2 New Tart Cherry Drinks for Optimal Workout Nutrition

tart-cherry-2

For the final post in this ambassador series with the Cherry Marketing Institute, I set out to solve a problem in deciding how best to incorporate tart cherries into my diet.

What problem, you ask?

Well, we know that tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce recovery time and inflammation in athletes, as well as help with sleep (which itself plays a big part in athletic recovery, of course).

But the apparent downside is that, like with typical fruit juices, most of the calories in tart cherry juice come from sugar. How can you get the benefits of tart cherries without adding too much sugar to your diet?

Turns out there’s an easy solution for athletes: drink tart cherry juice at the one time during the day when lots of sugar is precisely what your body needs. And this time, of course, is around workouts.

But how do we do it most effectively?

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The Post-Workout Meal: Revisited and Simplified

This week’s post topic in my partnership with Whole Foods and Garmin: “Easy weeknight meals to complement any workout.” But I’ve decided to focus strictly on the post-workout meal. Why?

Because although what you eat before and during your workout is important, I don’t think of those as “meals” — for most workouts they should instead be liquid, or quick-digesting foods like dates, fruits, smoothies, etc.

When it comes to post-workout refueling, I do still eat the high-carbohydrate, fast-assimilating food, but only immediately following the activity. An hour or two later — and for a lot of people who work out after work, this means dinnertime — it’s a meal. A big meal, a higher-protein meal. A “meal” meal.

Simplifying Nutrition Around Workouts

You can get as specific as you want with before, during, and post-workout nutrition, and I’ve written about these plenty: check out our Workout Nutrition 101 page if you’re interested in the details.

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9 High-Energy Plant-Based Snacks for Athletes

Plant-based. Healthy. Snack. It’s a lot to ask of a food.

But we need them. One of the common questions that I hear from new vegetarians or vegans is “I’m always hungry — how do I stay full with this diet?” — and my answer is to eat more. Not bigger servings, but more often.

Why? Most whole, plant-based foods are not calorically dense. That means they take up a lot of room in your stomach, without packing a lot of calories.

Of course, that also means they digest quickly, so not long after eating one meal, you’re hungry for another.

Enter the snack.

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The Ultimate Energy Bar Formula

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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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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Chocolate Strawberry Banana Smoothie from BlendHappy

When I met Nick Reese in Austin at SXSW a few weeks ago, I was pretty pumped about that.  Nick is a guy I’ve learned a lot from and look up to for the way he ignores the supposed “limits” and is committed to standing out from the crowd.

So when he told me that his girlfriend, Heather, was starting a new video site about blending and juicing and wanted to make a custom smoothie for No Meat Athlete, I was even more excited.

But I had a lot of requests…

Perhaps I got a bit carried away with the instructions — when Heather asked what type of smoothie would work best, I mentioned that it should be vegan.  Oh, and that it should have 4-to-1 carb-to-protien ratio, so we could drink it post workout.  And, oh yeah, if you wouldn’t mind, could you use hemp protein too, since I’m not a big fan of soy or rice protein?

Someone with less patience might have told me to f-off, you psycho granola-crunchie.  But Heather didn’t complain a bit.  Instead, she did me one better and threw in some coconut manna and greens powder, two other favorite smoothie ingredients of mine.

Here’s the video Heather put together for us, and the pre/post-workout smoothie she came up with!


Chocolate Strawberry Banana Smoothie Recipe

Here are those ingredients again:

  • 1 banana
  • 2 handfuls of strawberries
  • 4 tablespoons chocolate hemp protein powder
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons coconut manna
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 1 scoop greens powder
  • agave nectar, to taste

If you can’t find chocolate hemp powder, you can just throw in some cacao nibs or carob chips.  I do that all the time.  And notice Heather’s smoothie perfectly fits my smoothie formula, so you can create lots of variations on it.

Check out Blend Happy for lots more smoothie and juice recipes.  Heather wants to make it the most entertaining resource on the web for juice and smoothies.  She does reviews too, so if you’re having trouble deciding between, say, a Blendtec (what I use) and a Vitamix (what Heather uses in the video), BlendHappy can help you with that.  (See her Vitamix review, for example.)

Big thanks to Nick and Heather for doing this.

Alrighty, I’m out.  I’ve got a 10-miler planned for this weekend, before Boston in 10 days!  How about you?

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Make Your Own Energy Gel (With Chia Seeds!)

This is a guest post from Tim Woodbury, who writes at MidpackRunner.com.

This post started with a challenge, when Doug from TheHaySay.com fired a shot across my bow.

At issue: The question of whether we could create an inexpensive, wholesome, homemade energy gel incorporating chia seeds.

Homemade energy gels are particularly difficult to get right, even without the added complexity of having to add chia, the seed that has so famously (thanks, Born to Run) been trusted by both ancient warriors and modern ultrarunners to keep them going. I wasn’t sure it could really be done. But, as always happens with runners, my naturally competitive spirit won out.

Thus, I traded my running shoes for a chef’s hat and set to work destroying the kitchen creating my masterpiece.

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The Perfect Smoothie Formula

The way I see it, you only need to eat healthy twice during the day.  While you’ll certainly eat more than twice a day, just two healthy meals make it pretty hard to screw up the rest of them.

Once is in the afternoon, when a big salad loaded with greens, other raw vegetables, and nuts will fill you up and give you more veggies than most people eat all day.  And as a bonus, it’ll give you the chance to get even more good stuff, when you dress it with quality oil, lemon juice, and a little sea salt.

The other time is in the morning, when a smoothie made from fruits (and even vegetables) will not only set the tone for the entire day, but act as a vehicle for other superfoods or supplements you want to work into your diet.

That’s it. Just two healthy meals.

Even if you ate whatever you wanted the rest of the day, I’d be willing to bet you wouldn’t get fat, as long as you made sure to drink a smoothie and eat a big salad every single day.

Sure, if you were to eat at McDonald’s for lunch and Outback for dinner the rest of the time, you could probably succeed at packing on a few pounds.  But here’s the thing.

The smoothie and salad act as “anchors” that keep you on track, to remind you just how great it feels to put real, fresh fruits and vegetables in your body.  After you start the day with a smoothie, McDonald’s for lunch doesn’t seem so good anymore.  And when it’s time to start thinking about dinner, the salad does the same.

In this way, those two healthy meals become three or four—which doesn’t leave much time for junk.

Why people suck at making smoothies

Most people are alright when it comes to the salad.  But there’s something about the alchemy of throwing a few fruits, ice, liquid, and whatever else into a blender and ending up with a perfectly smooth and delicious drink that causes lots of people to struggle.

Since nearly everyone has a blender (I use a Blendtec myself, I suspect that the reason most people don’t make smoothies consistently is that it’s overwhelming.  There are too many possible ingredients, and too many variables to tweak to get the proportions just right. And if someone should stumble upon a good recipe, they end up making it so often that they get sick of it and never drink it again.

We need a formula

Over the past few years, I’ve had a smoothie almost every single day.  I’ve constantly tweaked it, experimented with new ingredients, and kept track of what worked and what didn’t.

What follows is my version of the smoothie genome project.  It’s a formula you can follow to create nearly endless variations.  And the best part is that the uncertainty has been taken out of it for you.  You’ll need to experiment with different flavor combinations, of course, but the guesswork about proportions has largely been removed.

The recipe below specifies general amounts and types of ingredients (like “2 tablespoons binder”) and then below, you are given a menu of several recommended ingredients of each type from which to choose to make your smoothie.

The Perfect Smoothie Formula

(makes 2 smoothies)

  • 1 soft fruit
  • 2 small handfuls frozen or fresh fruit
  • 2-4 tablespoons protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons binder
  • 1.5 tablespoons oil
  • 1.5 cups liquid
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (optional, less or more as needed)
  • optional superfoods, greens, and other ingredients
  • 6 ice cubes (omit if soft fruit is frozen)

Select one or more ingredients of each type below and add to blender in specified proportions. Blend until smooth.

Recommended Soft Fruits

  • Banana
  • Avocado

(If you have a high-speed blender that can puree, say, a whole apple or carrot without leaving any chunks behind, then the puree of almost any fruit or vegetable can act as your soft fruit.)

Recommended Frozen or Fresh Fruits

  • Strawberries (you can leave the greens on if you have a powerful blender)
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches
  • Mango
  • Pineapple

Recommended Protein Powders

  • Hemp
  • Sprouted brown rice (tastes chalkier than hemp, but packs more protein per dollar)
  • Pea
  • Vega Sport (combines all three for complete amino acid profile)
  • Lifetime Life’s Basic’s Plant Protein (an affordable hemp, rice, pea, and chia protein blend)

(Soy and whey are higher-protein, generally cheaper options, but for a variety of reasons I don’t recommend either for long-term use.)

Recommended Binders

  • Ground flaxseed
  • Almond butter or any nut butter
  • Soaked raw almonds (soak for several hours and rinse before using)
  • Rolled oats, whole or ground
  • Udo’s Wholesome Fast Food

Recommended Oils

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Udo’s Blend or other EFA blend
  • Hemp oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Almond, macadamia, or other nut oil

Recommended Liquids (unsweetened)

  • Water (my favorite)
  • Almond milk or other nut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Brewed tea

Recommended Sweeteners

  • Honey (not technically vegan)
  • Agave nectar (high in fructose, so choose this only before workouts)
  • Stevia (sugar-free natural sweetener, the amount needed will vary by brand)

Optional Superfoods, Greens and Other Ingredients

  • Cacao nibs (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Carob chips (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Ground organic cinnamon (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Chia seeds, whole or ground (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Greens powder (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Whole spinach leaves (1-2 handfuls)
  • Maca powder (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed (one small pepper)
  • Ground cayenne pepper (small pinch)
  • Sea salt (pinch)
  • Lemon or lime juice (1 tablespoon)

There’s plenty here to get you started.  But you certainly don’t have to stay within these guidelines if you determine that you want more or less of a certain ingredient, or more than one ingredient from each category. (For example, almond butter and ground flaxseed are both in the “binder” category, but I sometimes include both in my smoothie.)

Also, note that which ingredients you use from one category often dictate how much you need from another.  For example, if you’re using avocado instead of banana as your soft fruit, you’ll need more sweetener than you would with the banana, and you’ll probably want to go light on other fatty ingredients, since avocado provides plenty of good fats.

So be creative, and don’t worry if at first you like more of the sweet ingredients and not so much of the healthier ones. Over time as you eat less and less processed and sugary foods, your tastes will change and you’ll actually crave the healthy stuff.

PS – This is an excerpt from my vegetarian guide to your first marathon.

PPS – If you like the formula idea, check out the Ultimate Energy Bar Formula!

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