When you meet Ally Murphy, creator of Ally’s Bar, the first thing you might notice is how much energy she exudes. “I have a ton of energy,” Ally said at one point in our conversation. “I have so much energy I can barely handle myself sometimes.” That energy has helped Ally succeed as a professional cyclist, in starting her own protein bar business, and now as a new mom for her six-month-old son, Liam.You may have seen Ally’s Bar appearing in pastel colored wrappers on grocery and health food store shelves in the area. In flavors such as original sweet potato or sweet potato with pistachio cashew pumpkin seed, these bars offer a healthy alternative to the cardboard-flavored bars shoppers might have tried. Ally is quick to point out that the bars are not only for athletes, but for anyone who is looking to incorporate whole foods and healthy eating into their lifestyle.
“I’ve always believed that food should be exquisite, and that it should not only be healthy for you, but it should taste really good. I think it is a big misconception for people that when you eat healthy it’s like this no-fun diet, when actually food should taste good all the time and it should even taste better when it’s healthy,” Ally says.
Ally’s path into the baking world could be traced back to an unlikely event: a broken elbow she suffered while wrestling during her freshman year in college. While recovering from her injury, Ally took up cross training on a stationary bike to stay fit and fell in love with the sport. “Even when wrestling season was over I continued to ride my bike even more, and I just fell more and more in love with it,” Ally says. “I loved the freedom, I loved the way it made me feel. I just really loved it.”
Ally would eventually go on to race with Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC. She was then picked up by the US National Team in 2009, signed her first professional racing contract in 2010, and in 2011, she joined HTC High Road, the best women’s cycling team in the world. As an athlete and even while growing up in northern California, eating well has always been important to her. “We always had a garden. We hunted and fished, and I always knew where my food came from. I always believed in basically keeping it simple and not overcomplicating my lifestyle,” Ally says.
Like many endurance athletes, Ally wasn’t quite satisfied with the taste of protein bars she was finding on the market. She began to make bars herself in her own kitchen, using a unique base: sweet potato.When asked how she got the idea to use sweet potato in her bars, Ally tells two stories. “First, when I was a kid we spent every weekend at our grandparent’s house and while we were there we fished, and we did chores. Every weekend that we were up there my grandpa would make pancakes either one of those mornings, and if we had leftover potatoes he would always put them in our pancakes.” Fast forward many years later, Ally says, and she recalls breakfast the morning before an 84-mile bike race. “There was a woman there and, I remember her handing me this bowl of sweet potato with quinoa and raisins and vegetables… and I remember her saying you need to eat this, it’s going to be a big day.” Ally recalls having one of her best races that day, and she credits the sweet potatoes she ate for breakfast with giving her a boost of much-needed endurance during the race.
Once Ally came up with the idea to make a bar using a sweet potato base, she says the recipe came together pretty quickly. “It’s funny because when I’m cooking I’m usually just experimenting and putting foods together from scratch. I never write anything down when I’m cooking,” she laughs. “Then I made one, our flagship sweet potato recipe, and my husband tried it and told me to write that one down.”
Although Ally says the bars have done particularly well with endurance athletes, she points out they can also serve as a healthy snack for busy lifestyles. “I’ve always said that I like to eat foods as much from scratch as possible, and now that I’m juggling being a mom and a business owner, I joke that I’m on Team No Sleep, but I also see how it can be hard to eat healthy and it can be hard to get the right ingredients.” With that idea in mind, she thinks that Ally’s Bar can be a great alternative for working parents and travelers.
In addition to her drive and determination, Ally says she has been fortunate to have women and other mentors who have encouraged her and given their advice. In any endeavor, the new mom and business owner says it is important to surround yourself with good advisors, and most importantly, to listen and take the advice that you are given. “First, don’t ever be scared to ask questions. Second, I am a big believer in building a tribe around you. I have a great tribe of women I surround myself with, and you need that. There will always be a time when the water’s going to get deep, and you’ll need a bridge to help you cross over it.”
Holly Amann is a freelance writer and working professional living in Asheville. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.