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Shannan Penna with IFBB Pro Victoria Adelus
She’s an ass-kicking figure competitor with abs of steel, a smile so sunny it could kill a vampire, and 80k followers on Instagram. Shannan Penna built this fanbase with the help of her playful, healthy recipes and the world’s cutest dogs. She also happened to create the now world-famous Quest Bars in her kitchen, on a whim… because the other protein bar options just weren’t good enough. Quest Bars went from esoteric to essential in about 5 seconds flat (well… five years), and now they’re popping up everywhere: GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, they’re even starting to appear in grocery stores like Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s.
But a person cannot survive on Quest Bars alone — although eating a Mint Chocolate Chunk Bar everyday wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. So we were curious, what does Shannan Penna eat when she’s not eating Quest Bars? We caught up with @QuestCreator herself to see what foods were in her fridge and what fuels her work, workouts, and creativity.
My mom was a really health cook, and my dad was sort of the father of natural bodybuilding… he’s one of only three people to beat Arnold in competition. So there was never much junk food lying around the house, not a lot of carbs. I mean… a sweet potato here and there, but that was about it. On Friday we got peanut butter cups — my favorite — hence the Quest Cravings Peanut Butter Cups. But yeah, I’ve basically been a low carb dieter my whole life (laughs).
(Laughs) Sort of! No, not really. I entered my first gym when I was 13… so by 15 I was getting pretty into it. I was a certified personal trainer by 16, training a lot of the moms that I babysat for. By 20, it was a full-time job and I had a full slate of people. I was training clients 40 to 45 hours a week!
No! I love it! (laughs) Everyone has their own challenges, and helping people break past those barriers really excites me. But when I had all those clients, I didn’t really have time for food, and my nutrition was kind of falling apart.
Yes! I was just grabbing protein bars off the shelves, thinking, “Oh this has got a bunch of protein in it, at least I’m hitting my protein goals.” But when I stopped to read the rest of the nutrition label, it was like… WHAT? I couldn’t pronounce half the ingredients, and they were all full of sugar. Like 30 grams of sugar. It was totally botching up my goals. So I thought, “This is terrible… I guess I just have to make my own!”
I made the very first batch of bars with stuff I could find at the grocery store: bottles of extract, nut butters (I love nut butters), protein powders, a bit of sweetener. I used just the essentials: protein and healthy fats, no sugars. I’d make a batch and let it set in the fridge and send them in with Ron to work, and he’d share them with his team [Ron is Shannan’s husband, CEO and one of the three co-founders of Quest Nutrition]. I would adjust and refine the recipe based on what people liked, and eventually, when non-fitness people were asking if they could get more of the bars, we knew we were on to something.
Always! (laughs) Well, not always. Ron and I have our big cheat days where we go wild, but I’m not a sugar burner, I don’t really have sugar cravings anymore (trust me, I love cupcakes), but I’ve been in ketosis so long, it really helps curb those cravings. [Ketosis is a fat-burning metabolic state that requires strict carbohydrate restriction and a large percentage of caloric intake from fats.] I run on ketones instead of glucose, and it can be a bit tricky to keep your fats high and your carbs low, but I’ve been doing it fairly regularly for years.
Ron and I are actually going on a vacation to Hawaii in a few days, so I adjusted a little bit to lean down so I can look awesome on the beach. So normally, I do a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio to stay in ketosis, but right now I’m alternating days, upping the protein and lowering the fat on alternate days to get a little bit leaner. But I never really have to change much other than portion size.
Chicken, avocado, & salsa! I love this one salsa at Trader Joe’s that’s in a large plastic tub, but it’s in olive oil! I actually think it’s a Bruschetta sauce, which is basically just fancy Italian salsa! [laughs) Or red meats, I’m a fillet kind of girl. One of my favorite keto meal ingredients is burrata cheese. Mix that with some avocado and a little salt, a little olive oil, it’s like the perfect keto meal. Lots of healthy fats, almost no carbs. Oh and I do these faux mashed potatoes that everyone loves. It’s cauliflower, sweet cream butter, with a little freeze dried seasoning (that stuff goes so much further than regular seasoning). It’s so good. I could eat bowls of it.
I typically eat 4-5 meals a day and that varies due to my training load. Increases in weight training load or increased distance in running mileage makes me a hungrier gal (laughs). I don’t snack so, anything I eat is considered a meal.
If I’m hungrier due to more training.
*If I’m on the go and can’t have an actual meal, I’ll do two ounces of macademia nuts or one Mint Chocolate Chunk, or White Chocolate Raspberry Quest bar and one ounce of macadamia nuts, which I absolutely always have in my car or purse.
*If I’m looking to lean out a little, I’ll cut my fat down by 25 percent for 2-3 weeks by just switching out my 80/20 beef for 94 percent beef, or I’ll go to chicken breast. After three weeks if I still need to get a little leaner, I’ll cut it down another 25 percent and that will get me where I need to be.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake! My favorite flavor that never was. It was delicious, but people weren’t as into it as I was. They were like, “No more fruit! Bring on the chocolate!”