The Ultimate Energy Bar Formula

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Three different bars made using the formula. Do they look like they have beans in them?

Recipes are great.  But formulas are where it’s at.

Recipes allow even brand new cooks to produce something that’s really good, or at least something that doesn’t entirely suck. You can take a recipe that an expert chef created and reproduce in your home exactly the same dish, without the years of training. Score.

The problem with recipes, though, is that it’s easy to rely on them too much, especially if you’re like me and you’re scared to mess with them.  Eventually you find yourself stuck in a box, where you eat the same thing over and over and never venture beyond the safe comfort of your trusty recipes.

This was my problem with smoothies for a long time: I’d find a recipe for one I liked, make it every day for a month, and then get so sick of it that one day I’d simply revolt.

Skip the smoothie. Go to Starbucks. Coffee and a bagel. Not a good start to the day.

Eventually, I stepped back from the “month of smoothies, month of Starbucks” routine. I figured out what the smoothies I liked all had in common, and came up with the Perfect Smoothie Formula. This way I could switch in different ingredients and never run out of smoothie ideas or get sick of the same one over and over.

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135 Miles in 120-Degree Heat: One Runner’s Story

Except for the whole 135-miles-in-brutal-heat thing, Meredith Murphy is pretty normal.

185496 2227236691082 1552756954 2310160 2698213 nWhen she’s not busy taking two year-old daughter to the zoo, the park, or even yoga class, Meredith runs her own acupuncture practice (the Healing Point in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania).  She’s a vegetarian too, and she loves cooking and baking.  Kinda sounds like someone you’d hang out with, right?

But Meredith does at least one thing that’s not so normal. Earlier this summer, Meredith did what so many runners secretly dream of, and that only about 90 each year get the chance to do.  If you follow ultrarunning at all, then of course you know what I’m talking about.

Badwater. 135 miles through Death Valley, right in the middle of the summer, when temperatures often get so hot that runners need to stay on the white painted line to avoid melting their shoes.

I was thrilled when Meredith got in touch with me after she saw a No Meat Athlete shirt photo on our Facebook page, and asked if I’d like to contribute a few shirts for her crew and magnets for their van, and to pitch in to help offset the cost of their epic stock-up at Whole Foods in Las Vegas before the race.

Of course I accepted, and a few weeks later, I was glued to the computer screen, eagerly refreshing Badwater’s live webcast to follow Meredith’s race and eventual finish of this monster of an ultramarathon in 46 hours, 22 minutes, and 38 seconds — nearly two entire days of running.

Meredith tells me she is “not a very exciting person.”  Riiight.  I caught up with her to talk about how she got in, her training, the race itself, and of course, what she ate out there as a vegetarian during the “World’s Toughest Footrace.”

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Perfect Snacks for Kids Who Play Sports (and How to Convince Them to Eat the Healthy Stuff)

Note: This is a guest post from Danielle Elliot, who writes the blog That Normal Vegan.

Danielle with her cousin Frankie.

When I hang out with my younger cousins, I cringe as Isabella, 11, tells me she ate PopTarts before her soccer game.  Or when Frankie, 10, says he had a burger in the middle of his little league doubleheader.

As any parent knows, it can be challenging to get kids to eat healthy snacks. I once had the nerve to ask my neighbor why he lets his kids eat Oreos at half time.

“Quite frankly, he has to eat something,” he said. “He’ll burn it off anyway.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong, but I get it. He’s tired of begging his kids to eat oranges. I hope you don’t feel as defeated!

I’m not a parent, but I spend enough time with kids to understand the challenges of getting them to eat healthy foods. Isabella and her sister, Olivia, are usually willing to try what I’m having, but Frankie is another story. He seems to exist on chocolate and Captain Crunch. He wouldn’t go anywhere near my vegan birthday cake last year, especially when he heard my mom had added sweet potatoes to the recipe.

One recent afternoon, I mentioned that I wanted to go for a run. “Can I come with you? I run really fast. I can go really far. How far are you running? Like a 5K? I can do a 5K,” he exclaimed, the words spiraling out of his mouth faster than a runaway train. How could I say no?

So, you want to be the best? Then eat this!

Olivia and Frankie soon decided it was time for a snack. They asked for Cheetos; I smeared some peanut butter on sliced bananas. Frankie suddenly lost his appetite.

He tried to tell me it was because he didn’t want to get a stomachache while we were running. That’s when the idea popped into my head. What if I appeal to his love of sports — and winning — to get him to eat; if I go beyond the “it’s good for you” approach and treat him like the athletes he idolizes?

“You know, bananas with peanut butter is a great breakfast before a run,” I explained. “That’s what I eat before my races. The potassium is good for your muscles, so that you don’t cramp up, while the peanut butter adds protein and gives you that little energy kick to keep you going longer than your friends.”

I’d caught his attention. You could see the shift in his eyes, the wheels turning in his head.

He cautiously picked up the banana: “This is actually kind of good. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I do,” he said. “What else is good for soccer? What’s gonna make me stronger? Is that why you eat all this stuff?” he asked.

He’d opened Pandora’s box. Two hours later, we’d gone through the entire pantry and half of the fridge, showing him all the vegetarian foods that might help him hit a baseball a little further. Maybe I was promising too much, but I’m not afraid to resort to desperate measures. He seemed enthralled to hear that food fuels our bodies in the same way gas fuels a car.

We also discussed endurance, and how sugar actually zaps energy. “But I’m always full of energy after sugar,” Frankie contested. “Do you stay full of energy for long?” I asked. “But what about chicken?” he asked. “My mom says I need to eat chicken.” That’s when we talked about how much energy the body wastes in trying to digest meat. I introduced him to all the vegetarian sources of protein.

It’s amazing to realize how early the Standard American Diet is ingrained in young minds. I take every opportunity I can to teach them about vegetarian and vegan options, but am careful not to leave them thinking their mom doesn’t understand nutrition. It’s a fine line when you’re not the parent.

Quick, healthy snacks for young athletes

Once I had Frankie willing to try nutritious foods, I needed to brush up on childhood nutrition. Research confirmed what I assumed: young athletes thrive on many of the same foods as adults, but the recommended portions and nutrient ratios vary.

Researchers Jennifer Sacheck, Ph.D., and Christina Economos, Ph.D., delved into the topic a few years ago for MLS.com (that’s Major League Soccer).  Here is a list of healthy snacks, based on Sacheck & Economos’s recommendations as well as conversations with several nutritionists. I tested them out on a string of kids lately, and all got the thumbs-up. (I prefer not to count calories, especially when eating with kids, but I’ve included the recommendations here for those that are interested.)

Pre-Activity (~100-300 calories)

  • Whole grain pretzels
  • Half a wheat bagel with jam
  • Fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins and peanuts
  • Carrot or celery sticks with hummus & pita

Post-Activity (~100-300 calories)

  • Applesauce and string cheese
  • Fruit smoothie with calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Trail mix
  • Apple and peanut butter
  • Half a peanut butter sandwich on a bagel

You can also check out NMA’s fueling guides, just keep these kid-specific guidelines in mind:

  • Balanced kid’s meal: carbohydrates (46-65%), protein (10-30%) and fat (25-30% and not less than 20%). Through balancing it, you should provide 25-31g of fiber.
  • Calcium: 800mg/day (4-8 year olds); 1300mg/day (9-13 year olds). Young athletes need to develop strong bones, but there’s no need to overdue it with too much milk. Good sources include fortified soy milk, beans, tofu, broccoli, kale and almonds.
  • Vitamin D: crucial to calcium absorption. Most kids require a supplement or fortified foods and drinks.
  • Iron: kids tend to be really low on this crucial mineral. Vitamin C helps absorb iron from non-animal sources such as beans, spinach, tofu, lentils and apricots.
  • Zinc: helps with muscle recovery. Get it from beans and whole grains.
  • Focus on whole fruit, not juice.
  • Avoid caffeine and sodium. Children are less capable of thermoregulating, making adequate hydration crucial. Caffeine and sodium mess with hydration.

For more on meal and snack composition and timing, Sacheck and Economos offer informational guides for parents and kids, as well as a scientific breakdown.

Don’t overdo it

If your child isn’t doing more than the USDA’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week, he or she doesn’t need extra snacks. Soccer, as with most recreational sports, often doesn’t count as a full 60 minutes of vigorous activity, as so much of it involves standing around. In other words, an hour of soccer practice twice a week does not mean your child needs huge dinners and snacks, no matter how nutritious.

Keep the healthy train rolling

My conversation with Frankie went on for so long, we never did go for that run. But he called last week to see if I still wanted to go. He promised to eat a banana with peanut butter on a whole grain bagel for breakfast if I said yes.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is a miracle. The next time he comes over, I’ll have a stock of new foods ready for taste testing.

Is it okay that I coerce him into eating healthy foods by making grand promises, by saying he’ll be running like the wind and might score more goals? I think so. What do you think?

Danielle Elliot had a perfectly normal childhood in a “normal” suburban family – i.e., lots of carnivores who consider vegans weird. In 2008, while training for her first half marathon, she decided to go vegan, and it’s finally starting to feel normal. Follow her adventures as a vegan traveler, athlete and daughter to super-quirky parents on her blog, That Normal Vegan.

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My Weekend with New Balance

This weekend I got to take advantage of a very cool opportunity.  I was a guest of New Balance at their Media Retreat, held at the Sea Crest Resort on Cape Cod.

About 15 media members and I got to spend the weekend hanging out at the beach, learning about New Balance products, and doing lots more fun stuff — yoga, a form clinic, good food and drink, and capping it all off by running the famous 7.1-mile New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

Among the guests were Competitor editor TJ Murphy, Adam Chase from Running Times, Tina from Carrots n Cake, Running Network president Larry Eder, and editors and freelancers who write for outlets like Fitness, Women’s Health, Women’s Adventure, and fitsugar.com.

No word on whether anyone realizes that these publications are about 19 billion times more legit than this little dog-and-pony show I run.  Shh!

The products

New Balance is definitely embracing the minimalist trend — there was a lot of focus on the heel-toe offset of shoes, (or “drop,” I believe it’s also called) which measures the difference in height between the thicker heel of the shoe and the midfoot.  Almost all of their newer models will feature decreased offsets over their predecessors, which of course encourages midfoot striking over higher-impact heelstriking.

Two examples, and shoes I’ve written about before:

  • The 890’s, which I love and are now splitting time with the Green Silence as my everyday road shoe, currently feature a 12-millimeter offset from heel to midfoot.  But on the new 890 v2’s, which will be out in February but which I got to sample and actually ran the Falmouth race in, the offset has been reduced to 8 mm.
  • The Minimus (you might have seen a TV commercial for it recently; it’s their minimalist shoe with the Vibram sole) currently has a 4-mm offset.  But a new version, the Minimlist Zero, will have zero offset, and the overall height of the shoe off the ground will also be reduced.  The shoe has also gotten lighter; one of the ways they’ve accomplished this is by digitally determining the “hotspots” on the sole, reinforcing those areas and reducing the amount of rubber around them.  (They asked us not to publish any photos of the entire shoes yet, but you can see what I’m describing in the photos below.)

Minimus Zero Trail sole:

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Minimus Zero Road sole:

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A few other notes about the Minimus, the line I’m most intrigued by:

  • Tom Carleo, New Balance’s General Manager of Running, told me that there is “no animal in this shoe.”  (While most running shoes don’t use leather anymore, many of the cements and glues contain animal products.)  I was actually surprised to hear how important this issue seemed to him — when I asked, I figured nobody would really care much about this!  It sounds like many, if not most, of New Balance’s shoes are totally vegan-friendly. Look for a post with more information about vegan-friendly shoes soon.
  • Besides the trail and road versions of the Minimus, there will also be a “Wellness” version — a shoe for everyday wear by athletes who want a near-barefoot experience throughout the day.  The women’s version is a Mary Jane style, and the men’s has a velcro strap.  Both looked pretty cool to me, and I can’t wait to try them (well, not the Mary Janes).

Good Form running clinic

While they’re embracing the minimalist trend, New Balance definitely feels that minimalist running is not for everyone (at least, not immediately).  Several times they mentioned giving sales reps in their stores the knowledge to “talk down from the ledge” people who come in to the stores hell-bent on going as close to barefoot as possible, when their body type or running style would make injury the very likely to result from doing so.

In an effort to educate, New Balance has partnered with Good Form Running to create a program which teaches exactly that — good form that’s easy to learn and remember, not perfect form that stresses six thousand details.

We went through a short Good Form clinic on Saturday.  This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend; I was so impressed with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the fundamentals of Good Form.  They are:

  1. Posture
  2. Midfoot
  3. Cadence
  4. Lean

See, told you it was simple!  Several of these, especially cadence, are things you’re probably familiar with because I’ve written about them on NMA, but check out the Good Form site for the details on each of these points.  And don’t expect nerdy, technical explanations: When I asked our instructor, Colin, what the Good Form take on dorsiflexion is, he essentially said, “whatever feels right.”

I can do that.

The take-home

So here what’s most interesting to me.

After a solid day and a half of learning all about the company’s new shoes and apparel, plus sidebars like the Good Form program and their top-notch New Balance Sports Research Lab where they test products, the thing that stuck with me from the weekend has nothing to do with any of that.

Instead, it has everything to do with the people.  I left the media retreat with an overwhelming sense of how passionate the people at New Balance are.  And not just about their own products (though they certainly are that), but about running as a whole.  They are runners, and they want to make products that will help them run better.

Every interaction I had with the New Balance people, from the way we were treated as guests and as fellow runners, was incredible.  Kristen, New Balance’s Global PR Manager, not only made sure that I had a specially-prepared vegan dish for every meal, but even did the same for my wife and son, who were able to come along for the trip and hang out at the beach.

Just as striking was the incredible amount of knowledge that everyone works at the company had about the details of the company and its products.  When anyone of us asked about prices or even weights or measurements of shoes and apparel during the presentations, someone always came up with the answer, right from their head, without having to look it up.  You just got the sense that they live this stuff, that they don’t stop thinking about running and shoes when they head home after work.  And just about all of them actually ran the seven-mile race on Sunday, too.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked some of the other media folks there if they noticed this, and they absolutely did.  I thought perhaps all companies were like this, that this was just the way “media’ are treated, but those I asked assured me that wasn’t the case.

These people really, really care about running and about making the best possible shoes and clothes.  And when you see that kind of energy and care going into making sure that what they sell is the best that there is, it sure does make you feel good about choosing their stuff.

As I try out some of the new products, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.  And don’t worry; there’s no rule that we have to write only nice things.  They want to know what people think about their stuff, so that they can keep making it better.

P.S. In DC? Come hang out with me at DC Vegan Drinks on Thursday!

This Thursday (August 18th) I’m going to head down to Washington, D.C. for DC Vegan Drinks at Bread and Brew, from 7-10 p.m.  I’m going to talk for 5 or 10 minutes, but mostly just relax and have a good time and a few good beers (and bread, I suppose).  I hope to see you there!  Check out the event on Facebook.

One more thing! I’m very happy to announce that No Meat Athlete is a sponsor of the 2011 DC Vegfest.  We’ll be there with a booth and some NMA shirts and (hopefully) a few new logo items.  It’s September 24th and it’s a great event, so mark your calendar!

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The One Word to Ignore

Post written by Susan Lacke.

In the midst of being on the support crew for my friend Carlos’ chemotherapy treatments, I’ve been inundated with a million You should’s:

“You should tell him about this doctor.”
“You should come to bible study/temple/meditation with me.”
“You should read this book.”
“You should teach him about juicing.”
“You should be feeling more (insert emotion here).”
“You should be feeling less (insert emotion here).”
“You should check out this website on alternative cancer treatments.”
“You should go see my therapist.”

Though I appreciate the consideration and concern, whenever I hear a “you should,” I want to tell people what they should do. Hint: it isn’t pleasant…nor anatomically possible.

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Does Your Label Still Fit?

iStock 000007662462XSmallYou can run without being a “runner.”  I did it for five years.

Even once I had run a handful of marathons and was close to qualifying for Boston, when I lined up at the start of a race among all these passionate runners, I still felt like an imposter.

I was just a tourist, doing what runners do, but without feeling like I really belonged.

Sometime during the training for my Boston-qualifying race, where I finally succeeded in breaking 3:10:59, something shifted in me.

Shortly after qualifying, when I was in that happy, weirdly cloudlike space you find yourself in after accomplishing something you’ve worked at for so long, I read Born to Run. And damn if I didn’t feel like a runner after that.

For the first time, I could say that I really loved running, not just as a means of staying in shape or for accomplishing goals, but for its own sake.

And so I became a “runner.”  Quotes and all.

Tourist vs. runner

When I was just a tourist, I sometimes took six months off after a marathon before I got motivated to start running again.

But once  became a runner, I always had at least two races on my schedule.  So even when I finished one, there was another there to get me back out on the roads.

When I was just a tourist, I always ran with a purpose.  Speedwork, hill work, tempo run, long run, easy run. I had a goal, and I did whatever I thought was the best way to get there.

But once I became a runner, I would just run.  Run the trail. Run the loop through my neighborhood. Run through town. And usually all at the same easy pace.

When I was just a tourist, I put everything I had into the race I was training for.  Eat right, warm up, foam roll, ramp up your mileage, taper properly.

But once I became a runner, I became too comfortable. “I know I can finish this marathon whether I train hard and eat right or not. I’ll make it through my 12-miler tomorrow; gimme another beer!”

Time to be a tourist

Looking at it that way, it sort of seems like I was a better runner before I was a “runner.” In fact, I’ll bet a few runners just took offense to my abuse of the title.

Having worn that label for a couple years now, I think I’m ready to put my tourist hat back on.

I want to feel free to experiment.  If, say, I want to just swim for three months (and finally learn to go more than eight laps and not look like a wounded duck), I’d like to be able to do that without feeling guilty about not running. Who knows, maybe that’s what it’ll take for me to finally want to do an Ironman.

Or if I want to lift heavy weights and pack on a few pounds, it’ll be a real relief not to worry about how that extra weight might slow me down. And that extra strength might end up making me a stronger trail runner.

So that’s what I’m doing.  Today I’m joining the gym again, and I think I’ll go lift some weights. Maybe tomorrow I’ll swim. Or be the only guy in the cardio-kickboxing class. (Although, if after that I come back and say I’m going to become an MMA fighter, please kick my ass before someone else does for real.)

I’ll still run when I want to. But for a little while at least, I won’t call myself a “runner.” And I am freaking pumped about that.

Does your label still fit?

If you’re a runner or a swimmer or a triathlete, an omnivore or a vegan or a Paleo, or an anything-else-with-a-label, give yourself a little checkup.  Take a step back and make sure that label still fits the person you want to be.

If it does, then think about what it really means, and make sure you’re living it — not just going through the motions.

And if you decide you’d be better without that label, even if just for a little while, then ditch it. It’ll still be there when you’re ready to come back.  And when you’re ready, I bet you’ll come back with more passion than ever.

And you never know — you might just find another label that’s a much better fit.

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