nutrition

4 Weird Ways I Trick Myself into Drinking More Water

We’ve all heard the rule that you need to drink 2L of water a day, more if you work out or drink caffeine. As a population we also generally suck at drinking even half that amount, which has led to every health website out there extolling the virtues of drinking water and the myriad of ways you can convince yourself to do so.

This post is not going to repeat what you’ve heard everyone else saying. You already know you should be drinking more water, and you already know a bunch of ways to make it more appetizing. If that advice was working you probably wouldn’t be here.

So if you’ve already used all the typical ideas like adding lemon juice and keeping a water bottle handy, try one of these 4 weird tricks.

1. Race yourself.

finishingTheRace

Everything is more fun as a competition, which is why runners innocently out for their morning 5k are constantly losing races they didn’t know they were in. Apply the same concept to water consumption, and suddenly you’re racing to see how much water you can drink by lunchtime (my current PB is 1.25L) or how soon in the day you can finish 2L (my PB is 2:36pm).  Of course drinking 2L of water in the morning and then nothing the rest of the day isn’t going to help you as much as as spreading it out over the day, so use this one within reason.  On your mark, get set…go!

2. Refuse to go to the bathroom until you finish your water bottle.

stubborn girl

Missing those good old days when you could be a stubborn child and refuse to do things, just because? Relive those memories by stubbornly refusing to use the bathroom until you’ve finished your water bottle. You’ll be chugging that water like it’s a sugar-loaded Coke.

3. Write deadlines on your water bottle.

IncreaseyourwaterintakeWaterbottleswithtimedeadlines

You might get some odd looks from coworkers who wonder why your water bottle has every hour written on the side in sharpie, and you might find yourself chugging that last 100mL every hour to stay on target…but dammit, you’ve got a schedule to keep! Just divide 2L into manageable chunks of time, and mark down times on the side of your water bottle. For bonus points, give handmade water bottles to coworkers as birthday gifts. Who’s laughing now?

4. Train yourself like a dog. Use treats.

dogs & chocolate

Positive reinforcement isn’t just for dogs and children anymore. Make a rule that you have to drink 500mL before your morning coffee, or finish your water bottle before taking a morning break…or if you’re really serious, try my favourite: no chocolate unless I drink 1L by lunchtime. Chocolate creates a lot of incentive.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried?

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Sweet Millet Congee

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It’s a quick update today, but after four days on the Wild Rose Cleanse, I still haven’t had those terrible first few days everyone talks about. No cramping, no GI issues, no headaches and normal energy levels. I also realized that the Wild Rose diet is basically what I always eat, with the exception of dairy, sugar and flour. Not too difficult to find delicious ways to cook with all that’s left!

The best part of avoiding sugar has been learning a bunch of new ways to flavour things. I put tons of cinnamon in my oatmeal, along with frozen cranberries for a delicious, cozy breakfast. I also tried cooking millet since it’s one of the recommended grains, and discovered an amazing recipe on the back of the package! I’ve made some modifications and I’d like to share it. (more…)

Wild Rose Cleanse: Day One

This week I decided to try a cleanse.  I know cleanses are viewed skeptically by most of the “I actually want to be healthy rather than just skinny” crowd, and usually lumped in with magic weight loss pills and wonder supplements.  Trust me, I feel the same way about most and I’m not about to go on a strict lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper diet.  The reason I decided to try a cleanse that I have evaluated as being healthy is because I believe in trying things for myself, rather than just following what everyone else says.  It’s true, I might be buying into the exaggerated claims of a multi-billion-dollar industry; but that’s not a reason not to give it a try and see how it works.

As for why I decided to do a cleanse rather than just following a normal healthy diet? For the past few months I’ve been noticing that my digestion is a little off and I’ve been having really strong cravings (no, I’m not pregnant!); yesterday I couldn’t resist a brownie with my lunch, simply because I saw a tray of desserts at reception, and that’s so unlike me.  I’m interested to see if the change in diet and supplements results in an improvement to how I’m feeling.

The other reason is that I feel like I need a reset on my diet.  I haven’t been eating well lately (by my standards), and considered doing an elimination diet a couple of weeks ago to break the sugar cycle – this worked until I started pulling 60 hour weeks at the office and had a couple nights of bad sleep, then I was right back on the sugar train.  The diet that goes along with the Wild Rose Cleanse is very close to a typical elimination diet, restricting sugar and dairy while focusing on foods like fish, whole grains and vegetables.  That’s the other reason I chose Wild Rose: the diet is real, unprocessed food.  None of this “fruit juice with ginger three times a day” stuff, because I know that wouldn’t last – maybe a day, and I would go nuts for actual food.  If you’re interested in critiquing the diet, a the whole thing is listed here.

So today is day one.  Steel-cut oats with whole cranberries and cinnamon for breakfast, and fried brown rice with egg, peas and corn for lunch.  Apparently the first few days are the worst, so I’ll keep you posted!

Experiment of One: Sugar

I had a total revelation last week (and it resulted in an awesome recipe, at the bottom of this post).

Since I’m no longer training, I decided to do a little nutritional “experiment of one” around sugar and stimulants (i.e. caffeine).  I was inspired by my sister who recently cut out all sugar – and I mean all sugar, even natural sugars like honey, fruit, dairy and anything else containing lactose, fructose or glucose – after learning sugar is one of her food sensitivities.  I figured I’d give it a try and see what happened.

Although I planned to start my no-sugar, no-caffeine diet on Monday, I only lasted until about 4pm so I didn’t technically start until Tuesday.  But seriously, not eating any sugar is freaking hard ’cause that stuff is in everything!  No raisins in my yogurt, no banana, no chocolate – definitely not something I could keep up long term.

So, I was only successful in doing one day of no sugar at all.  But over the rest of the week I started adding in sugar gradually, and I’ve still drastically reduced the amount I used to eat every day.  I also learned a couple cool things about how my body responds to sugar (and here I’m using “sugar” to refer to natural or refined because fruit has more or less the same effects):

  • Between 30 and 60 minutes after eating sugar, even if I’m not hungry, I get a strong desire to eat – specifically sugar and junk food cravings, but I just feel the need to eat something.
  • This craving goes away if I wait about 15 minutes without eating.

I spent most of the summer wondering why I constantly felt a need to eat even when I wasn’t hungry, but then I’d snack on fruit because it’s delicious and good for you.  Vicious circle ensues, leaving me feeling simultaneously guilty and unsatisfied.

But I also learned something else about sugar cravings this week: excessive sugar cravings are a sign of overtraining, according to page two of Avoiding Late-Season Burnout from Inside Triathlon.  I’d never made that connection, but it makes sense and might have made it’s own contribution too.

My final discovery this week was the BEST BREAKFAST CEREAL EVER.  Homemade, gluten-free/low, totally sugar-free (unless you put raisins in it like I do) and so many variations: basically pick any combination of seeds and grains, mix them with some sort of dairy or non-dairy milk or yogurt and let them sit for about 15 minutes then enjoy!  I throw it all together in the morning when I get up, and it’s ready by the time I’m out of the shower.

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Clockwise from top: chia seeds, hemp seeds, kasha, flax meal, rolled oats

Best Breakfast Cereal

Here’s what I put in one serving, but feel free to substitute (Bulk Barn carries most of these):
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp kasha (toasted buckwheat)
1 Tbsp hulled hemp seeds
2 Tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp raisins
1/2 cup milk

Mix everything together, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes so the chia seeds have time to gel.

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Nutritional info: 296 cal, 33g carbs, 8g fibre, 14g protein, 12g fat (healthy ones!)

Variations:

  • Add half a scoop of protein powder (I use Vega sport protein)
  • Use unsweetened almond or flax milk instead of dairy
  • Add cinnamon and apple chunks
  • Substitute steel-cut oats if you like a chewier texture
  • Add more rolled oats for texture or to increase the carbs
  • Mix everything in a small pot and eat it warm
  • Add a few spoonfuls of Greek or regular plain yogurt
  • Make it the night before and store in the fridge overnight so it’s ready in the morning
  • Flavour with vanilla extract or cocoa powder
  • Anything else you can think of!

Happy eating!

Hamilton Pre-Race Report

I don’t usually write pre-race reports, but this race is the biggest and longest one I’ve done all year, definitely the most painful, and the only one I might not even finish – all of which makes me much more nervous than usual (in the best way possible).  I felt it would be worthwhile to write down some of my goals and strategies so I can review what I followed, what worked and what didn’t after the race.  You know, once I’m done eating my dark chocolate-covered almonds and cranberries that will be waiting for me at the finish line, courtesy of my race-support Dad! :)

First of all, the goals:

My top priority is to finish the race, obviously.  Feeling strong or smiling when I cross the finish line would be nice, but the basic goal is pretty simple: no matter what, finish the race.  Since it’s my first marathon, that’s a PB right there.

My secondary goal is to run under 4 hours, which should be doable and is a nice round number (as well as being completely arbitrary), but it’s more of a consolation goal because my really super-amazing awesome goal is to run 3:30 and qualify for the Boston Marathon!  I know it’s a really big stretch, but I also know it’s possible if everything comes together and I run a strong race.

Since I’m counting on a lot to work out, I’ve come up with strategies for just about everything.  I haven’t made them into an excel spreadsheet yet, but just wait; there’s still time. :)

Pacing is probably the simplest, especially since my goal time of 3:30 works out to just under 5:00 pace. I’m staying a little conservative since it’s my first marathon, and plan to run about 1:47 for the first half and 1:43 for the second half if I can, both of which are under my current half marathon PB of 1:52. Woohoo, double PB!

Nutrition is also relatively straightforward since I’ve practiced plenty in training.
Pre-race: Lots of healthy carbs today and tomorrow, spaghetti the night before, and a scrambled egg sandwich on a bagel with coffee before the race.
During the race: One GU gel every 5km, which works out to about 50g of carbs per hour and also breaks up the distance into nice manageable chunks, with sugar at the end of each. :)  I’m wearing my fuel belt with two small bottles, which will mean I don’t need to worry about missing aid stations and I can take my gels every 5k rather than every 6k at the aid stations.

The toughest part is my psychological strategy.

Beyond the usual difficulties with the distance, my piriformis refuses to behave itself and has been painful enough to stop my last few runs.  I’m going to tape up my piriformis with my gorgeous purple KT tape, and hope that the extra support will delay the onset of pain and/or potentially reduce its severity once it shows up, and I’m preparing myself to manage a lot of pain.  I do have my doctor’s approval to run through the injury, so I’m working on mantras and dissociative strategies to help me manage for as long as I need to.  I’ve written “Embrace the pain” on my left arm, and even though I’m wearing long sleeves, I’ll know it’s there.

But as far as running the actual distance is concerned…well, I haven’t.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, and even for distances I’ve done in training, I have a difficult time coming up with mantras ahead of time since they’re typically different for every race.  Some of the mantras that have gotten me through other races are:

“Just keep going”
“Strong and smooth”
“Make it count”
“Own the pain”
“I am stronger”
“Make them suffer”

I’m not sure which of those will find their way into my head on race day, but tonight I stumbled across a slightly longer quote that really clicked with me:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things” – Benjamin Franklin

I think I know what I’m going to write on my other arm. :)

Carbohydrates, Protein and Fueling Performance

Grain_group

With the start of my marathon training, I’ve renewed my focus on nutrition and just finished reading Matt Fitgerald’s book Racing Weight to get a better understanding of the specific needs of endurance athletes. The premise is simple: the more non-power-producing weight (i.e. fat) you are carrying, the slower you will be relative to your leaner self. This is pretty obvious to most of us, but what I like about Racing Weight is the way it approaches what is often (but not always) weight loss.

An important reminder for me is that the goal of optimizing my nutrition is not to lose weight, the goal is to get faster. Being a controlling A-type personality with lots of willpower means I can starve myself into slower race times without even realizing it, because I’m not even coming close to meeting my nutritional needs. Remember: the goal is to get faster; the goal is not to lose weight, although losing weight may be a means to the goal.

There is some wonderfully detailed (and scientifically-backed) discussion covering how improvements in your diet quality will optimize your body composition and provide the energy and nutrients needed to fuel and recover from workouts, and specifically what is required for athletes as a subset of the general population. While a large section is dedicated to methods of quantifying and improving diet quality (which is a huge component of proper nutrition), the part I am most excited about discusses macronutrient requirements – specifically carbohydrates and protein – which is precisely the information I have had so much trouble finding!

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the primary fuel used in muscle contraction so obviously endurance athletes need a lot more of them, which is why I’m stuffing my face with a banana as we speak (you think I’m kidding). What nobody seems to agree on is how much us crazy endurance athletes actually need!

Carbohydrate requirements actually increase with training volume, so a single number isn’t going to work for everyone all the time. Based in the information in Matt’s book, my training volume of about 7 hours per week means my daily requirement is about 395g, and more during heavy weeks. Because I’d like to eat as many carbs as required without overdoing it in the calorie department (I have a very “efficient” metabolism), I came up with a list of foods which have the greatest quantities of carbohydrates per calorie and thought it might be useful information for anyone else in the same situation. Of course my overall strategy of focusing on less processed and more natural foods still applies, so just because sweetened dried cranberries are high up on the list doesn’t mean I consider them a staple!

Another interesting tidbit: pure carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram; lower numbers mean that the carb total includes insoluble fibres which aren’t absorbed, and higher numbers mean calories are provided by nutrients other than carbohydrates (and you’ll notice that many of the foods in the carb list also have significant amounts of protein).

Also, there is a very good likelihood that I missed your favourite carb. This is not cause for alarm, simply let me know and I’ll add it.

Source (serving) CHO (g) Energy (cal) Cal/g
Raisins (1/4c) 32 120 3.75
Dried dates (6) 31 117 3.77
Orange 18 68 3.78
Apple 25 95 3.80
Banana 29 112 3.86
Dried Cranberries (1/3c) 33 130 3.94
Strawberries (1c) 12 49 4.08
Peach 14 59 4.21
Baby carrots (9) 14 60 4.29
Apricot 3.9 17 4.36
Sweet potato 37 162 4.38
Potato 37 163 4.41
White rice (1/4c dry) 45 205 4.56
Brown rice (1/4c dry) 39 180 4.62
Catelli pasta (3/4c dry) 66 310 4.70
Cauliflower (1c) 5.3 25 4.72
Pretzels (10 twists) 48 228 4.75
Pumpernickel bagel 42 203 4.83
Couscous (1/4c) 33 160 4.85
Popcorn (1/4c unpopped) 37 180 4.86
Puffed corn (2c) 24 120 5.00
Fig newtons (2) 22 110 5.00
Plain rice cakes (2) 14 70 5.00
Broccoli (1c) 5.8 30 5.17
Homemade bread (slice) 19 100 5.26
Frozen corn (3/4c) 15 80 5.33
Banana bread (slice) 34 184 5.41
Tomato sauce (1/2c) 8 45 5.63
Amaranth 32 180 5.63
Quinoa (1/4c dry) 30 170 5.67
Steelcut oats (1/4c dry) 29 170 5.86
Spaghetti squash 18 144 8.00

Protein

Protein has always been a touchy subject for me because usually the first question I get upon revealing that I am primarily vegetarian is: “but how do you get enough protein?” First of all, most people eat far more protein than they require (daily recommendation is about 0.8g/kg), and second, protein is in a far greater variety of foods than people imagine. Many vegetables and grains contain significant amounts of protein, and while they may not contain all the essential amino acids on their own, eating a varied diet throughout the day is usually adequate for meeting your amino acid requirements.

Athletes typically need more protein than the general population as it assists with muscle repair and recovery, and helps replace your carbohydrate stores following a workout. I have seen a huge range in the quantity of protein recommended for athletes (anywhere from 1.1 to 1.6 g/kg), but Matt Fitzgerald more specifically recommends 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight; I would suggest trying more and less to see what makes you feel better, since not everyone needs the same amount. I have always targeted about 60g of protein per day, and was pleasantly surprised to find I was already close to my calculated daily requirement of 66g.

For the same reasons I mentioned above, I like knowing my most efficient protein sources on a calorie basis. The important thing to keep in mind is that many foods that are not calorically efficient as a protein source still contain healthy fats and other nutrients and minerals that are incredibly healthy and part of maintaining a varied diet. Don’t avoid almonds just because they pack 27 calories per gram of protein – you’ll still benefit from eating them!

As with carbohydrates, proteins contain 4 calories per gram; typically foods on this list contain more fats and other nutrients, which results in a greater number of calories per gram of protein. Be careful about consuming too much fat with protein as it can interfere with absorption.

The list below is tailored to my diet, since I am primarily vegetarian plus fish and do occasionally eat chicken and other meats. I didn’t include your delicious t-bone steak and definitely have some foods that not everyone likes, so if you would like me to add a food just let me know (adding phrases like “pretty please, with a cherry on top?” generally gets my attention faster).

Source (serving) Protein (g) Energy (cal) Cal/g
Tuna (1 can) 30 130 4.3
Vega protein choc. (1 scoop) 25 130 5.2
Greek yogurt, 0% plain (3/4c) 18 120 6.7
Yves veggie ground (1/2c) 13.5 90 6.7
Cottage cheese 2% (1/2c) 13 90 6.9
M&M Veggie Burger 17 140 8.2
Chicken Breast (1/2, 145g) 30 250 8.3
Tofu medium firm (1/5 block) 8 70 8.8
Cottage cheese 4% (1/2c) 12 110 9.2
Greek yogurt, 2% plain (3/4c) 16 150 9.4
Salmon filet (6oz) 34 354 10.4
Edamame (1/2c beans) 11 120 10.9
Broccoli (1c) 2.6 30 11.5
Egg (1 large) 6 72 12.0
Lentils (1/4c dry) 13 170 13.6
PC Meatless Chicken (4 strips) 14 190 13.6
Cow’s milk 2% (1c) 9 130 14.4
Soy milk original (1c) 7 110 15.7
Peas (3/4c frozen) 5 80 16.0
Cheddar cheese (2 slices) 10 160 16.0
Goat cheese (1cm slice, 30g) 5 80 16.0
Refried beans (1/2c) 6 110 18.3
Schneider Chick’n nuggets (4) 12 220 18.3
Feta cheese (1″ cube) 2.4 45 18.8
Chickpeas (1/2c canned) 5.5 105 19.1
Natural peanut butter (1T) 5 100 20.0
Hummus (1/4c) 5 102 20.4
Quinoa (1/4c dry) 7 170 24.3
Steelcut oats (1/4c dry) 7 170 24.3
Balkan style yogurt (1/2c) 4 100 25.0
Almonds (12 nuts) 3 80 26.7

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I didn’t talk about fats at all. That’s on purpose, and due to the simple facts that they’re not as important to endurance sports as protein and carbohydrates, and most people more than meet their daily fat requirements just through eating normal amounts of healthy food. I eat more fat because I find that I feel much better on a higher fat diet, have fewer non-hunger food cravings and have healthier skin and nails than when I restrict my fat intake. I also prefer full-fat dairy products because they’re less processed and therefore more natural, and because they taste so much better than low-fat versions – and honestly? I don’t eat food that doesn’t taste good, no matter how healthy it is! Just ask me how long it took to find a way I like kale, and how vehemently I refused to eat it before then.

Speaking of kale, I believe there will be a kale recipe joining the blog before long, so keep your eyes peeled so you don’t miss it. I know how disappointed you would be.

Happy eating!

Cranberry Orange Seed Bars

Nuts and seeds are an often-overlooked category of food that contain many essential nutrients and minerals; chia seeds have recently become incredibly popular for their many health benefits, but they’re not the only seed you should be adding to your diet. Not only are all of these seeds incredibly healthy, they also have a few specific benefits for athletes!

Chia Seeds

  • Water-soluble fibre, which slows digestion and regulates blood sugar.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids support the nervous system and healthy brain function.
  • Phosphorous, which is used to synthesize proteins, carbs and fats for tissue growth and repair.
  • Manganese to regulate metabolism and assist with the formation of connective tissue and healthy bones.
  • Tryptophan improves both sleep and mood and regulates appetite.
  • A source of protein.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Minerals help repair tissues damaged through exercise and improve sleep, both of which speed recovery.
  • Chia seeds absorb large amounts of water, making them a great option for boosting hydration. One study compared carbo-loading using a drink with 100% of calories from Gatorade to one with 50% of the calories provided by Gatorade and 50% by chia seeds; the chia mixture provided the same results but with a better nutritional profile (more Omega-3s) and less sugar.
  • Chia seeds have traditionally been used by endurance athletes such as the Tarahumara, and were mentioned in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run.

Pumpkin Seeds (also called Pepitas)

  • Alkaline-forming, which counteracts bone loss as a result of low body pH and can improve energy levels and immunity.
  • Complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.
  • Magnesium helps with body temperature regulation, transmission of nerve impulses and the absorption of calcium, and improves muscle function.
  • Zinc strengthens the immune system and is needed for growth and cell division.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Intense workouts temporarily suppress the immune system, so getting enough zinc can help protect you from that nasty flu everyone else is getting.
  • Studies show that insufficient magnesium can result in muscle weakness, particularly during hard training weeks.

Sunflower Seeds

  • Selenium is an antioxidant and plays a key role in metabolism.
  • Vitamin E lowers cholesterol, improves immunity and protects cells from damage by eliminating free radicals in the body.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Selenium helps protect muscles from damage, allowing your body to recover faster from a hard workout.
  • Vitamin E supplements have been shown to counteract the increase in lipid oxidation associated with extreme exercise, reducing muscle damage and speeding recovery.

Sesame Seeds

  • Calcium supports healthy bones and teeth.
  • Iron and copper are used in the production of red blood cells, and copper helps with thyroid function and the formation of connective tissue.
  • Good source of magnesium (see above).
  • Variety of minerals such as phosphorous, zinc and vitamin B1.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Sesame seeds are particularly beneficial for runners because the mechanical forces associated with running destroy hemoglobin at a faster rate and therefore increase production of red blood cells. Women are especially prone to developing runners’ anemia, and often require iron supplementation.
  • Magnesium is important during hard training weeks (see above).

Cranberry Orange Seed Bars (inspired by Endurance Crackers from Oh She Glows) are a tasty, vegan, nut-free and gluten-free way to enjoy a variety of seeds.

Cranberry orange seed bars

Cranberry Orange Seed Bars
Makes: 36 mini bars

1/2 c. chia seeds
1/2 c. pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 c. warm water
2 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Zest from 1 orange
3 Tbsp white rice flour

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium bowl, mix seeds, dried cranberries and cinnamon.
  2. Combine warm water and honey/sugar and stir until dissolved. Add vanilla and orange zest and stir to combine.
  3. Add water mixture to seeds and stir until chia seeds begin to gel and the mixture thickens. Let sit 2-3 minutes, then add flour and stir well to combine.
  4. Pour onto parchment paper and spread with the back of a spoon until the layer is 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  5. Bake at 325F for 30 minutes, then cut into bars. I like to cut bite-sized diamond shapes, but feel free to adjust the size and shape of your bars. Flip and bake another 30 minutes until edges are golden brown and crispy.

Options and Substitutions:

  • I used white rice flour, but feel free to try different wheat, oat or gluten free flours. Some may work better than others and the only one I’ve tested is white rice flour so do so at your own risk!
  • I prefer to sweeten with honey, however I am aware that many people do not consider honey to be a vegan product; you may wish to substitute an equal amount of packed brown sugar to make the recipe unequivocally vegan.
  • For an extra sweet treat, drizzle melted dark chocolate over the bars after they come out of the oven; they won’t be quite as healthy, but come on, it’s dark chocolate! I don’t need to explain this to you.
  • I like small diamond shaped bars, but really you can cut them into any shape or size you like – even animals if you have cookie cutters!

I like diamond shaped bars, but you can cut any shape you like.

These bars are a nutritional powerhouse with 56 calories per serving, 5.7g carbohydrates, 2.2g fibre and 2.9g protein. Now go take on the world!