Energy Bars & Protein Shakes - Do We Need Them?

Photo Credit:  Naomi Baker

Photo Credit: Naomi Baker

Written by Katherine Copeland MBE

Katherine is a double Olympian and Olympic Champion as a lightweight rower in the London 2012 Games. Since retiring from professional sport in January, she is now training to become a qualified yoga teacher. She has a love for sport, being outdoors and travelling, and is passionate about supporting and helping women find exercise they love and find fun. 

You can follow Katherine on Instagram.

Protein powders are everywhere these days - on our Instagram feeds being chowed down in shakes or added to porridge, on advertisements on the underground and on the TV being touted by celebrities. In health food shops, sports shops, and even supermarkets nowadays we see vast ranges of energy bars. 

But do we actually need them?

Yes, drinking a protein shake after weights will help your body recover and muscles repair, and yes, if you eat a sugary energy bar before your workout, you will have the energy you need to go running or jump on your bike. There are also instances where the use of commercial products are vital, for example people with certain medical conditions may need to know the exact amount of sugar they are ingesting, or people on a medical recovery programme might need large quantities of protein to aid recovery. They’re also quick- no preparation needed. 

As an Olympic athlete training 6 days a week, 3 times a day, it was really important for me to make sure my body had the fuel it needed to get me through my sessions and to help it recover as best it could after training.

For me personally though, the only time I used commercial protein powder was when I was after a race (about 4 times a year!) when I needed something that I knew my body could access super quickly. The other 99% of the time, I would opt for homemade versions. Now I have retired and train just once a day, I stick entirely with ‘proper food’. Why? Most importantly, in my opinion it tastes better! It also works out cheaper, you know exactly what all the ingredients are, it spares excess plastic packaging, and unless you have a medical condition or are undertaking a strenuous training programme, good old mother nature will provide you with everything you need.

I’ve pulled together a few outlines for recipes I use below, but go crazy and adapt to your own tastes and what’s in your cupboard.

Energy Bars

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  • 2 large eggs

  • 3 tablespoons honey

  • oil spray/butter

  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest 

  • 2 cups oats

  • 85g chopped walnuts


- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Spray baking tin with oil or grease lightly with a bit of butter

- Whisk eggs in a bowl, then add in everything else and give it a bit of arm welly and a good mix!

- Spread the mixture in a baking pan and bake for 15 minutes or until it’s set and a goldeny-brown colour. 

- Cool for 15 minutes and then cut into slices. 

- Store in tightly covered or in a tupperware in the fridge.


- Swap the walnuts for any other nuts - pecans and peanuts work really well. 

- Add in Peanut Butter (go half and half quantity of peanut butter/honey), a mashed up banana if you’ve got
one going brown in the fruit bowl or some dried fruit. I made one before with dried apricots that was
delicious, but you could use anything! 

- Swap the nuts for some mixed seeds, or go for half and half. 

Protein Smoothies

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If you’ve got an all-singing, all-dancing smoothie maker, that’s great, but it works just as well with a hand-stick blender or even a food processor. 

Choose your own combination of:


Blueberries are my favourite, but you can literally use anything in your fruit bowl! Frozen fruit works just as well as fresh. For larger things like apples, chop them up into chunks first. Unless you're particular about texture, there’s no need to peel (I’m too lazy!). 


Add a handful leafy greens like spinach or kale. One large handful and you won’t be able to taste it with the added fruit, but you’ll be able to feel smug and healthy all day long :) 


Milk is great for recovery after a weights or strength session. 

Peanut powder/Powdered peanut butter is a great and tasty source of protein and suitable for vegans. 


- If you’ve got a lonely banana going a bit brown they’re great to throw in! 

- A handful of oats adds lovely texture. 

- A spoonful of honey can add a bit of extra sweetness.

- A few ice cubes will thicken up your smoothie and make it a bit like a thick milkshake. Also so good in the
summer after a hot, sweaty run!

- Put everything in blender, and then fill out with water/milk/fruit juice (apple juice is good). 

- Blend until smooth… and enjoy! 

- These are also fine to make the night before and keep in the fridge. 

Protein Porridge

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Instead of adding a commercial protein powder to your porridge, there are lots of natural ways of getting a little bit more if you feel the need:

- Using milk instead of water 

- Adding a few teaspoons of powdered milk. This sounds weird but it’s what I did in heavy training blocks and
it actually makes your porridge really creamy, which I love. Roughly 1 teaspoon of powder equals 1 gram of
protein. The difference with adding this to your porridge over protein powder is you know what the
ingredients are.

- Peanut butter powder. Try this with a spoon full of cocoa powder for porridge that tastes like Snickers.