By Joel van der Veen
Monday, March 21, 2011

— As an athlete, Theresa Le Sliworsky knew only too well the need for a quick, simple energy boost before a workout or a triathlon. But most energy bars, with their high sugar content , flavours and preservatives, didn't suit her. She also didn't care for the energy crash that tended to follow. "Energy bars are sort of like an evil necessity," she says. "I wanted something that was wholesome." And as a working Manitoba mother with two children, she also needed something quick and convenient. So four years ago, she designed an energy bar of her own, made with lentils, honey, oats, fruits and nuts.

This creation quickly became popular with Le Sliworsky's fellow athletes, and it soon occurred to her to develop the bar as a mass-market product. "It was starting to get expensive giving them all away," she says with a laugh. After working with the University of Saskatchewan and the Manitoba Food Development Centre through the research and development phases, the Genki Bar hit stores in June 2010.

Eight months later, the peanut-butter-andchocolate-flavoured bar is available in several cities in Western Canada and being promoted by numerous athletes, including Olympic pole vaulter Kelsie Hendry. Le Sliworsky is confident that the bar will continue to grow.

"We're slowly making our way," she says. "The stores that carry our product believe in it...they know it works."

A new flavour, the Genki Bar Berry, will debut May 29 at the Saskatchewan Marathon , and the company will also serve as the title sponsor at the Craven Genki Marathon in June. 

Genki Bar could be Farmers Fuel of Choice

The bar provides an easy way to work lentils into a diet, and it's also a convenient source of energy for athletes or others looking for a quick boost. Le Sliworsky divides her time between Winnipegosis, Man., and Tokyo, Japan, where her husband Derek is general manager for the Canadian Wheat Board's branch office.

She says the research and development process provided a great deal of insight into what makes up the bar and how it works, and also explained the nutritional benefits offered by the bar. "There's really nothing artificial about the bar," she says, explaining that its benefits come from naturally - occurring vitamins and minerals. The bar's name, genki, is a Japanese word meaning power, energy and vigour. Sometimes people who try the bar for the first time are surprised when they find out what's inside. "Most people don't even recognize that there's lentils in there," she says. "(They tell me), 'you can't be serious.'" 

Phil Chilibeck i s a professor of kinesiology at the U of S who has assisted w i t h t h e Ge n k i B a r 's research and development. Currently the department is studying the bar's potential low glycemic index—that is, its ability to provide a small, sustained increase in the consumer's blood sugar level. While lentils are known to have this trait, Chilibeck's researchers are examining whether it carries on to the Genki Bar. This summer, the department plans to examine the bar's effect on the performance of athletes, specifically endurance cyclists, who can be observed using stationary bicycles set up in the lab.

"It's very easy to do that type of testing," he notes. Later in the year, they'll also look at soccer players, who can be tested while running on treadmills. The last trial will be especially helpful in expanding the market for the bar, says Chilibeck. "If we're looking at an international market, soccer is the most popular sport in the world," he says. Chilibeck himself is a fan of the bar. He had a box on the desk in his office and found they disappeared quickly, since they made a tasty snack. "It's a great tasting bar," he says, adding that it's high in protein, low in fat and contains good carbohydrates.

The Genki Bar is also soft and easy to eat, unlike some energy bars that tend to be chewy, almost like a hard gel. Its healthy ingredients can benefit endurance athletes, improving their performance while giving them a nutritional boost. Le Sliworsky says these benefits were uppermost in her mind while developing the bar. "It's gotta be a great tasting bar," she says, "and it's gotta have health benefits too."

While the bar is great for athletes, others find they enjoy it as well. 

One of Genki Bar's steady customers is Le Sliworsky's father-in-law, a Manitoba farmer. He grabs a bar when he needs a quick spur of energy. "He takes it to drive the tractor," she says. "It keeps him going." Maybe, one day, the bar could be the Saskatchewan pulse farmer's fuel of choice.

"(We) need to get the lentil growers eating them," she adds with a laugh.

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Genki Bars are key to my success. Using genki bars before and after games allow me to be at the top of my game, every game. With our grueling NHL schedule nutrition is so important, and this is how I get my edge! 

- Jay Rosehill, Toronto Maple Leafs
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