Month: August 2013

Grain_group

Carbohydrates, Protein and Fueling Performance

Grain_group

With the start of my marathon training, I’ve renewed my focus on nutrition and just finished reading Matt Fitgerald’s book Racing Weight to get a better understanding of the specific needs of endurance athletes. The premise is simple: the more non-power-producing weight (i.e. fat) you are carrying, the slower you will be relative to your leaner self. This is pretty obvious to most of us, but what I like about Racing Weight is the way it approaches what is often (but not always) weight loss.

An important reminder for me is that the goal of optimizing my nutrition is not to lose weight, the goal is to get faster. Being a controlling A-type personality with lots of willpower means I can starve myself into slower race times without even realizing it, because I’m not even coming close to meeting my nutritional needs. Remember: the goal is to get faster; the goal is not to lose weight, although losing weight may be a means to the goal.

There is some wonderfully detailed (and scientifically-backed) discussion covering how improvements in your diet quality will optimize your body composition and provide the energy and nutrients needed to fuel and recover from workouts, and specifically what is required for athletes as a subset of the general population. While a large section is dedicated to methods of quantifying and improving diet quality (which is a huge component of proper nutrition), the part I am most excited about discusses macronutrient requirements – specifically carbohydrates and protein – which is precisely the information I have had so much trouble finding!

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the primary fuel used in muscle contraction so obviously endurance athletes need a lot more of them, which is why I’m stuffing my face with a banana as we speak (you think I’m kidding). What nobody seems to agree on is how much us crazy endurance athletes actually need!

Carbohydrate requirements actually increase with training volume, so a single number isn’t going to work for everyone all the time. Based in the information in Matt’s book, my training volume of about 7 hours per week means my daily requirement is about 395g, and more during heavy weeks. Because I’d like to eat as many carbs as required without overdoing it in the calorie department (I have a very “efficient” metabolism), I came up with a list of foods which have the greatest quantities of carbohydrates per calorie and thought it might be useful information for anyone else in the same situation. Of course my overall strategy of focusing on less processed and more natural foods still applies, so just because sweetened dried cranberries are high up on the list doesn’t mean I consider them a staple!

Another interesting tidbit: pure carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram; lower numbers mean that the carb total includes insoluble fibres which aren’t absorbed, and higher numbers mean calories are provided by nutrients other than carbohydrates (and you’ll notice that many of the foods in the carb list also have significant amounts of protein).

Also, there is a very good likelihood that I missed your favourite carb. This is not cause for alarm, simply let me know and I’ll add it.

Source (serving) CHO (g) Energy (cal) Cal/g
Raisins (1/4c) 32 120 3.75
Dried dates (6) 31 117 3.77
Orange 18 68 3.78
Apple 25 95 3.80
Banana 29 112 3.86
Dried Cranberries (1/3c) 33 130 3.94
Strawberries (1c) 12 49 4.08
Peach 14 59 4.21
Baby carrots (9) 14 60 4.29
Apricot 3.9 17 4.36
Sweet potato 37 162 4.38
Potato 37 163 4.41
White rice (1/4c dry) 45 205 4.56
Brown rice (1/4c dry) 39 180 4.62
Catelli pasta (3/4c dry) 66 310 4.70
Cauliflower (1c) 5.3 25 4.72
Pretzels (10 twists) 48 228 4.75
Pumpernickel bagel 42 203 4.83
Couscous (1/4c) 33 160 4.85
Popcorn (1/4c unpopped) 37 180 4.86
Puffed corn (2c) 24 120 5.00
Fig newtons (2) 22 110 5.00
Plain rice cakes (2) 14 70 5.00
Broccoli (1c) 5.8 30 5.17
Homemade bread (slice) 19 100 5.26
Frozen corn (3/4c) 15 80 5.33
Banana bread (slice) 34 184 5.41
Tomato sauce (1/2c) 8 45 5.63
Amaranth 32 180 5.63
Quinoa (1/4c dry) 30 170 5.67
Steelcut oats (1/4c dry) 29 170 5.86
Spaghetti squash 18 144 8.00

Protein

Protein has always been a touchy subject for me because usually the first question I get upon revealing that I am primarily vegetarian is: “but how do you get enough protein?” First of all, most people eat far more protein than they require (daily recommendation is about 0.8g/kg), and second, protein is in a far greater variety of foods than people imagine. Many vegetables and grains contain significant amounts of protein, and while they may not contain all the essential amino acids on their own, eating a varied diet throughout the day is usually adequate for meeting your amino acid requirements.

Athletes typically need more protein than the general population as it assists with muscle repair and recovery, and helps replace your carbohydrate stores following a workout. I have seen a huge range in the quantity of protein recommended for athletes (anywhere from 1.1 to 1.6 g/kg), but Matt Fitzgerald more specifically recommends 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight; I would suggest trying more and less to see what makes you feel better, since not everyone needs the same amount. I have always targeted about 60g of protein per day, and was pleasantly surprised to find I was already close to my calculated daily requirement of 66g.

For the same reasons I mentioned above, I like knowing my most efficient protein sources on a calorie basis. The important thing to keep in mind is that many foods that are not calorically efficient as a protein source still contain healthy fats and other nutrients and minerals that are incredibly healthy and part of maintaining a varied diet. Don’t avoid almonds just because they pack 27 calories per gram of protein – you’ll still benefit from eating them!

As with carbohydrates, proteins contain 4 calories per gram; typically foods on this list contain more fats and other nutrients, which results in a greater number of calories per gram of protein. Be careful about consuming too much fat with protein as it can interfere with absorption.

The list below is tailored to my diet, since I am primarily vegetarian plus fish and do occasionally eat chicken and other meats. I didn’t include your delicious t-bone steak and definitely have some foods that not everyone likes, so if you would like me to add a food just let me know (adding phrases like “pretty please, with a cherry on top?” generally gets my attention faster).

Source (serving) Protein (g) Energy (cal) Cal/g
Tuna (1 can) 30 130 4.3
Vega protein choc. (1 scoop) 25 130 5.2
Greek yogurt, 0% plain (3/4c) 18 120 6.7
Yves veggie ground (1/2c) 13.5 90 6.7
Cottage cheese 2% (1/2c) 13 90 6.9
M&M Veggie Burger 17 140 8.2
Chicken Breast (1/2, 145g) 30 250 8.3
Tofu medium firm (1/5 block) 8 70 8.8
Cottage cheese 4% (1/2c) 12 110 9.2
Greek yogurt, 2% plain (3/4c) 16 150 9.4
Salmon filet (6oz) 34 354 10.4
Edamame (1/2c beans) 11 120 10.9
Broccoli (1c) 2.6 30 11.5
Egg (1 large) 6 72 12.0
Lentils (1/4c dry) 13 170 13.6
PC Meatless Chicken (4 strips) 14 190 13.6
Cow’s milk 2% (1c) 9 130 14.4
Soy milk original (1c) 7 110 15.7
Peas (3/4c frozen) 5 80 16.0
Cheddar cheese (2 slices) 10 160 16.0
Goat cheese (1cm slice, 30g) 5 80 16.0
Refried beans (1/2c) 6 110 18.3
Schneider Chick’n nuggets (4) 12 220 18.3
Feta cheese (1″ cube) 2.4 45 18.8
Chickpeas (1/2c canned) 5.5 105 19.1
Natural peanut butter (1T) 5 100 20.0
Hummus (1/4c) 5 102 20.4
Quinoa (1/4c dry) 7 170 24.3
Steelcut oats (1/4c dry) 7 170 24.3
Balkan style yogurt (1/2c) 4 100 25.0
Almonds (12 nuts) 3 80 26.7

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I didn’t talk about fats at all. That’s on purpose, and due to the simple facts that they’re not as important to endurance sports as protein and carbohydrates, and most people more than meet their daily fat requirements just through eating normal amounts of healthy food. I eat more fat because I find that I feel much better on a higher fat diet, have fewer non-hunger food cravings and have healthier skin and nails than when I restrict my fat intake. I also prefer full-fat dairy products because they’re less processed and therefore more natural, and because they taste so much better than low-fat versions – and honestly? I don’t eat food that doesn’t taste good, no matter how healthy it is! Just ask me how long it took to find a way I like kale, and how vehemently I refused to eat it before then.

Speaking of kale, I believe there will be a kale recipe joining the blog before long, so keep your eyes peeled so you don’t miss it. I know how disappointed you would be.

Happy eating!

Boston jacket

Doing the Audacious: Road2Hope Marathon

Marathon training officially starts today! Fortunately it was pretty easy to get started because Mondays are my off day in my new training plan, so I spent about 40 minutes in the gym doing core work and rolling out my well-rested muscles. Phew!

We’ve already talked about my audacious (isn’t that a fabulous word?) goal to train for my first marathon in 10 weeks and qualify for the Boston Marathon. We’ve already agreed that I’m crazy, so let’s move on to how I plan to make it happen!

Here’s the qualifier – I’m not a new runner. In addition to my other triathlon training, I’ve been running between 35 and 45km/week for most of the summer, and I’ve done at least four long runs 20km or longer in the past two months. Obviously this training plan isn’t for someone just starting out, and I’m not a coach or a doctor so please use discretion if you choose to follow along.

My Audacious 10-week Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope Training Plan:

Week 1: August 26 – September 1 (43km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 5km easy
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – off
Saturday – 8km distance, spin class
Sunday – 20km long

Week 2: September 2 – September 8 (55km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 10km distance
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – off
Saturday – Esprit de Montréal, Olympic Duathlon
Sunday – 20km long

Week 3: September 9 – September 15 (47km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 7km recovery
Wednesday – 10km easy tempo
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km recovery
Saturday – spin class
Sunday – 25km long

Week 4: September 16 – September 22 (62km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 10km distance
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – 12km easy with some hills, spin class
Sunday – 25km long/tempo

Week 5: September 23 – September 29 (69km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 12km distance
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – 12km easy, spin class
Sunday – 30km long

Week 6: September 30 – October 6 (55km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 7km recovery
Wednesday – 10km tempo
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km recovery
Saturday – spin class
Sunday – 33km long

Week 7: October 7 – October 13 (67km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 12km distance
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – 15km easy with some hills, spin class
Sunday – 25km long/tempo

Week 8: October 14 – October 20 (62km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 14km distance
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – 12km distance, spin class
Sunday – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, 21.1km at goal race pace

Week 9: October 21 – October 27 (40km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 10km easy
Wednesday – 10km intervals
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – spin class
Sunday – 15km easy

Week 10: October 28 – November 3 (63km)
Monday – off
Tuesday – 8km easy with strides
Wednesday – 8km tempo
Thursday – spin class
Friday – 5km easy
Saturday – off
Sunday – Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope, 42.2km

New to this training program is the addition of core work, strength training and roller sessions; every weekday I add about 30 minutes of cross training with core and roller on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and strength training on Tuesday/Thursday.

Run types:
The key to building strength and speed is to vary the training intensity, which forces your body to adapt to different stimulus and increases your running efficiency. Also, if you want to run fast in racing, you have to run fast in training!

Recovery: it’s impossible to run too slowly during a recovery run; they should be very, very easy.

Long: around 5:45 pace, sustainable effort.

Long/tempo: maintain long run pace for the majority of the run; in the middle 10km, run every second kilometer faster than 5:00 pace (marathon race pace), maintaining long run pace between fast kilometers.

Distance: relatively easy run, pace around 5:30 depending on the day and terrain; some of my distance runs include hill work since my goal race has a significant downhill portion.

Easy: pace around 5:20, medium effort over shorter distances.

Tempo: slightly slower than 10km race pace, around 4:40 based on my 10k PB.

Intervals: these change from week to week, but involve running faster than 10km race pace (4:00 to 4:30) over shorter distances (1600m and shorter). If you’re looking for ideas, check out my running workouts page.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go run!

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Circuit Spin

The focus of any of my circuit spins are to encourage the class to establish a baseline effort, then use that to push their difficulty without overdoing it.  The repetitive structure means everyone knows what’s coming and they can fine-tune their effort based on the difficulty of the last set; by the end of the class they should have a much better idea of how much resistance they can handle for each set.

This class is designed to be about 40 minutes of effort and 5-10 minute cooldown; if you prefer an hour class, add a fourth circuit.

Circuit Spin

Total ride time: 40 minutes of intervals, 10 minute cooldown and stretch.

Circuit 1: start off easy and gradually increase intensity as muscles warm up, focus on breathing a proper form.
Flat (Brighter than the Sun, Colbie Caillat)Climb (Only Teardrops, Emmelie de Forest)
Jumps (Domino, Jessie J.)
Sprint (Let It Go, Dragonette)

Circuit 2: challenge the class to increase intensity beyond their comfort level, paying attention to how they feel
Flat (Drive By, Train)
Climb (Nobody’s Listening, LInkin Park)
Jumps (Drop it Low, Kat deLuna)
Sprint (Under the Sun, John de Sohn feat. Andreas Moe)

Circuit 3: focus on maintaining effort, adjust intensity based on how they felt finishing the last circuitFlat (Pocketful of Sunshine, Natasha Bedingfield)
Climb (We Got the Power, Loreen)
Jumps (So Yours, Darin)
Sprint (Green Light, Roll Deep)

Cooldown and stretch:
Shake it Out, Florence and the Machine
If I Lose Myself, Onerepublic vs. Alesso
The Fire, Sons of Midnight

 

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Goal Setting: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As athletes, we like to analyze; power output, heart rate, cadence, elevation, pace…with modern technology there is no shortage of statistics available to us. Every race involves a post-race analysis of what worked and what didn’t, how we could have gone faster, what we could have done differently, why we didn’t meet our goals or how we could have exceeded them.

This ongoing analysis makes me really appreciate the time between training cycles, when I forget the details and focus on the big picture: what do I want to accomplish? What will get me there? How do I structure the details so they support my long-term goals?

With the 2013 season not quite over (I still have my first marathon in the works), I’m spending this time focusing primarily on the next 12 weeks of training, with an eye on competing at the Duathlon age-group World Championships in June next year. As I’ve been training more or less constantly since February, I’ve given myself a two-week break from training to recover; it’s not only physical recovery but also a mental break from a structured training schedule, and an important part of making sure my marathon training doesn’t cause burnout.

My upcoming fall races include:
September 7 – Esprit Triathlon de Montréal (Olympic Duathlon, World Championships qualifier)
October 20 – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (Run to End Poverty and tune-up race)
November 3 – Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon (Boston Qualifier)

Looking Back

Whenever I see someone making a positive change in their life, like starting an exercise program or cooking their own meals, I tell them to remember this point and look back on it to see how far they’ve come. Think about the first time you went for a run – it probably wasn’t far or fast, but simply starting was a bigger step than any you’ve taken since then. Think about what you can do now, and imagine how impressed your past self would be; or maybe you’re like me and you couldn’t have possibly imagined what you would achieve.

This has been a transformative year for me. A renewed focus on my training has given me incredible results in a variety of distances and sports: this year alone I have beat my personal best times in 3 running distances, duathlon and triathlon. Every race is a new PB and I feel stronger every time, which I’m hoping will carry me through some incredible fall training.

Looking Forward

Training for my first full marathon will be my primary focus for the next training cycle. The Hamilton Road2Hope marathon is only a terrifying 12 weeks away and I’ll be relying on my base running fitness as I condense training into only ten weeks.

My ridiculous, big and scary goal is to finish the full marathon in 3:30 and qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon. I know it’s crazy; the best dreams are. When I’m 3/4 of the way through my training and just want to give up, I’m relying on my friends and family to remind me that big and scary goals take a lot of work, but they’re worth it.

I know one very important thing from watching my friends train for marathons, ironmans and ultras: nobody does this alone. It takes the support of training partners and loved ones to make big scary dreams come true, and everyone around me deserves a big thank you for getting me to where I am now and supporting me as I chase my own big scary dream.

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

team photo

Duathlon World Championships

A little over a year ago, I signed up for a standard-distance duathlon in Cobourg on a whim. The timing fit with my racing schedule and I had never raced a duathlon before, so I figured why not try it out? It turned out to be the wonderful beginning to a journey that culminated in racing for Team Canada in the Duathlon World Championships.

I had no illusions that this would be an easy race, either from a competitive or personal perspective. As I’ve gotten faster, I’ve realized that racing short(ish) distances becomes more and more difficult – the endurance comes not from the muscles, but rather from mental fortitude saying I can do this – because I finished blazing interval sessions, tempo rides with a headwind and neverending long runs. Just keep going. Faster. Faster.

I have never raced in Ottawa before, but after this experience I would highly recommend it. The bike and run courses followed a winding parkway along the river, with gliding turns and shallow grades but no major hills to speak of. The first run was two laps of a 5km course, the bike was two laps of 20km and the final run returned to the 5k course for one lap.

Goals

This is the most important race I’ve ever done, and of course I had time goals – both realistic and “secret” ones – and process goals. Some of these were based on my experiences in other races, some based on my training leading up to the race. Besides finishing and having fun (which are goals for every race), I wanted to:

  1. Maintain an even pace throughout. This meant evaluating my pace to make sure I was pushing hard enough but leaving some energy for the finish – particularly since I have a habit of going out too hard in the beginning, slacking in the middle and finishing hard to make up for it.
  2. Push hard on the bike. I admit, I’m a wimp on the bike – I once had someone tell me I don’t know how to suffer, and I see this when I finish a race knowing I could have gone faster. No mercy in this race.
  3. Run the first 10k in 46 to 47 minutes (average pace 4:36 to 4:42). I wanted to have a solid first run without going out too fast, and aimed for 0:30 to 1:30 off my 10k running personal best. But if we’re being honest? I really wanted to see if I could run a sub-45 10k.
  4. Average above 30km/hr on the bike, which means finishing 40km in under 1:20. I’ve never broken the 30km/hr barrier, and averaging exactly 29.3k/hr in two previous races was frustratingly close!
  5. Run the second 5k in under 25 minutes (average pace under 5:00). Beating a 5:00 pace off the bike would be a first for me, especially after a hard ride, but my secret unrealistic goal was 22:30. Don’t tell anyone.
  6. Finish under 2:30 overall. Somewhere between unrealistic and achievable, if everything came together perfectly.
  7. Not last place. Please.
parade

Waving the flag at the Parade of Nations! (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

Race Morning

I had already picked up my race kit, attended the race briefing and dropped off my bike in transition the night before so race morning was pretty straightforward, but I never really relax until I’ve gotten my transition area set up. My 7:25 wave start meant I was up at 5am, out the door with a blueberry bagel in my tummy by 5:45, and on the race site with my coffee shortly after 6am. I went through my ritual of setting up my transition (realizing that I forgot the purple transition towel I’ve used in every race for the past 5 years), pumping my tires up to 118psi, dropping off my extras at bag check and doing a little jog and some strides to wake up my legs. I wasn’t nervous at all (which was pretty weird), and feeling strong and ready.

The First Run – 10km

All 171 women started in the second wave, with a brisk cool headwind as we headed west along the parkway. I focused on maintaining a consistent pace as I watched the majority of the field pull away from me – although it was disappointing to see everyone pulling ahead, this is my race and I knew if I raced others now then I would burn out. Save the kick to the end – more people ahead means more passing opportunities later!

My kilometer splits were all between 4:32 and 4:45, with the exception of the last climb up a slight grade towards transition. My chip time was 47:59; however my Garmin recorded a distance of 10.26km and time of 47:53, putting my pace at 4:39 and (in my opinion) achieving my time goal for the first run!

The Bike – 40km

I had a blazing fast T1 (in true Kim fashion), and in 45 seconds I was hopping on my bike and slipping my feet into the shoes waiting on my pedals. I looked down to check my speed and – damn! – realized that my bike computer decided this was the perfect time to stop working. Speed and cadence were transmitting but registering as zero, so something was up with the sensors. I started my Garmin belatedly since I wasn’t planning on using it on the bike, and started doing the math (yay!) to convert km pace splits into km/hr (in case you’re wondering, 2:00 pace is 30km/hr).

The majority of the course was fairly straight and flat with a slight headwind on the way out, but honestly I didn’t even notice a difference with the wind. After about 3km we turned off the parkway to my favourite part: an extra loop with 9 turns within about a kilometer, meaning I could fly fearlessly around corners and overtake people without even trying!

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Chasing Donaldson after the 20k turnaround. (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

I finished the 40km bike in 1:18:11, beating my goal time by almost two minutes and averaging 30.7km/hr! I was very happy with my effort, and I knew that I couldn’t have gone any faster – my heart rate averaged 165bpm which is a pretty solid sustained effort for me. One last tri-berry GU through T2 (0:58) and I was ready to run!

The Second Run – 5km

So apparently when you actually work hard on the bike, it makes the transition to running more difficult. Who would have guessed, right? Well my legs felt awful heading out into the run, and the best I could manage was a jog. Yup, 5k to go in the world championships and I’m freaking jogging.

Past experience has taught me that the first kilometer always sucks, so the best strategy is to suck it up and run fast anyways so I did my best, most efficient post-bike jog and managed a 5:04 split on my first kilometer (apparently I’m pretty good at jogging). My legs evened up after about 3km, so I turned up the dial and passed a few people, one of whom was a fellow Canadian in my age group, Mesiti. Nearing the finish, I glanced behind me again and saw Mesiti gaining on me from about 100m back – this girl was determined. No problem, but I figured I’d turn it up a little anyways and at least look like I wasn’t tired (and yes, I did pass the guy in front of me). Good call, Kim.

run finish close

Sprinting for the finish! (Photo courtesy of Lesley Furnell)

Anyways, don’t you just hate when people in your age group sprint past you 50m before the finish line? Me too, so it’s handy to have a little finishing kick so you can pass them back and win by 2 seconds. I don’t think Mesiti was very happy about how things turned out, but I managed to snag a 2:33:17.9 finish and 20/25 placing! My run was 25:25, and again my Garmin read 5.26km, making my actual pace closer to 4:50.

Full results are available on Sportstats and the ITU website.

Recap and Lessons Learned

I consider all my race goals acheived, with the exception of a sub-2:30 finish – but honestly, I’m not too concerned about that because I broke my personal records in all three individual events and beat my previous personal best by over 13 minutes! Everything came together and I was absolutely ecstatic about my race performance.

That being said, there are a few things I learned for future races:

  • Despite all my training, I have lots of room for improvement in both running and biking (the best description came from a fellow competitor the day before the race: “it’s a humbling experience”). The fastest women in my age group finished the 10k in under 40 minutes and the bike portion in under 1:12!
  • I need more practice running off the bike. When comparing my time in the run portions I realized that many women running 47-48 minute 10ks (similar to mine) were running 23 minute 5ks off the bike, more than 2 minutes ahead of me.
  • My pre-race and race nutrition wasn’t optimal – I didn’t have any specific issues with nutrition, either before or during the race, but I felt that it could have been better. I took one gel about 5 minutes before the fun started and four more during the race, along with about 400mL of gatorade and 300mL of water on the bike (plus some water from aid stations). My future training will involve some experimentation to figure out what and how much to eat and drink to improve my performance.

So what’s next?

I’ve already registered for the olympic duathlon National Championships at the Esprit Triathlon de Montreal on September 7th, where a top-10 finish means I qualify for the 2014 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain!

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Cranberry Orange Seed Bars

Nuts and seeds are an often-overlooked category of food that contain many essential nutrients and minerals; chia seeds have recently become incredibly popular for their many health benefits, but they’re not the only seed you should be adding to your diet. Not only are all of these seeds incredibly healthy, they also have a few specific benefits for athletes!

Chia Seeds

  • Water-soluble fibre, which slows digestion and regulates blood sugar.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids support the nervous system and healthy brain function.
  • Phosphorous, which is used to synthesize proteins, carbs and fats for tissue growth and repair.
  • Manganese to regulate metabolism and assist with the formation of connective tissue and healthy bones.
  • Tryptophan improves both sleep and mood and regulates appetite.
  • A source of protein.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Minerals help repair tissues damaged through exercise and improve sleep, both of which speed recovery.
  • Chia seeds absorb large amounts of water, making them a great option for boosting hydration. One study compared carbo-loading using a drink with 100% of calories from Gatorade to one with 50% of the calories provided by Gatorade and 50% by chia seeds; the chia mixture provided the same results but with a better nutritional profile (more Omega-3s) and less sugar.
  • Chia seeds have traditionally been used by endurance athletes such as the Tarahumara, and were mentioned in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run.

Pumpkin Seeds (also called Pepitas)

  • Alkaline-forming, which counteracts bone loss as a result of low body pH and can improve energy levels and immunity.
  • Complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.
  • Magnesium helps with body temperature regulation, transmission of nerve impulses and the absorption of calcium, and improves muscle function.
  • Zinc strengthens the immune system and is needed for growth and cell division.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Intense workouts temporarily suppress the immune system, so getting enough zinc can help protect you from that nasty flu everyone else is getting.
  • Studies show that insufficient magnesium can result in muscle weakness, particularly during hard training weeks.

Sunflower Seeds

  • Selenium is an antioxidant and plays a key role in metabolism.
  • Vitamin E lowers cholesterol, improves immunity and protects cells from damage by eliminating free radicals in the body.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Selenium helps protect muscles from damage, allowing your body to recover faster from a hard workout.
  • Vitamin E supplements have been shown to counteract the increase in lipid oxidation associated with extreme exercise, reducing muscle damage and speeding recovery.

Sesame Seeds

  • Calcium supports healthy bones and teeth.
  • Iron and copper are used in the production of red blood cells, and copper helps with thyroid function and the formation of connective tissue.
  • Good source of magnesium (see above).
  • Variety of minerals such as phosphorous, zinc and vitamin B1.

Specific benefits for athletes:

  • Sesame seeds are particularly beneficial for runners because the mechanical forces associated with running destroy hemoglobin at a faster rate and therefore increase production of red blood cells. Women are especially prone to developing runners’ anemia, and often require iron supplementation.
  • Magnesium is important during hard training weeks (see above).

Cranberry Orange Seed Bars (inspired by Endurance Crackers from Oh She Glows) are a tasty, vegan, nut-free and gluten-free way to enjoy a variety of seeds.

Cranberry orange seed bars

Cranberry Orange Seed Bars
Makes: 36 mini bars

1/2 c. chia seeds
1/2 c. pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 c. warm water
2 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Zest from 1 orange
3 Tbsp white rice flour

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium bowl, mix seeds, dried cranberries and cinnamon.
  2. Combine warm water and honey/sugar and stir until dissolved. Add vanilla and orange zest and stir to combine.
  3. Add water mixture to seeds and stir until chia seeds begin to gel and the mixture thickens. Let sit 2-3 minutes, then add flour and stir well to combine.
  4. Pour onto parchment paper and spread with the back of a spoon until the layer is 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  5. Bake at 325F for 30 minutes, then cut into bars. I like to cut bite-sized diamond shapes, but feel free to adjust the size and shape of your bars. Flip and bake another 30 minutes until edges are golden brown and crispy.

Options and Substitutions:

  • I used white rice flour, but feel free to try different wheat, oat or gluten free flours. Some may work better than others and the only one I’ve tested is white rice flour so do so at your own risk!
  • I prefer to sweeten with honey, however I am aware that many people do not consider honey to be a vegan product; you may wish to substitute an equal amount of packed brown sugar to make the recipe unequivocally vegan.
  • For an extra sweet treat, drizzle melted dark chocolate over the bars after they come out of the oven; they won’t be quite as healthy, but come on, it’s dark chocolate! I don’t need to explain this to you.
  • I like small diamond shaped bars, but really you can cut them into any shape or size you like – even animals if you have cookie cutters!

I like diamond shaped bars, but you can cut any shape you like.

These bars are a nutritional powerhouse with 56 calories per serving, 5.7g carbohydrates, 2.2g fibre and 2.9g protein. Now go take on the world!