SaskPulse: The Main Ingredient? Lentils --

Wheaties may be the undisputed "breakfast of champions" but lentils could fast become the "pick-me-up snack of champions" thanks to a new athletic energy bar that features lentils as the main inredient.

The Genki Bar, which is made in Manitoba but uses Saskatchewan grown lentils, hit the market in June and is gaining fans among endurance athletes.

"Genki" is a Japanese word meaning strength, vitality and energy—qualities imparted by the unique nutritional composition of lentils. "Genki is what the bar personifies. It gives you energy for the long run," says Theresa Le Sliworsky, creator of the Genki Bar. 

As a working mom and triathlete (which involves running, cycling and swimming in an endurance race), Le Sliworsky was inspired to create a lentil-based energy bar after trying other energy bars and finding them unsatisfactory."Some of them were too sweet. Some were too fatty. Some tasted okay but nutritionally, they weren't so good for you. Some even made me sick," she says.

A friend and fellow athlete suggested she should make her own energy bar. With a background in the pulse industry and a love of cooking, she took the challenge and began experimenting with lentils as the main ingredient. In choosing lentils, she relied on research conducted at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) that found lentils provide more energy to endurance athletes than other sources of protein and carbohydrates such as mashed potatoes or eggs. This is attributed in part to the low glycemic index of lentils, which means the carbohydrates break down more slowly, thus maintaining energy levels for a longer period of time.

Another factor is the high protein level of lentils which, when complemented with the natural carbohydrates, provides a balanced food. As well, lentils contain trace minerals such as iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and potassium that are depleted during rigorous sports.

In the U of S study led by kinesiologist Dr. Phil Chilibeck, athletes were asked to eat a bowl of lentils before running on a treadmill at a pace that simulated a game of soccer. However, Chilibeck concedes that few athletes are willing to pack a bowl of lentils in their gym bags. An easy-to-eat energy bar is the answer.

"There's nothing else on the market that makes it so easy to eat lentils," says Le Sliworsky. "Unless you read the ingredients, no one knows there are lentils in there." Other ingredients in the Genki Bar include oats, almonds, honey, cocoa, and dried fruit. It is low in fat and sugar, high in protein and minerals, with no artificial additives or preservatives.

Le Sliworsky spent a year developing a prototype and three years perfecting the recipe and its nutritional profile and performance testing the bar, relying at every stage on the feedback of researchers, sports nutritionists, food scientists, and endurance athletes.

"I didn't want a product that just tastes good," she says. "It also has to work for you."

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We're back from the race in Minneapolis with decent results. There were 915 finishers in the 33k skate event, 184 of them women. The team all had a Genki Bar before the race, and most of us one after as well. LOVE it, tastes great, great for racing, provides sustained energy for our long races!

- Prairie Storm Cross-Country Ski Team
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