The Mystery of Energy Bars and Drinks

  • Why is “athletic food” held in such unquestioned esteem?
  • Why is it assumed that people who engage in athletic activity will and must eat energy bars and drinks?
  • Why is sports “nutrition” mostly about performance enhancing combinations of supplements, drinks, goos and bars?
  • The one word answer:  Marketing.
  • More specifically:  Highly masterful marketing that employs the authority of “science.”

Bar Vs. Kale Picture

Bar Debate

We were featured in a Daily Camera article last week that raised interesting questions like those above.  I got to talk with one of the athletes interviewed for the article, who had some good insights:  “Makers of athletic food products have brought science to bear in promoting their products.  Since athletic training is focused on science-based research, it’s only natural that athletes will respond favorably to scientific-type research on the superiority of manufactured energy products.”

Indeed, look at any sports site, flip through sports magazines or talk to fitness folks and you’ll discover a wellspring of enthusiastic banter about energy foods and drinks–and it is all “based on science.”

What Science Really Says

It’s curious how marketers can claim the mantel of scientific sanctity for products that often list “corn syrup” as the first ingredient.  What’s more, if we’re talking real “scientific research,” there are at least a few studies confirming the powerful benefits of food–numbering maybe in the thousands!  Why don’t these studies carry much weight in fitness circles and gyms?  Maybe because there’s a lot more money poured into advertising energy bars than what’s spent to promote broccoli florets and butter beans!

A Real Balance

Balance is such a key concept in every walk of life.  How do we profit ourselves with incredible fitness if the body is robbed of nature-given nutrients needed for true health?  That’s why I liked the title of Sarah Kuta’s Camera article: “Keeping it Real.”  Good motto for a new year.

The Real Problem:  Time, priorities and inspiration

Why can’t athletes just eat vegetables, fruit, meat, beans, etc. i.e., food?  As athlete Corey Steimel pointed out, “I struggle finding creative recipes that are not only healthy, but you can make in a timely manner.”  He and his friends get tired of eating the same things over and over.

The Real Solution

Join one of our classes and learn to cook healthful, tasty meals.  It’s easy.  You’ll be amazed at how skillful you become, even after just two or three classes.  Sports nutritionist Curt Thompson put it this way: “When people say I don’t have time to eat well, what that tells me is you’ve got your priorities wrong.”

It’s a new year, and a perfect time to work on the good eating part of your fitness equation.  We have three sessions to choose from.  Come join us, learn a few key skills–and have some fun!

What athletes are saying about our classes:

“Great hands on class!  Very informative.  Yummy healthy meals without the complications.  Thank you so much.”  –Corey Steimel:  Triathlete

“Great class!  Excellent hands on experience as well as visual experience.  Answered all questions perfectly and helped us learn in a way we understood.  Amazing class!  — Meghann Castillo:   Triathlete

Athlete's Class Photo

Happy athletes after a class learning to make kale salad, eggplant with tomatoes, and Japanese tofu.

Even More About Getting More Beans into Your Diet


A couple recent posts delved into affordability and how to make quality meat affordable.  One solution to the high price of meat, of course, lies in making vegetarian meals once or twice each week (or more.)  It’s no secret that beans are cheaper than meat, but they are also a good source of protein and substance, making them a good center-of-the-plate substitute.

Cooking Your Own Beans

Slow Cooker Beans

Hands-down, I recommend the slow cooker for cooking beans, like these pretty variegated beans from Monroe Organics. Be sure to save the juice for use like a broth (see suggestions in article.)

For even greater affordability, cook your own beans.  Then you can enjoy high-grade organic beans for just pennies per serving.  And it’s easy. Contact us for a reference sheet that you can keep handy in your cooking files.  Alternatively, check out a previous post on cooking beans, and one on an accelerated method.  I have found the slow cooker to be the best method for cooking dried beans; it eliminates many of the problems people associate with the operation.  And if time is an issue, here’s some good news.  Yesterday, I needed some beans quickly to take pictures for this series of blog posts, so I discovered an even faster, slow cooker method:

Super Accelerated Slow Cooker Beans–No Soaking Required

  • Step 1: Boil for 5 Minutes  (In a large saucepan, combine 1-2 cups dried beans  with about a quart of water.  Bring to a boil for cook for 5 minutes.)
  • Step 2:  Drain  (Drain beans into a colander–but save the juices for watering plants–then put drained beans into the slow cooker)
  • Step 3:  Boil More Water (Fill the large saucepan with another quart of water and bring to a boil)
  • Step 4:  Combine and Cook (Pour the boiling water over beans waiting in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH heat until tender to your tastes–which can be a s little as 3 to 4 hours.  Keep an eye on them as they cook more quickly than expected.)
  • Step 5:  Add Salt (Wait until beans are cooked to the desired tenderness then stir in 1/4 to 1 tsp. good sea salt, to taste.)
  • Step 6:  Eat and Enjoy (Freshly cooked beans are good enough to serve as a side dish, on their own.)

Cooking Classes Using Beans

If you want to learn more about cooking with beans, check out our classes which very often include a bean dish or two.

Waste Not-Want Not:   Bean Juice

Speaking of affordability, there’s no need to throw out the liquid from cooking beans.  Maximize food dollars, flavor and nutrition:  Drain the juice into a jar.  Refrigerate and use for cooking rice, thinning soups, cooking harder vegetables, deglazing pans or anywhere else that you’d use a broth.  It keeps for several days, or freeze it in small portions for later use.

Note:  Higher quality beans will have better juice.  For instance, Eden Organic beans are cooked with kombu, a sea vegetable that adds nutrients and reduces or eliminates the need for salt.  Conversely, lower quality beans may be cooked with a lot of salt to mask a flavor deficit.  In all dishes where you add bean juice , but especially those with higher sodium juice, be sure to taste before adding more salt.

Convenience and Freezing

You certainly can’t beat beans’ convenience.  Just open a can and you’re ready to go!  “But what if I can’t eat the whole can?” you might be wondering.  Or what if you cook a batch of beans from scratch, which tends to make a lot!  No problem.  Beans store in the frig for several days and extras can also be frozen in single serving sizes.

More About Getting More Beans into Your Diet

Nutrition, Inspiration and Avoiding Troublesome Gaseous Issues

Nutrition  While beans are packed with nutrients and protein, I try not to focus unduly on nutrition facts, like how Food G has XYZ nutrients while Food S has ABC nutrients.  This approach turns healthy eating into an arithmetic problem, and most of us never liked arithmetic to begin with.

Egg, Pepper and Potato Scramble with Black Beans

See the great color black beans add to this Pepper and Potato Scramble; better nutrition is automatic!

Instead, I like to focus on fun things like textures, colors and complimentary tastes.  And guess what?  Great nutritional content automatically follows.  That’s why I push beans.  They add incredible color and texture to a dish that might otherwise be pretty bland (think a cheese quesadilla.)  Add colorful beans and you’ve not only painted a more beautiful plate, but your nutritional density has just soared.  Now, just add some green peppers. . . and a few sauteed red radishes. . . .you get the picture!

Planning for More Beans  Attend any of my classes or work with me one-on-one and you know I can’t say enough about meal planning.  It saves time, saves money, ensures healthier and more interesting meals–and is the best known method for working new foods into your diet.  “Plan it and it will happen.”

So if you’re ready to start enjoying more beans in your diet, get out a sheet of paper and write in a couple ideas from this series of posts. Here are a few more ideas to get you going:

  • Vegetable Soup with Beans (you can even just add canned beans to canned vegetable soup.  Easy.)
  • Bean Soups:  Black Bean, Tortilla, White Bean and Kale
  • Bean Burgers (with black beans, garbanzo beans, red beans)
  • Mexican Food (of course)
  • Squash and Beans (in a quick mix or a casserole)
  • Pasta and Beans (aka Pasta y Fagioli)
  • Chili (with or without meat; combine different bean varieties for fun)
  • Chard of Kale and White Beans
  • Beans and Rice with Salsa
  • Spreads (hummus, white bean, etc.)
  • Brownies (indeed, black bean brownies are awesome!)

You’ll note that I’m only giving you general ideas, since recipes are all over the internet–and in the three dozen cookbooks languishing in your kitchen!   If you can just narrow your options so the task is manageable, then finding a recipe is easy.  So pick one, just one, idea from this post series then find a recipe to match.  Once you get going, ideas will snowball.

Butter Beans

Butter Beans in the pantry, ready for adventure.

Play  Go on a treasure hunt at the grocery store.  It only takes a couple minutes to find a bit of inspiration, but it will lighten your daily meal making routine immeasurably.  On my last shopping trip, for instance, I ran across a can of Butter Beans that will serve as a springboard for inspiration in the coming week.

Troublesome Issues of the Gaseous Variety  The downside of beans, of course, is the intestinal havoc they can cause.  Surely you’ve seen the many possible solutions in various articles.  Here’s my best advice:  Avoid eating sugar when eating a meal featuring beans.  I have no scientific study to back me up, but the sugar seems to ferment the beans with all the explosive consequences of fermentation in a tight spot.  Give it a try and see if this helps.

Getting More Beans Into Your Diet

Get to Know Them Gradually is Key

The last post on cooking tips for beans got me going on a bean theme.  So you’ll be seeing several quick posts on beans.  The timing is actually quite good, as it’s winter here in Colorado and the cold always stirs a desire for comfort food. While most people consider things like mashed potatoes and mac ‘n cheese to be the ultimate comfort foods, beans are right up there in terms of a food that soothes, warms and comforts.

Asparagus Soup with Black Beans

Beans add delightful contrast dishes. Here, a plain asparagus puree gets highlighted with black beans.

Granted, many view beans as “desert island” food, as in, something reserved for when they are stranded on a desert island.  But those in the know see gold in a batch of colorful beans.  In case you’ve yet to discover this treasure, read through this series for know-how and insights to help unlock the incredible, comforting goodness hidden within the humble bean.

Practical Tips

Willing to try?  Then to begin with, don’t look at beans as a substitute for meat, especially if you’re a meat lover.  They are two completely different foods and aren’t meant for comparison.

Butternut Squash and Potato Hash

Ditto for this butternut squash and potato hash. It tasted fine without beans, but why not add a little color and extra nutrition?

Next, get to know beans gradually–good advice whenever you’re getting to know a new food.  You wouldn’t get to know a new friend by climbing in the car for a 5-day road trip.  You’d chat at a party, go on a group hike, meet at the movies.  Similarly, don’t make a big bean casserole as your first foray into the wonderful world of beans.  Start instead by just throwing a few into already-familiar dishes, enhancing them with the color, texture and substance of beans.  See the pictures for some examples.

Finally, beans don’t have to preclude a steak or any other meat.  Go ahead and have it, but maybe not quite as big a piece.  This hearty salad (see recipe) on the side will make up for a smaller portion.

Recipe: Using Beans in Green Salads

Winter Green Salad with Cumin Dressing

Winter Green Salad with Red Beans

Red beans add a delicious warmth to this salad. Note that I substituted yellow corn chips since I had no corn in my freezer pantry.

This salad was inspired by Nava Atlas’ Vegetarian Express cookbook, which features a number of salads using canned and frozen mix-ins.  While Nava uses these convenient foods to quickly perk up a salad, they’re also great for adding color, texture and heartiness to salads in the winter months, when tomatoes, cucumbers and other common salad standbys are out of season (and are therefore quite expensive and not very tasty.)

For the Salad

I’m just giving an ingredient listing; use amounts that best suit your household size and tastes.

  • Lettuce and/or spinach
  • Canned tomatoes, diced (or reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly)
  • Frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • Olives, black or green, sliced thinly
  • Red Beans, well drained
  • Cilantro, chopped, if desired for garnish


  1. Lettuce:  A sturdier green, like Romaine, green leaf lettuce or bunch spinach will do the best job of holding up the heavier mix-ins.
  2. Canned Tomatoes:  As always, use a high-quality brand for best flavor, like Muir Glen.  So they don’t make the salad soggy, dice them, remove seeds and then drain well in a colander before adding to the salad.  Fire-roasted tomatoes are a nice addition.
  3. Corn:  For best results, remove from the freezer in the morning and thaw in the frig in a colander all day.  Otherwise, just microwave 1-2 minutes and drain, or place in a colander, rinse with hot water and drain well before adding to salad.
  4. Rice:  For a heartier salad yet, add a little warm brown rice.

For the Dressing

Fast Version:  Simply add the cumin and chili flakes (noted below) to 1/4 to 1/2 cup readymade Italian dressing.

Homemade Version:  Combine in the order given in a small, lidded jar.  Shake well to combine.  Allow to sit for at least 10-15 minutes for flavors to meld.

  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. chili flakes (more or less, to taste) or black pepper, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste
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