m half unconscious in the mornings, so this will make grabbing them from the fridge so much easier. Also, the fridge looks a bit more organized when those beauties are staring back at you nicely stacked up. Not that it matters, but my mental well-being is dependent on orderly environment, so if it helps my mood, I’m for it! When they are not in use they fit in one another so that saves a lot of room in your container cupboard! One thing that I am a bit concerned about when it comes to those containers is the microwave safety. The top lid states they are microwave safe and are BPA free but somehow the bottom part sort of feels thin and plasticky, like salad containers in the grocery store. So, I hope they won’t start melting in the microwave. Will report once tested!
This is the top compartment that can store one extra meal or random things like napkins, extra cutlery, teabags or whatever your heart desires that is the size of a flat container. This compartment is not very deep at all. The top lid that zips up has a mesh pocket that you might be able to stuff random things in as well, to hold them securely in place. While we are here I will point out that the interior lining is made of somewhat stiff plastic that I am anticipating might rip pretty easily. Not sure, but that’s the feeling I get. Again, when or if it happens I’ll add on an update.
Here is a shot of the side compartment with the corner mesh for a water bottle. I actually like this bit because it will allow for potentially 2 water bottles and this is great. I really missed that feature in the sixpack. Yes, the sixpack also had side pockets that were meant for water bottles but I was never able to find a water bottle that was short enough to stuff in there and zip it. The Isolator with its mesh pockets allows for the bottle to stick out so you don’t have to find one that fits in the zippered pocket!
This is the inside of the main compartment. The bag came with 2 Isolator icepacks that fit very snuggly into 2 side pockets on each side. I must add, the fit is too snug for my liking and I am also anticipating that either the plastic of the bag or the icepack will eventually rip. Way, way, way too tight of a fit and since both the bag and the icepack are made of very stiff plastic they are bound to get damaged. I will do my best to be careful, but putting that icepack in the pocket was not an easy fit.
This picture shows you the side pocket without the icepack in it. And on the bottom you have the icepack laid on top of the bag. The extra plastic all around the pack had to be folded in order to fit it into the side pocket.
All in all, not having used the bag in practice yet, I am content with this purchase. I will no longer look like I am walking around with a cat carrier when carrying my lunch bag, as this is more the size of a regular lunch box. I might miss the extra space for random things thrown in my lunch box, but that might be a good thing. Extra space means extra food, just in case food, that usually ends up being snacks like protein bars etc. and if I don’t have it with me, I won’t eat it and it won’t stick to my hips!
UPDATE #1: I have been using my bag for about a week and so far I have had no issues with it. It has not ripped yet and I am being careful but not to the point where I wouldn’t use the bag as it has been intended or being ridiculously cautious. I use it as you would any lunch bag – to transport my meals 🙂 The lining of the bag is very stiff indeed, feels very plasticky to the touch, but that’s mostly aesthetics, unless it does tear, then there is an issue. I’ve learned to “manipulate” the ice packs in such a way that putting them in is a little bit easier than initial try. I fold the edges slightly and slide them in with the flat back facing the outside of the interior and flat to the side pocket. This seems to work best, however, it still is a tight fit. The bag itself is very unobtrusive and feels more like carrying an actual lunch bag and this is a huge plus. Personally, 4 meals at a time is plenty for me, because I’m never outside of my house for long enough to need to eat more than 4 meals and unless I was traveling I would not pack more than 4, so size wise it is exactly what I needed.
The containers: boy oh boy do I love them!! They are the bomb! I love how uniform they are and how little rom the take in my cupboard once stacked together!
They also did very well in a microwave – they did not melt or even lose shape in any way and I used my regular 2 minute setting I used before. I thought I would not like the lids as they didn’t appear to be able to close snugly, but they are snug enough and nothing has yet leaked out of my containers, which can’t be said about other containers I have used in the past that flood my cupboards.
I can’t comment about how they do in the dishwasher because I opted for cleaning them in the sink. Simply don’t want to jinx myself and get them come out all wrinkled or melted. Nope, not even willing to try with one. I have gotten into a bit of a routine where I unpack my lunch box right away upon arrival home for work, washing the containers and putting the icepacks in the freezer – this makes for an easier packing in the morning and my icepacks are always frozen 🙂
They are very sleek and quite handsome 🙂 Normally, carrying around lunch is very obvious, not with these babies. I even snuck them into a coffee shop the other day (I did order a meal for a certain thru-hiker and 2 coffees) but nobody even said anything about my home made food.
In my daily facebook browsing I have come across an article about the harmful effects of too much protein that showed in my feed from one of the fellow fitness-nutrition enthusiasts. Since I have been contemplating the amount of protein, as in grams of protein, we should be consuming, for as long as I have been weight training, I found the title of the article quite fetching. So, in hopes of getting some valuable information I jumped right in to read it.
It turns out that the article is mostly about how the supplement industry is being supported by the bodybuilding community in that the “athletes” promote the powders (mostly whey and casein according to the author) by signing up with the supplement companies to be sponsored. So, you see a bodybuilder touting a certain brand of protein powder and in return the company pays them. The consumer sees that and believes big muscles cannot be obtained but by consuming large amounts of expensive protein powders and pays in turn big bucks for said powders. And that’s why protein powders and by extension consumption of protein are bad. Simplistic? I should think so.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of consumer manipulation going on in this little scenario and one should always employ sound judgement and view the heavily photoshopped shiny marketing photos with a grain of salt. However, to make a claim that you don’t need a whole lot of protein in your diet to build muscle would be preposterous. So, the author does go on to point out that too much protein in the form of cow’s milk, of which both whey and casein are derivatives, is a proven cause of cancer. He quotes The China Study to support this claim – as I have yet to read it, I will not argue this point. But I will argue how slyly the author interjects the statement that too much protein literally kills bodybuilders. He says:
Two of my favorite professional bodybuilders, Nasser El Sonbaty and Mike Matarazzo, recently died in their forties, likely from diet-related health issues. In all probability, their deaths were a result of too much protein consumption, coupled with the use of performance enhancing substances day after day until their organs failed.
Yes, anabolic steroids are a dangerous substance and they have claimed the lives of many – protein or protein powders are not the same thing as steroids. If it were true that too much protein caused death, then we would all be dead, because the western diet is already high in protein without the supplementation. Too much of any macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate) will just make you gain weight, which in turn can lead to diet related illness that may cause death, but it’s not as simple as what the author would have you believe. You can’t say that, if a heroin addict, who overeats on a daily basis, overdoses that they died of too much food! Clearly the culprit will be the drug they overdosed on…
The author clearly has a problem with the supplement industry and I can’t blame him for that. What’s more, I agree with his claim that providing protein in the form of supplements and making it seem like you need them, is a great way of ripping people off – take their money and run. So he attacks the supplement companies but to make his argument stronger and more believable he decides to prove that, in general, too much protein is bad. So, you shouldn’t go looking for other sources of protein because you only need about 5-10% of your daily caloric intake in the form of protein. Let me show you how little that is:
Let’s assume that a healthy adult eats on average 2000 calories – which is a bit of a stretch, most sedentary people don’t need this much food, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that one needs this much. Most food base their daily values on 2000 calorie diets anyway. So here is how little protein 5-10% of your daily caloric intake is:
5-10% of 2000 cal = 100-200cal
Since 1g of protein is 4cal –> 100:4= 25g of protein and 200:4=50g of protein
So consuming 2000cal a day you should be getting 25-50g of protein according to this fella. If this was what you were doing it’s a sure thing that you would not need to reach for supplements because you would get that from 3.5oz of cooked chicken breast which is a very measly amount of meat and contains 22.6g of protein! So, you would be getting half your daily allotment of protein in one meal, let’s say at dinner time. You might have another 3.5oz cooked chicken at lunch to bring it to the maximum of 50g, but forget about bacon and eggs for breakfast or any milk in your cereal, you have no more room! No other meal could contain any significant amount of protein from other meats, eggs, dairy and I’m not even going to mention trace protein from veggies, beans, nuts etc.. All your other meals would have to be composed in big part of carbohydrates and fats!
Let me give you another, more realistic example of 1500cal for an average woman:
5-10% of 1500cal = 75-150cal from protein
75:4 = 18.75g of protein a day
150:4 = 37.5g of protein a day
This caloric intake would have you consuming between 18.75 and 37.5 grams of protein a day which equals to, yes you guessed it, 3.5oz of chicken at the most! You might have one egg for breakfast which is about 6g of protein, but watch out for those foods with trace protein because they all add up! Did you know that a serving of 40g of oats contains about 7g of protein? And 100g of cooked rice is 3g of protein and 150g of broccoli is 4.5g of protein, natural peanut butter adds up too… Forget about it, you’re at your max. So how on earth would you be able to eat such a small amount of protein?
This recommendation is ridiculously impossible to attain – and for the sole purpose of proving that supplement companies are scamming us out of our money? No, Robert Cheeke, the author of this article is a proponent of plant-based diet so he doesn’t get his 22.6g of protein from chicken breast and he thinks you should not either, so that’s why you don’t need supplements and by extension protein:
As a semi-retired bodybuilder and current health and wellness advocate and multi-sport athlete, I endorse a whole-food, plant-based diet for optimal results, even when bodybuilding. I aim to put the desire for elevated levels of protein to rest by showing how a relatively low protein, whole-food, plant-based diet can support all athletic endeavors effectively and efficiently. I have achieved great results as a plant-based athlete for the past two decades, and have sought to lead by example.
But it turns out that he used to eat high protein diet and only recently made this switch. So, my conclusion is: don’t believe everything you read out there and make your own decisions based on how your body responds to what you feed it. There is no right or wrong way to reach your goals. Your body is your own and only you can tell what will work for it and what won’t. Don’t copy mindlessly somebody else’s formula, make your own. I know I learned this the hard way.