The Chocolate Quinoa Protein Bars that Cured My Pop-Tart Addiction

My name is Christine, and I have a Pop-Tart problem.

Ever since I discovered these accidentally-vegan goodies in the vending machine at law school, I can’t seem to get my dollar in the slot fast enough.  That wouldn’t be a big deal every once in awhile, but the vending machine seems to call out my name every time I’m heading to the gym.  My banana just looks so blah next to the shimmering strawberry-frosty goodness!  And yes—by “goodness,” I’m mean 10% strawberries, 90% flavored corn syrup.

Besides packing extra coins for the vending machine, I’ve also started carrying around ibuprofen.  It worked for Matt during his 50-miler, and I count on it for my killer 3:00 headache.  But you know when these headaches started?  Right about the time I started a daily 40-grams of sugar ritual with these damn Pop-Tarts.

I knew I had to break this sugar-rush-crash-medicate cycle, and vowed to make a batch of my Homemade Energy Bars to satisfy that starchy-sweet craving.

Lo and behold, for maybe the first time in NMA-kitchen history, the pantry was out of beans.  Not a legume in sight.  But, times of crisis have a knack of spurring creativity—with a deep pantry rummage I pulled together ingredients for some awesome quinoa energy-protein bars.

With over 7 grams of protein per bar (more if you use nuts!) and about a third of the sugar in Pop-Tarts (from energizing dates and agave nectar instead of corn syrup), the case of the addictive pop-tarts is officially closed.   Enjoy!

Chocolate Quinoa Protein Energy Bars

  • 3/4 cup dry quinoa, or about 2 cups cooked
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup protein powder (I used an unsweetened hemp-based version)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup stir-ins like dry fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, or vegan chocolate chips. (I went for half chocolate chips and half coconut)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8×8 baking dish lightly with baking spray.

Rinse the dry quinoa in cold water, then let sit in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, bring 1 cup of water to boil.  Drain the quinoa and add to the boiling water.  Cover, and reduce heat to simmer for about 12 minutes.  Let cool enough to handle.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked quinoa, dates, agave nectar, vegetable oil, flaxseed, almond extract, and salt.  Process until relatively smooth (the quinoa is so small it stays slightly lumpy).

In a small bowl, stir together the protein powder, flour, and stir-ins.  Fold this dry mixture into wet mixture with a spatula.  The dough is very thick, like cookie dough, so use the spatula to press into prepared pan evenly.

Bake for about 22-25 minutes, until firm.  Let cool, then slice into a dozen bars.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition facts (with chocolate chip and coconut option): Calories: 184, Total Fat: 5.4 g, Saturated Fat: 3 g, Cholesterol: 0 g, Sodium: 37 mg,  Potassium: 113 mg, Total Carbs: 29 g, Fiber: 3 g, : Sugars: 16 g, Protein: 7.3 g.



Is There Such a Thing as a ‘Good Kind’ of Caffeine?

We hear a lot these days about how caffeine boosts endurance and energy levels.  I can’t say for sure if it works that way for me, but I can certainly attest to the fact that mentally, I feel more pumped up for a workout if I’ve consumed caffeine a few minutes prior to exercising.

But are green tea and yerba mate any better than coffee?

So let’s accept the fact that caffeine improves performance on some level, through targeted (as opposed to habitual) use.  Then does it matter what type of caffeine we consume?  Does it matter whether we get our pre-workout fix from a few cups of coffee or from supposedly “good” caffeine sources like green tea and yerba mate?

From there, it’s not much of a leap to ask the same question about habitual use.  If you’re like me and find it extremely difficult to quit drinking caffeine, then does it matter in what form you get that morning caffeine jolt?

Brendan Brazier’s take on it

According to Brendan Brazier in his vegan sports nutrition manual Thrive, green tea’s caffeine (technically theophylline) “slowly and steadily releases energy over the course of several hours,” as opposed to the caffeine in coffee that causes jitters.

He goes on to say that theophylline doesn’t stress the adrenal glands, by far the effect that worries me the most about drinking a lot of coffee.  In fact, Brendan writes that theophylline might actually be beneficial to the adrenals, by “restoring hormonal balance.”

As for yerba mate, it’s not entirely clear to me, from either Thrive or Wikipedia, how this South American plant’s caffeine differs from that in coffee.  In fact, it seems that the caffeine is mostly the same as that in coffee, though in a smaller dose.

In addition, green tea and yerba mate are “greens,” making them higher in antioxidants and less acid-forming than coffee.

For all the above reasons, Brendan includes green tea and yerba mate in his natural sports drink, Vega Sport Performance Optimizer, which I drink before most of my hard workouts.

Another side of the story

But there are other opinions out there.  In Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Dangers of America’s #1 Drug, a book  by Stephen Cherniske that I read for motivation in a failed attempt to quit coffee once and for all, the author has a less-forgiving take on the herbal alternatives to coffee.

In the introduction to the book, Cherniske writes:

Most, like…yerba mate…turned out to be nothing more than plant sources of caffeine and other stimulant drugs.  Their mode of action is exactly the same as coffee: stimulation of the central nervous system resulting in adrenal stress.  The fact that these stimulant products are found in health-food stores and claim to be “all-natural” is simply part of the hype that fills the energy market.

Of green tea, he says similar things, mainly that “caffeine is caffiene” and the only real virtue of green tea is that it’s lower in caffeine than coffee.  He even downplays the cancer-fighting effects of green tea, calling it a “weak agent” that probably only benefits those whose diets are low in fruits and vegetables (and that’s none of us, right?).

Who is right?

I have no idea.  Probably not surprisingly to anyone, I’ll go with Brendan Brazier.

No, it’s not because I worship him—although I do think he’s a cool dude. Instead, it’s because he doesn’t have any apparent agenda.  Whereas Caffeine Blues‘s entire reason for existence is to spread the anti-caffeine message, Brendan’s books aim to help people perform in sports and life on a vegan diet.  If Brendan believes that caffeine has a place in the athlete’s diet, it’s his job to communicate that, just as he does.

So the take-home message, as far as I’m concerned, is that green tea is the best source of caffeine, followed by yerba mate (whose stimulating effect comes more from actual caffeine than theophylline.  And much as I wish it weren’t true, coffee appears to be the worst source.

I’d love to hear what you all think about this, particularly if there are any chemists out there.  Is caffeine just caffeine, regardless of the source? Or can we, as athletes, get the performance benefits of caffeine while minimizing the adverse effects if we choose green tea or yerba mate?

And how the hell am I ever going to quit coffee!?



The Vegetarian Athlete Diet

It’s time to put an end to the idea that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet and running well are mutually exclusive.

I became a much stronger runner almost immediately after switching to a vegetarian diet.  But you don’t have to take my word for it: There are plenty of world-class athletes (and not just endurance runners) that don’t eat meat.

Running icon Bart Yasso is a vegetarian.  Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time, is vegan.  (He now holds the American record of 165 miles run in 24 hours!)  Brendan Brazier is a vegan pro Ironman triathlete.  Robert Cheeke even makes the vegan diet work for bodybuilding.

The Plant-Based Athlete Diet

A vegetarian diet for endurance athletes is really not all that different from a normal (healthy) diet, with the exception, of course, of the meat.  If you’re switching from eating McDonald’s every day, then sure, it’s going to take some getting used to.  But if you eat lots of nutritious, whole foods as it is, there really aren’t all that many adjustments you need to make to go vegetarian.

You can take it as far as you want, and some vegetarian and vegan athletes tend toward raw and gluten-free diets, citing even greater energy gains.  There are differing degrees of health in even vegetarian diets, and mine still includes a lot of delicious cooked foods that “normal” people eat.

The Philosophy: Healthy but Accessible

There are some fantastic books out there that espouse what I consider to be an “ideal” diet, from the standpoint of athletic performance.  Vegan, high-raw, alkaline.  (See Brendan Brazier’s Thrive, for example.)

Eating that way is great.  But it’s tough.  Lots of strange ingredients, low-temperature cooking, and very little starchy goodness for the pasta lovers among us.  For meat-eaters looking to make a change (without causing their families to rebel), the chasm between this type of diet and their current one is huge.

I’d like to offer an alternative, a diet that is vegetarian (and can easily be made vegan), that’s substantial enough to support endurance training, and that’s delicious and accessible to new vegetarians.

I’ll be the first to admit you can do better nutritionally, but I believe that it’s more important to have a diet you’ll stick to first.  Once you’re used to eating vegetarian or vegan (and training on that diet), that’s when it’s time to consider taking it to the next level.

But Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Ah yes, every vegetarian athlete’s favorite question.

The answer is that protein is in all kinds of foods besides meat, but generally in lower quantities. It takes some effort to make sure you get some protein in every meal, but it’s not that hard.  While it is possible to eat a high-protein vegetarian diet, if your goal is to get the amount of protein recommended by many traditional diets for athletes, though, you’ll have a tough time doing it.

Having heard that many endurance athletes thrive on diets with lower amounts of protein than is traditionally recommended, I took a chance on it, and I’ve never felt better than I do now.  I’ll never go back to those crazy 1-gram-of-protein-per-pound-of-body-weight rules again.

If your vegetarian diet is pizza and potato chips, then you won’t get enough protein.  But if you eat a wide variety of foods and make smart choices to include some protein at every meal and ensure that you’re getting a balanced amino acid profile, chances are you’ll feel better than ever.  (See the vegetarian protein page for some numbers and amino acid information.)

Staple Foods

This list represents some common foods that will help you meet the needs of the vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Certainly there are many more foods one could include; the idea here is to list those that can be found in common grocery stores and whose tastes aren’t too foreign.

  • All kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw
  • Vegetable sprouts
  • All kinds of fruits, usually raw
  • Beans and other legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread, pitas, and bagels
  • Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
  • Hummus
  • Nuts, nut milks, nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
  • Oils: grapeseed, olive, canola, coconut, flaxseed (unheated), hemp (unheated)
  • Agave nectar (as workout fuel, not an all-purpose sweetener)
  • Protein powder (I like this hemp, rice, pea, and chia blend)
  • Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
  • Tea and coffee (limited)
  • Cheese (limited, non-vegan)
  • Eggs (limited, non-vegan)

Caloric Breakdown

I don’t count calories, or even carbohydrate-protein-fat ratios, when I eat.  I don’t believe that there’s a need to do this.  But in general, such ratios can be met with a variety of food sources.  In other words, take your favorite endurance diet numbers and make them work without meat.  Endurance diets tend to be high in carbohydrate anyway, making a vegetarian or vegan approach especially well-suited.

Though I don’t count calories closely, I try to eyeball my caloric breakdown and stay fairly close to the proportions laid out by Lance Armstrong’s former coach, Chris Carmichael, in his book Food for Fitness.  Carmichael’s recommendations, though varying based on training period, are roughly:

  • 65% carbohydrate
  • 13% protein
  • 22% fat

If you aim to hit these numbers with a vegetarian diet, you should be just fine.  And you’ll find that it’s not all that hard to do.

How Much Should You Eat?

About as much as it takes to feel comfortably full, but not stuffed.  As endurance athletes, we have the luxury of eating more calories than more sedentary people.  We need more calories, in fact.

If your goal is weight loss, or if you train more or less than I do, your needs will be different than mine.  Figure out what size meals work for you.

Eating Around Workouts

How you eat before, during, and after your workouts is especially important on any diet.  For lots of guidelines and recipes for unprocessed, vegetarian workout foods, see the natural running fuel page.

So there you have it: A workable vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Not that much to it, is there?  Vegetarians and vegans, I’m interested to know how this compares to your diet.  Any major differences?

This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.



Pre-Race Pinole & Chia Waffles

Hello again!  This is Christine, and this week I have a batch of vegan waffles to satisfy your sweet tooth!  But these aren’t just any waffles: They’re based on the diet of the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe of superathlete ultramarathoners.

Ok, I’ll admit it, long after Matt’s post on Tarahumara pinole and chia, I’m only half way through Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. But I am already chomping at the bit to give pinole and chia a whirl.  While I’m sure some of the claims are exaggerated, these foods seem like the magic cure for any ailment!

Will Run For Waffles

Heading out for a 48-hour trail run?  Legend has it that a satchel of pinole on the hip is all the Tarahumara require.  Need to bound up this cliff like a mountain goat?  Have a sip of chia gel. Run yourself ragged? Drink a cup of corn gruel.

Of course, a lot of things take on mythical proportions out in the depths of the Sierra Madres.  Can pinole and chia work their magic in my world—not just for an afternoon run, but to fuel the 9-5 grind too?

I developed this recipe for waffles to give pinole and chia a chance in my modern world.  And by “modern,” I mean that anything with the word gruel in it is unacceptable.

Beyond the allure of tribal running hunks, secret villages, and mystery gruels and gels, it all comes down to foods crazy-dense with nutrients and foods lacking in junk.  That is, unless you consider blindingly-strong corn-beer to be junk.

Vegan Pinole-Chia Waffles

  • 3/4 cup medium to finely ground cornmeal or pinole
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup oats, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup hemp milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

If starting with cornmeal instead of pinole, toast it lightly in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it is lightly browned and fragrant.  If you are using real pinole, grind in a coffee grinder to make a fine flour.

Preheat waffle iron.

Stir together the cornmeal, chia, ground oats, salt and baking powder.   In a separate bowl, mix together the applesauce, hemp milk, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla.  (The coconut oil needs to be at warm temperature or warmer to mix, so you may need to microwave it to get it to a liquid state.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry to combine into a smooth batter.  Spray the waffle iron with baking spray even if it is nonstick, and pour batter into hot iron.  Follow the directions of your waffle iron, or wait until the iron stops steaming.

Carefully remove waffles from iron, respray with cooking spray, and repeat.  This was enough batter to fill my waffle iron 2 and a half times, making 5 small waffles.

To enjoy immediately, top with maple syrup and the fruits of your choice.  Alternatively, slice into bars, freeze and take on your next run.

These pinole-chia waffles were surprisingly delicious!  I was nervous they would be too gritty, but the pinole provides an amazing crunchiness that transform them from “pastry” to “hearty breakfast.”  While I can’t promise that these will propel you up the side of a mountain, I will tell you that Matt is planning on making them for his 50 miler!

I  originally set out to develop a waffle recipe because Caleb and Rita left comments describing vegan waffle tragedies, but now I am on a total pinole and chia kick!  I want to put a Tarahumara spin on everything— any requests for what to try next?  I’d love a good challenge!

See you next Friday!


About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.



Spicy Cacao-Banana Raw Energy Bars

What do you know, another Monday.

But this Monday is special, for lots of reasons, not the least of which are that I’m on spring break and my second-ever 50K is on Saturday.  It’s also the start of the last full week of my first year of blogging, seeing as I started this blog on March 23rd of last year.

See, told you it was special.  Even more exciting, and less me-centric, is the news that my sister, Christine, ran her first 5K yesterday!  Here she is about a quarter-mile from the finish line, on her way to breaking 30 minutes with a time of 29:46.

Judging by the sea of green around Christine, St. Patrick’s Day races are the one time it’s okay to be “that guy” who wears the race shirt to the actual race.  Still, being a No Meat Athlete is far cooler.  And a shout out to my friends at Charm City Run Bel Air who helped put on the race!

Thrive Fitness raw bar and grill

Okay, no grill.  Just bar.  But how could I resist?

This bar is another raw wonder from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Fitness.  I recently polished off my batch of Carob Strawberry Chia Energy Bars, so this time I went with a different one, the magic ingredient that sucked me in being jalapeno pepper.  (When Erin and I first discovered Brendan’s recipe for a raw mango smoothie with jalapeno, we became more or less infatuated by it, essentially subsisting on mango-jalapeno smoothies alone for about a month.  I don’t rule out that this may have led to the conception of our baby.)

Again, the bars are loaded with superfoods and the right kinds of sugars for endurance training.  Dates, banana, salba (white chia), carob or cacao, macadamia nuts, and more.  The recipe calls for buckwheat, and this time I went ahead and sprouted it rather than using buckwheat flour.

Here’s some buckwheat before sprouting:

And after, the starch having been converted to easy-digesting sugars and protein to amino acids:

All the cool kids are sprouting now.  Are you?

Just like last time, my biggest complaint is that the bars aren’t firm enough to bring on a run; they’re soft and sticky when unfrozen.  (I’m guessing this is a common problem with raw bars.)  Not a huge deal though, since they’re good frozen and can be eaten that way before or after a workout.

Here’s the recipe, printed with Brendan’s permission.  Thanks, Brendan!

Spicy Carob Banana Energy Bars

(from Thrive Fitness)

  • 3/4 cup Medjool dates
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 small banana
  • 1/2 cup sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked)
  • 1/4 cup raw carob powder (or substitute raw cacao nibs or roasted carob powder)
  • 1/4 cup salba
  • 1/4 cup macadamia nuts
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp unhulled sesame seeds

Process everything except sesame seeds in a food processor.  Once you have cut the bars, sprinkle them with the sesame seeds.

Just like last time, I put the mixture directly from the food processor into a pan lined with parchment paper, where I shaped it into a brick and then froze it before cutting.

These bars actually taste really good.  They’re sweet and have a little kick from the jalapeno, and they have a nice crunch from the macadamia nuts and the cacao nibs I used.  Give ’em a try and let me know what you think!

Non-bloggers, you are dismissed.  Health bloggers, keep reading for…

A little cross-promotion

I haven’t mentioned it here in a while, but I’ve made a lot of changes to my other blog, Health Blog Helper.  I’ve put a lot of time recently into making the site look nice and adding lots valuable content to share all the info I’m constantly learning about how we can make our health blogs better.  Plus, I put together a new, free email course you can sign up for!  Please check it out if you haven’t been there in a while.



Sweet-Tooth Friday: Superfood Energy Bars

Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This is Christine and instead of my normal frilly-healthy-dessert post, today we are getting down and dirty with homemade vegan superfood energy bars.

An energy bar fit for fueling workouts

There has been a lot of talk about natural running fuel here lately.  Matt’s series of posts on pre, during, and post workout nutrition got me thinking about the original homemade energy bar recipe I created in the early days of Sweet-Tooth Fridays.  For those bars, my goal was to get away from the crazy-processed and overly sugared “health” bars on the market and create something actually nutritious from whole, real food— not corn syrup and soy.

And the result was a hit, both in taste and nutrition.  We’ve made these bars again and again, and I’ve been known to tuck them into my workout bag for a pick-me-up snack.  But now Matt has risen the bar with his research so I decided to give my old recipe a makeover, meshing it with ideas from the 5 essentials of pre-workout nutrition and elements of Thrive’s Raw Chia energy bars.

What makes them super?

I decided to leave beans as the backbone ingredient in my new bars, this time opting for adzuki beans instead of white.  I also left the dates in as the main source of sweetness since I now know that they have a high-GI for immediate energy.  Then I added agave nectar as suggested since its low-GI provides for sustained energy later on.

I wanted to lay off the “starchy” forms of carbs in my new bars after learning that they require extra energy for digestion before their sugar can be used as energy for the body.  So I swapped the wheat flour, oats, and cereal with the less starchy pinole and puffed millet (yeah it’s the same puffed millet from my vegan ‘rice cripsy’ treats!)

To make up for the dry ingredients I removed, I also added hemp protein, which is listed in the “superfoods that go the extra mile” category.  Do you think I stopped there?  Nope!  I threw in flaxseed and chia seed, and even maca root to help the adrenal glands recover.  Don’t forget the salt for electrolytes!

I was hoping to make bars that fit with the 3:1 carbs to protein ratio, but  couldn’t quite do it without adding significantly to the fat content.  The protein here comes mainly from nut butter, chopped almonds, hemp protein and beans, and is assisted by the flaxseed, chia, maca, and pinole.  My only other option was adding soy protein which I wasn’t willing to do, so I let my bars stay at a good 4.7:1 carbs to protein ratio (which does fall within the recovery food ratios anyway.)

Matt offered the option of using caffeine as a way of improving performance, but I’ve never run with caffeine before and was nervous about it.  I intentionally left a significant amount of water as the liquid part of this recipe so that it can be up to you whether to brew it as yerba mate, green tea, or even coffee if you want.  I made mine with water and they tasted great, so don’t think you’ll be missing out on flavor if you stick with water.

Finally, with a dash of cinnamon for antioxidants and a squeeze of lime as an acid neutralizer…voila!   New and improved superfood energy bars!

Homemade Vegan Superfood Bars


  • 2 cups cooked adzuki beans
  • 1 cup (about 15) fresh medjool dates, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups water (may substiute yerba mate, green tea, or coffee)
  • 4 tbsp agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup natural nut butter (I used cashew but almond, sunflower seed or peanut butter is fine)
  • 4 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 cup pinole, or stoneground cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup maca root powder
  • 1/2 cup hemp protein
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups puffed millet
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped raw almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×13 casserole dish with baking spray or 1 tbsp melted coconut oil.

Mix together the pinole, maca root powder, hemp protein, chia seeds, flaxseeds, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

In a food processor, puree the beans, dates, and water.  Stir the agave nectar, cashew butter, applesauce and lime juice into the puree.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry.  Fold in the puffed millet and almonds.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan; bake for 30-35 minutes or until firm.  Allow to cool, then cut into 24 bars.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutrition facts approximated for 1 bar/whole pan
Calories: 160/3849
Calories from fat: 112/2679
Fat: 8 g/201 g
Saturated fat: 0.7 g/18 g
Protein: 6 g/143 g
Sodium: 84 g/2008 g
Total carbs: 28 g/675 g
Sugar: 15 g/369 g
Fiber: 5 g/129 g

And yes, I drizzled these with a confectioner’s sugar icing that’s not accounted for in the nutrition facts–once again, decorating baked goods is a compulsion!

I’m packing these bars along for this weekend…I’m running my first race, the Shamrock 5k here in Baltimore!  I’ll be wearing my NMA shirt with pride.  Wish me luck and let me know how you like the new and improved bars!

See you next Sweet-Tooth Friday!
xoxo Christine

About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.



The Least You Need to Know About Fueling Your Run

After having a lot of fun researching exercise nutrition for the previous two posts in this series, those on pre-workout nutrition and recovery drinks, I figured the “during the run” post would be a breeze.  After all, everyone drinks (or eats) something during his or her run; only those who take fitness more seriously bother to think about the before and after.

To my surprise, this was the hardest of the bunch.  But that turns out to be good news: The guidelines for during-the-run fuel are few and simple, allowing you to tweak whatever works for your specific body to meet the requirements.

Please note that this list is the result of my own research, fusing bits of information from books like Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness, Thrive, Core Performance Endurance, and The Paleo Diet for Athletes.  With endurance running comes the risk of dehydration, bonking, and hyponatremia, which are not things to f  around with.  So don’t blindly follow my advice without doing some research of your own.

Without further delay, I present to you…

How to Eat and Drink During a Run

1.  Get off the commercial drinks and gels. Or at least, check them out to make sure they don’t contain artificial colors and sweeteners.  While some sports drinks are truly designed for athletes, many of the more popular ones must also cater to the masses of non-athletes who buy them as soda alternatives.  Much better to make your own natural sports drink and raw energy gel, both courtesy of pro vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier, in his book Thrive.

2.  Consume mostly liquid or easily-digesting food like gel. Solid food takes more energy and blood to digest than liquid, leaving you with less for hauling ass.  And it’s more likely to cause intestinal distress, which can ruin a race.  Except for the longest events, skip the solids.

3.  For all workouts, take in 4 to 6 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes. Your goal is to replace most of what you lose in weight, so if you want to get precise, you can figure out what you lose during a standard workout and drink the exact amount you need to replace it.  Or just chill out and just follow a rule of thumb like this one.

4.  Get 500 milligrams of sodium with every 16 ounces you drink. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, and that puts you at risk for hyponatremia if you hydrate without replacing them. For those of you making your own drinks and gels, 500 milligrams is a little less than the amount in a quarter teaspoon of salt.

5. For workouts and races lasting over an hour (and up to 4 or 5 hours), you need 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. 30-60 grams is a commonly-cited figure, but it’s a big range.  More useful might be to divide your body weight in pounds by 4 to get a minimum hourly carbohydrate requirement, in grams.  Accomplish this with a sports drink or a combination of energy gel and water.  Some claim a little bit of protein, in a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, helps minimize muscle damage.

6.  For anything lasting much more than 5 hours, the nutrition focus shifts to fat, with a smaller amount of carbohydrate. For details, go find an ultrarunner who has run more than a single 50K!

Coincidentally (ok, not really all that coincidentally), Megan and I just published a joint post about this very topic on our True/Slant blog Running Shorts.  That post is about our own habits; doing this research has made me realize that I need to change mine!  (Especially with regard to shorter workouts.)

For more posts and recipes on natural sports nutrition, check out my Running Fuel page.



The 7 Secrets of Post-Workout Recovery

Everyone loves the post-workout meal.  It serves as a reward, a celebration of having worked your ass off, and it’s a fantastic excuse to eat some of the sugars and simple carbs that we avoid most other times.

Mooove over, chocolate milk.

But many athletes are mistaken or unsure about what to eat after a workout. People are fond of believing that a glass of chocolate milk is the perfect post-workout meal.  As someone who subsisted on the stuff for weeks at a time as a kid, I was delighted the first time I heard this news.  But although it has a good carb-to-protein ratio, chocolate milk usually brings with it high-fructose corn syrup, and always the many downsides of dairy.

In search of a better way to refuel, I pored over several of my favorite sports-nutrition tomes: Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness, Thrive, Core Performance Endurance, and The Paleo Diet for Athletes.  (I don’t follow the meat-happy Paleo diet anymore, obviously, but I still like it for its section on workout nutrition.)  Interestingly, I found several recurrent ideas shared by these authors and athletes who are otherwise divergent in their approaches to the optimal diet for athletes.

I’ve compiled those ideas, plus a few that are less universal, but obviously important, into this list to help you decide what to eat after a workout, and when to eat it.

1.  Respect the fuel window. In the 15-60 minutes immediately following a workout, your muscles are primed to receive fuel to start the repair process.  Eat (or drink) your recovery meal right away, within the first half hour after the workout is complete.

2.  Make it easy to digest. Your muscles need blood to deliver nutrients to them.  The more of that blood that’s tied up in digesting a hot dog — sorry, any solid food — the less that gets to your muscles.  Ideally, you should get your immediate post-workout fix in liquid form.  Here’s the first strike against chocolate milk: Dairy is notoriously hard to digest.

3. Consume .75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight, and include protein in a 4:1 or 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio. I’m not usually one for specific numbers around my food, but these were so common that I had to list them.  Your carbohydrates should include high-glycemic index carbs, like glucose (dates are a good way to get it), and some slower-release, even fibrous, carbohydrates as well.  And don’t forget the fat — include about half as many grams of healthy fat as you do protein.  Flaxseed and hemp oils are my favorites.

4. Get out of the acid state with greens or other vegetables and fruits. Intense exercise creates an acidic environment in your body.  If you don’t neutralize the acid with what you eat, your body will use the calcium from your bones and nitrogen from your muscle tissue to neutralize it.  Greens, sprouted vegetables, and certain fruits like lemons and limes have a neutralizing effect on your body.  (Yes, I know it’s weird, but lemons and limes are considered alkaline, not acidic, in the body.)  Strike 2 for chocolate milk, as animal protein is acid-forming.  So are heavily-processed protein powders; I use minimally-processed hemp protein powder in most of my smoothies.

5.  Drink 2 cups of water per pound of body weight lost during exercise. What else is there to say?  You need water, or you’ll die.

6.  Replace lost electrolytes. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, the little conductors that transmit electrical impulses throughout your body.  So you need to replace them; some good sources of electrolytes are fruit, dulse flakes, a few pinches of sea salt, and Nuun tablets.

7.  Nourish your adrenal glands. Under the stress of an intense workout (or from caffeine if you included that in your pre-workout drink), your adrenal glands work hard to release hormones to help you perform.  To help them recover, add a teaspoon of ground maca, a Peruvian root that packs the added benefits of better sleep and increased libido.  Bonus!

Recovery doesn’t stop with your post-workout meal; you’ll want to eat again an hour or two later, this time focusing more on quality protein.  And there’s more you can do that doesn’t involve food — stretching, self-massage and foam rolling, rest, and even wearing compression socks.  See Megan’s Running Shorts post about workout recovery for details.

Here’s a recipe, from Thrive Fitness, for a recovery drink that satisfies all of the above criteria.  I use slightly less dulse because I’m not completely used to the taste of it.  Also, since this drink contains ground chia seeds, you’ll want to drink it immediately after you make it if you don’t want the chia to gel in the water.

Lemon Lime Recovery Drink

(from Thrive Fitness, reprinted with permission)

  • 4 large Medjool dates (remove pits)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp hemp protein
  • 1 tbsp ground salba
  • 2 tbsp sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Juice from 1/4 lime
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp ground dulse flakes
  • 1 tsp maca
  • 1 tsp greens powder (chlorella or spirulina)

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender.

Now get out there, so you can come back and recover!  Before you do, take a look at the first post in this series, on what to eat before a workout.  And look for the third and final post, on what to eat during the workout, soon.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.