Energy bars aren't cheap, generally costing over £1 each (although they can be grabbed for 65p on discounts). But what they offer is generally seen as worth it: a bit of variety from gels, kinder on the stomach, slower release energy, and a balance of sugar, salt, protein and more that your body needs while riding.
It's always been possible to make your own, however getting that balance right without wasting money by over-buying ingredients, and trying to work out how much of each nutrient is in each bar, is far from simple.
To the rescue come Wyldsson, who have created a bake-at-home bar mix that means you'll have all the ingredients you need, as well as a balanced nutritional mix that still saves you money. They work out at less than 50p a bar, are easy to bake - another virtue of the pre-mix sachet - and also customisable with flavours and nutrients as you need.
How it works
Making the bars is simple, even for a domestic liability like myself (CV highlights include making a frozen pizza melt through an oven shelf). You simply mash two bananas, an egg and some nut butter to the mix, then bake for 20 minutes to get the finished product.
Wyldsson even sell an optional, specially designed baking tray so that you get bars of the correct thickness, so the procedure really is virtually foolproof.
When the mix is baked, simply cut them into bar (or whatever) shape and wrap in foil or cling film, ready to drop in a jersey pocket before your ride.
The mix bag costs £3.49, and one bag makes 500g of finished bars when the other ingredients are added.
Wyldsson suggest almond butter, which costs £5.99 for 360g or £14.99 for a kilo. But the recipe allows that you can simply use peanut butter, which is a lot cheaper and easier to get hold of.
The finished bars
I made a batch of ten 50g bars from my mix; each bar had 154 calories, 20g of carbs and 3.65g of protein. There's also some sodium and potassium in there, to ward off cramp.
If you want more protein you can add a scoop (or more) of whey powder to the mix too.
Taste is a very personal thing, but I liked these a lot. The flavour and texture is more like a dense banana bread than a traditional bar or flapjack, while the dried fruit, whole nuts and bran all make for a pleasant (and easy to chew) snack. I actually prefer them to a fair few commercial bars I've tried.
Using peanut butter, the cost for these bars comes in at £4.09 per 500g of finished product (£4.77 with the almond butter).
Looking at some of the most popular commercial bars, 500g of Hi5 bars costs £5.35 at 46% off, it's £8.85 for 500g of ZipVit bars (25% off), £5.54 for Cliff bars on the best deal I've found, and £11.16 for Mule Bars (22% off).
The DIY bar mix is definitely cheaper, although you went the whole hog and just bought your own ingredients for energy bars I'm sure you could save even more. Of course, in either case you have to factor in the time and effort - minimal though it is - to prepare and cook the mixture.
You're meant to eat the bars within three days of making them. Given that a single batch made 10 bars, containing 1,500+ calories of riding food, you might want to share them with other riders unless you're doing multiple rides inside the 3-day period.
It's also possible to freeze the bars so they're ready to use whenever you need them; Wyldsson say:
"(We) normally advise people to take one/two out in the morning when they're leaving for work, and by their 11am break it'll be defrosted."
The question you're left chewing over is whether paying more for the convenience of off-the-shelf bars outweighs the relative inconvenience of baking them yourself.
I'm not sure of the answer. I like the bars, they taste good and deliver the energy I need. But I also know that I probably won't always remember to make (or defrost) them the night before, and grabbing pre-made ones is a LOT simpler.
So let me put it this way: while I'm not 100% sold on the virtues of always making your own bars, I will be making more of these. My next culinary adventure is to try the coffee mix...