What's in Your Bar?

A simple guide to choosing the right energy bar

Photo by Shelby Elsbree

Dancers love energy bars. As a quick, portable snack, the right one can provide a smart source of fuel between rehearsals. But some options can be little more than glorified candy bars. With dozens of brands and flavors available, what should you look for? Although you could spend hours comparing ingredients, there are three main things to pay attention to: carbs, protein and sugar.

Time Your Carbs and Protein

Before a rehearsal or performance, choose a bar that will sustain your energy with about 20 grams of carbs (from sources like oats, soybeans, dried fruit), advises Joy Dubost, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Afterward, she says, you want a bar with 8 to 10 grams of protein (seeds, nuts, nut butters, flax) to rebuild your muscles and jumpstart the recovery process.

Track Down Added Sugar

No matter when you’re eating, avoid too much added sugar, which provides little to no nutritional value and can lead to an increase in calories and, over time, weight gain if consumed too often. This is often a problem in protein-heavy bars: “The higher the protein, the more sugar they have to add to make it palatable,” says Dubost. It can be tricky to figure out how much sugar is naturally occurring from sources like fruit, versus added sugar, such as maple syrup or agave, but the order of the ingredients can offer a clue: “The further down a sweetener is on the ingredient list, the less there is.” 

Make Your Own

A passionate baker, Boston Ballet dancer Shelby Elsbree prepares these sesame bars (her personalized take on a popular recipe) to boost her energy between back-to-back performances.

Sesame Bars


1 1/2 cup walnuts

1 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup dried super berries

   (goji, acai, etc.) 

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp maple syrup

3 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 cup shredded

   unsweetened coconut

1 tsp salt

1 bar of 70–80% dark Valrhona

   Chocolate (optional)


1. Lightly toast the walnuts in a large saucepan on low heat for a few minutes. In a food processor, blitz them into a coarse flour. Add sesame seeds to the saucepan.

2. Add berries to the food processor. Pulse for one minute, then pour everything into the saucepan. Add honey, syrup, coconut oil, coconut and salt. Stir until everything is combined, sticky and warm.

3. Cover an 8×10-inch baking dish with parchment paper and pour in the mixture. Flatten it with the back side of a spoon (dip it in water to prevent the seeds from sticking). Refrigerate for one hour, then cut them up and wrap in sandwich paper.

4. If desired, melt chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip chilled bars into the chocolate, and refrigerate until hard.

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