Recipes

Spiced Lentil Muffins

This post originally appeared on Our Fresh Kitchen, a healthy food project I started with my partner Hector. I really wanted to share it here because it’s such a crazy cool way to get your legumes!

Most wonderful things start out with a crazy idea.  Some people say it’s because you have to see the world a little differently to create something wonderful, but I think wonderful ideas are all around us and the trick is following where they lead.

I’ve had a few good ones…

  • Running outside during a polar vortex deep-freeze, on multiple occasions.
  • Trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon with 10 weeks of training (not recommended).
  • Moving to Singapore for four months on an academic exchange.
  • Signing up for an Ironman (we’ll see how this one goes).

The cool thing about crazy ideas is that even if they don’t turn out the way you expected, you usually learn something or at least have a good story to tell.  In this case, it resulted in possibly the most versatile (in a dietary sense) healthy lentil muffin recipe you’ll ever make.  These moist and lightly sweetened muffins have some pretty awesome fiber and protein, and can be made vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and either nut-free or soy-free depending on what type of milk you use.

If you don’t have some of these ingredients, don’t worry.  Not everyone has a kitchen equipped with the ingredients for vegan and gluten-free baking, and that’s totally cool because just about everything even remotely specialized about this recipe can be substituted with the most basic ingredients you have. Don’t have chia seeds? Use flax meal or egg.  Almond milk? Soy or dairy milk will work too.  The only extra step – compared to regular muffins – is cooking the lentils, and that hardly takes any time at all.

Making the muffins

There are four basic steps:

  1. Cook the lentils
  2. Mix chia seeds with water to form a gel
  3. Combine cooked, wet and dry ingredients
  4. Spoon into muffin pans and bake

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Bring water and salt to a boil, then add dried lentils and simmer for 20-30 minutes; you’ll know they’re done when all the water is absorbed and you have a creamy brown sauce.  The lentils can cook while you preheat the oven and get everything else ready.

By the way, brightly coloured silicon baking cups are fantastic. You don’t even need to grease them, and they look so pretty when they’re all ready for muffin batter.

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While the lentils are cooking, mix the chia seeds and water together in a small bowl…

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…and after about 10 minutes you get a nice thick gel that replaces the eggs in traditional baking.  If you don’t have chia seeds, you can substitute 1:1 with flax meal to keep it vegan or use two eggs (in this case leave out the water too) and skip the 10 minute wait.

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While the chia seeds are working their magic, mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  I prefer quinoa flour for baking because I find it has a good texture in most recipes, is sold in my local grocery store and means I don’t need to keep five different types of flour in my pantry (not that I don’t have five types of flour in my pantry – I just don’t need to).  If you’re gluten-sensitive, you can try using other gluten-free flours like rice, almond or coconut, but I haven’t tested anything other than brown rice flour.  On the other hand, if you can eat wheat, then regular whole wheat flour (possibly with some wheat bran) is also an option – just leave out the xanthan gum.

Once the lentils have finished cooking, add them to the chia gel along with the remainder of the wet ingredients – just be careful not to stir too enthusiastically at first or the oil might go everywhere (like mine did).  I generally use unsweetened almond milk in my baking, but any milk will work here; soy, coconut and flax milk are all good options to keep the recipe dairy-free, and regular cow’s milk works too. So go nuts – or should I say nut-free?

Finally, add everything together and mix until you get a nice fluffy batter and all the lumps are gone.

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Spoon the batter into your brightly coloured baking cups (you have those right?) or greased muffin pans, dividing it evenly between 12 cups.  The muffins don’t really rise, so the batter should be mounded over the tops of the pan.

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Bake at 350F until a toothpick stuck in the center of the muffin comes out clean, which takes about 20 minutes.  Let the muffins set in the pans for about 5 minutes, then cool them completely on a wire rack.

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If you’re not eating them right away (I can never resist eating one straight out of the oven), they will last several days at room temperature, up to a week in the fridge or about a month frozen.  Before serving, thaw and reheat them in the oven at 250F for 10-15 minutes.

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Serve with love :)

 Spiced Lentil Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Cooked Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup split red lentils, dried

Wet Ingredients

1/4 cup chia seeds
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 c. chopped dried dates and/or walnuts (optional)

Dry Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour (+ 1 tsp xanthan gum if using gluten-free flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil, then add lentils and simmer on low for 20-30 minutes until water is absorbed.
  2. While lentils are cooking, preheat oven to 350F and grease muffin pans.
  3. In a large bowl, combine chia seeds and water, letting them sit for 10 minutes until the mixture forms a thick gel. In a smaller bowl, combine dry ingredients.
  4. Add cooked lentils and remaining wet ingredients to chia gel and mix well, then add dry ingredients and dates or walnuts. Stir until combined.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin pans and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes then remove to cooling rack. Store in a sealed container for several days, or freeze to enjoy whenever you wish.
Nutritional Information

205 calories | 7.2g fat | 31g carbs | 6.2g fiber | 12.9g sugar | 5.5g protein

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Sweet Potato Kale Pizza

It’s official – Friday night has been declared Pizza Night in the Kim-and-Hector kitchen.  But when I say pizza, I’m not talking about 2,000-calorie mounds of dough and cheese that make you feel guilty and slightly nauseous the next day; I’m talking about a crisp homemade crust covered with roasted sweet potatoes and red onions, mozzarella cheese and crunchy balsamic kale.  This is not Pizza Hut pizza.  This is so much better.

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Photo credit: Hector Rodriguez

So here’s how Pizza Night works: every week we choose a different kind of pizza, based around an ingredient we want to try or a neat recipe we found.  Last week we chose kale because I got a giant bunch in my bi-weekly produce box, and the search for a unique recipe resulted in this gem from Two Peas and Their Pod: Sweet Potato Kale Pizza with Rosemary and Red Onion.

Seeing as this is the first time I’ve posted a recipe using kale, I have to add a note here: it took me forever to find ways I actually like kale.  I tried kale chips, steaming, frying, salad (at which point I also discovered that just about anything tastes pretty good when it’s covered in Caesar salad dressing and Parmesan cheese)…and I got sick of everyone telling me to try kale chips.  (more…)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bites

I’m sitting at my desk with a delicious peanut buttery oatmeal cookie sitting all alone looking at me, just daring me to eat it, and I’m trying really hard to resist eating it until after my spin class tonight…but I’ve got the last-Friday-before-a-recovery-week munchies and pretty much want to eat everything in sight!  I already ate its sibling, as well as a Ferrero Rocher chocolate which somehow slipped into my lunch bag this morning.  Oops.

Eaaat meeeee!!!

In the meantime, I’m distracting myself by coming up with all sorts of nasty drills for tonight’s spin class at Energia Athletics.  I’ve settled on a Flat-Build-Climb choreography, repeated three times and ending in a 7+ minute climb.  Any takers?  That’s what I thought, I’ll see you at 6! (more…)

Ginger Lentil Muffins

This recipe has been updated!  Version 2 can be made vegan and gluten-free, and you can find it here: Spiced Lentil Muffins.

Now I get that you might be feeling a little skeptical about lentils in muffins but just hear me out. You trusted me on the zucchini chocolate cake, right? And look how well that turned out! Just try them, and you’ll never look at a lentil the same way again.

By now, you might have realized that I have a teensy bit of a muffin fetish. They’re so easy to bake, incredibly versatile and very portable – what’s not to love? So when I ended up bored around the house on a Saturday afternoon, what else was I to do but create the recipe I’ve had floating around in my head for a month?

Bonus: if you’re an endurance athlete like me, these have the perfect carb to protein ratio (4:1) for recovery. Just sayin’. :)

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Sweet Millet Congee

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It’s a quick update today, but after four days on the Wild Rose Cleanse, I still haven’t had those terrible first few days everyone talks about. No cramping, no GI issues, no headaches and normal energy levels. I also realized that the Wild Rose diet is basically what I always eat, with the exception of dairy, sugar and flour. Not too difficult to find delicious ways to cook with all that’s left!

The best part of avoiding sugar has been learning a bunch of new ways to flavour things. I put tons of cinnamon in my oatmeal, along with frozen cranberries for a delicious, cozy breakfast. I also tried cooking millet since it’s one of the recommended grains, and discovered an amazing recipe on the back of the package! I’ve made some modifications and I’d like to share it. (more…)

Experiment of One: Sugar

I had a total revelation last week (and it resulted in an awesome recipe, at the bottom of this post).

Since I’m no longer training, I decided to do a little nutritional “experiment of one” around sugar and stimulants (i.e. caffeine).  I was inspired by my sister who recently cut out all sugar – and I mean all sugar, even natural sugars like honey, fruit, dairy and anything else containing lactose, fructose or glucose – after learning sugar is one of her food sensitivities.  I figured I’d give it a try and see what happened.

Although I planned to start my no-sugar, no-caffeine diet on Monday, I only lasted until about 4pm so I didn’t technically start until Tuesday.  But seriously, not eating any sugar is freaking hard ’cause that stuff is in everything!  No raisins in my yogurt, no banana, no chocolate – definitely not something I could keep up long term.

So, I was only successful in doing one day of no sugar at all.  But over the rest of the week I started adding in sugar gradually, and I’ve still drastically reduced the amount I used to eat every day.  I also learned a couple cool things about how my body responds to sugar (and here I’m using “sugar” to refer to natural or refined because fruit has more or less the same effects):

  • Between 30 and 60 minutes after eating sugar, even if I’m not hungry, I get a strong desire to eat – specifically sugar and junk food cravings, but I just feel the need to eat something.
  • This craving goes away if I wait about 15 minutes without eating.

I spent most of the summer wondering why I constantly felt a need to eat even when I wasn’t hungry, but then I’d snack on fruit because it’s delicious and good for you.  Vicious circle ensues, leaving me feeling simultaneously guilty and unsatisfied.

But I also learned something else about sugar cravings this week: excessive sugar cravings are a sign of overtraining, according to page two of Avoiding Late-Season Burnout from Inside Triathlon.  I’d never made that connection, but it makes sense and might have made it’s own contribution too.

My final discovery this week was the BEST BREAKFAST CEREAL EVER.  Homemade, gluten-free/low, totally sugar-free (unless you put raisins in it like I do) and so many variations: basically pick any combination of seeds and grains, mix them with some sort of dairy or non-dairy milk or yogurt and let them sit for about 15 minutes then enjoy!  I throw it all together in the morning when I get up, and it’s ready by the time I’m out of the shower.

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Clockwise from top: chia seeds, hemp seeds, kasha, flax meal, rolled oats

Best Breakfast Cereal

Here’s what I put in one serving, but feel free to substitute (Bulk Barn carries most of these):
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp kasha (toasted buckwheat)
1 Tbsp hulled hemp seeds
2 Tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp raisins
1/2 cup milk

Mix everything together, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes so the chia seeds have time to gel.

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Nutritional info: 296 cal, 33g carbs, 8g fibre, 14g protein, 12g fat (healthy ones!)

Variations:

  • Add half a scoop of protein powder (I use Vega sport protein)
  • Use unsweetened almond or flax milk instead of dairy
  • Add cinnamon and apple chunks
  • Substitute steel-cut oats if you like a chewier texture
  • Add more rolled oats for texture or to increase the carbs
  • Mix everything in a small pot and eat it warm
  • Add a few spoonfuls of Greek or regular plain yogurt
  • Make it the night before and store in the fridge overnight so it’s ready in the morning
  • Flavour with vanilla extract or cocoa powder
  • Anything else you can think of!

Happy eating!

Muffins on a plate

Guilt-Free Double Chocolate Muffins

This recipe was born when I was in a chocolaty mood (as with most delicious things), but don’t let that fool you – these muffins are a much healthier version of your typical double chocolate muffin, so they’re guilt free too!

I have to admit, this recipe is a little weird because I wanted to make a dozen large muffins and 16 small muffins so I have a variety of sizes around depending on how much I feel like eating. I’ll be modifying the amounts for only the one dozen regular sized muffins, but I had a lot of demand for the recipe after sharing my muffins last night, so in the meantime you can either multiply the recipe by about 2/3 or you can make extra muffins (I know which one I’d choose).

Muffins on a plate

Guilt-Free Double Chocolate Muffins
Makes: 12 regular muffins and 16 small muffins

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
2 Tbsp cocoa
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

6 mashed bananas
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup oil (I used half olive, half canola)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease muffin pans (don’t use liners because they will stick).
  2. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients in the first section above. In a smaller bowl combine wet ingredients, leaving out the chocolate chips.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix slightly. Add chocolate chips and stir just until combined, leaving the batter a bit lumpy.
  4. Spoon into muffin pans, filling each right to the top. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  5. Let cool in the pans for a few minutes then remove and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

A fun game to play with this cake? Give it to your friends, and wait until after they’ve eaten a couple slices before telling them it’s gluten-free and made with zucchini. Anyone avoiding gluten will love you forever, and fights may break out over the remaining slices.

It’s really THAT good.

I’ve tried this recipe with both quinoa flour and white rice flour and it’s much better with quinoa flour (I had lots of volunteer taste testers for both recipes). Rice flour makes the texture a little gritty and although it’s still really good, it does taste gluten-free.

Also very important: if there’s one ingredient that takes this cake from good to incredible, it’s the espresso powder. I realize not everyone has espresso powder (not grounds, the instant stuff) lying around in their cupboards, but please, if you don’t have any, go get some; add it to any baking involving chocolate and the results will be magical. And whatever you do, don’t just leave it out of this recipe!

Ingredients in bowls

The thing I love about quickbreads and cakes is that they are so versatile. I have made this recipe using bread pans, a 9×9 brownie pan, and a muffin pan (on separate occasions) and it’s easy to modify the baking time for the different sizes. Rough guidelines are about 40-50 minutes for bread pans, 30-40 minutes for brownie pans and 20 minutes for muffins; just stick a toothpick in the centre to check, and when it comes out clean the cake is ready to come out of the oven.

baking pan

Gluten-free Zucchini Chocolate Cake

Dry Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups Quinoa or rice flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1-1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp espresso powder

Wet Ingredients:
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups zucchini, grated
1 tbsp vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix wet ingredients and add to dry.
Pour mixture into greased pans.
For two loaf pans, bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
For a 9×13 cake pan, bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Carbohydrates, Protein and Fueling Performance

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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!

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!