Tag Archives: Fuel

Runner-friendly recipe: Homemade Larabars

I first fell for Larabars about a month ago, when I somewhat subconsciously amped up my efforts to eat in a more Michael Pollan-esque manner (eat food, not too much, mostly plants). Most Larabars contain just a few ingredients, with dates and nuts forming the bulk of their ingredient lists, so I wondered if I could replicate the dense, nutty treats at home.

A quick Google search for “homemade Larabar recipes” showed I’m far from the only home cook to wonder. Camilla at Enlightened Cooking lays out several awesome-looking faux-Larabar recipes.

I went with a basic date-and-almond combo, and started by pulverizing six dates in my food processor.

Next, I removed the date mixture and coarsely chopped roughly a quarter of a cup of almonds. I combined the mixtures by hand, placed the gooey mess on top of some plastic wrap, molded it into a bar shape …

… and voila! I had my own version of a Larabar! I enjoyed one for dessert Saturday, along with a few handfuls of dark chocolate chips.

A tip from Camilla I’ll be sure to try next time: “It really helps to have very soft squishy dates; it they are hard (especially the prechopped kind), it can help to pour a bit of boiling water over them and let them stand for about 15 minutes, then drain off the excess.”


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My new running “superfood”: Quinoa

I’ve found a new training secret. And I even know how to pronounce it.

The secret is quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”), an earthy, nutty grain that’s super-high in protein and in minerals like magnesium and copper. I’d tried it before, but it wasn’t until Lara at Saturday Morning Zen suggested it as an easily digestible form of lunchtime fuel for an evening run that I truly fell in love.

A brief description from Runner’s World: “This small, round grain, which comes from a beet-like plant in the Andes, contains as many carbs per serving as pasta (23 grams per half cup) and enough protein (4.5 grams) and fiber (2 grams) to keep you feeling full without causing stomach distress.”

A quarter cup (dry) of my Bob’s Red Mill whole-grain quinoa actually contains 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. And thanks to my lunchtime experiment yesterday, I can confirm that it’s not only really easy to digest, but surprisingly filling: With the addition of a small snack in the afternoon, I was only hungry for one piece of pizza by my post-run dinner at 8:30 p.m.

I cooked my quinoa lunch in chicken broth for about 15 minutes, tossed in cherry tomatoes and fresh rosemary and oregano from my garden, and then stuffed it inside half an acorn squash. Delicious!

Yesterday’s lunch. Yum!

And get this: You can eat it for breakfast, too! Kirstin, who passed along a fantastic steel-cut oatmeal shortcut a couple weeks ago, pointed me toward this amazing recipe for warm and nutty cinnamon quinoa, which I enjoyed for breakfast this morning. I subbed blueberries for blackberries and Truvia for agave nectar.

My quinoa-berry breakfast.

Lara’s quinoa lunch wasn’t the only idea I took to heart when I asked for help with my ongoing quest to find running fuel that doesn’t irritate my sensitive stomach. My afternoon snack yesterday was a Cashew Cookie Larabar, per Megan‘s suggestion.

I’ll be trying a veggie and hummus pita next, per Heather‘s suggestion. Let me know what other stomach-friendly running fuel I should add to the list!


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Managing a runner’s stomach, part deux

I think I’ve got this pre-run breakfast-thing down.

Steel-cut oatmeal and a mini-latte treat my pre-run tummy good. Also, the oatmeal's so tasty, I had to eat some before taking this picture.

My quest to find new, healthy, easily digestible pre-run breakfasts started back in December, motivated by gastrointestinal distress during the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 25. It wasn’t my pre-race breakfast that caused my problems, but I thought it might be a good time to examine my typical Luna bar/espresso with a little nonfat milk combo.

Via Twitter and comments on the blog post I wrote about it, you gave me some wonderful suggestions, and after months of experimentation, I’ve found my new favorite: oatmeal with banana. Most recently, that has meant steel-cut oatmeal, made using the overnight shortcut described in this recipe at The Bitten Word (you boil the oats and the water the night before, let the mixture sit overnight, then cook for just a few minutes in the morning). On running mornings, I eat it with a banana diced and mixed in, plus a little Splenda and vanilla. On non-running mornings, I replace the banana with canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Add some sugar-free maple syrup, and it tastes like dessert.

Other insights: If I’m really planning on a hard workout, I need to eat my last substantial meal three hours before running, not one. Also, my mini latte — a shot of espresso, with roughly a third of a cup of nonfat milk —seems to work OK (whew!).

But I need some help again. This oatmeal revelation is great for race-day mornings. But during the week, I run at 7 p.m. with Pacers Silver Spring’s running group, which leaves me wondering: What’s the perfect pre-run lunch to fuel up for a nighttime run?

I understand that I can play it *really* safe by eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich; or, you know, oatmeal. But that seems a little extreme for something I do on a twice-weekly basis. So I’m looking for something tasty and healthy (i.e., something I’d eat anyway); light enough to not be sitting in my stomach at 7 p.m.; but substantial enough to keep me full, with the help of a small pre-run snack, until after my run is done.

If you’ve got lunch suggestions, or general guidelines that have helped you avoid GI distress, by all means, post ’em below!

Last workout: A hilly 5.3-miler completed at 8:33-minute-mile pace with Pacers. I would have preferred to see closer to 8-minute miles on my Garmin, considering my effort level, but I’ll take it, especially considering this is way faster than I would have gone on my own.

Next up: I’ll be running through my new physical therapy workout today, and attempting a quick treadmill speed workout before our weekend shift at Whitetail tomorrow. Wish me luck!


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Motivation Monday: the happy stomach edition

Last week, I asked for suggestions for what a girl can eat to make sure her stomach doesn’t act up on long runs, as mine did

Who knew something as simple as a piece of banana-pumpkin bread could provide motivation?

during the Marine Corps Marathon in October. You delivered, providing dozens of awesome and varied suggestions, and I’ve been happily sampling new pre-run meals ever since.

My new favorite: banana oats before a morning run, or a banana with a packet of Justin’s Nut Butter in the afternoon before an evening workout. Quaker slow-cooking oats were already a breakfast staple for me, but the pumpkin and flaxseed I usually mix in aren’t quite the easy-to-digest quick carbs I was looking for. Not only were the banana oats easy on the tummy, I like the idea that oats are healthy and hearty even as they’re light, making them perfect both before a long run or for a breakfast any old morning.

This week, thanks to the new eats and some training tweaks, I’m motivated by feeling like I have some control over my body. If I have a bad stomach day during a marathon, I can mess around with my diet to reduce my chances of it happening again. If I have trouble with the 10K, I can add a faster, shorter tempo run or long lactate-threshold repeats to my workout schedule to try to nail my goal pace (thanks for the suggestion, Megan and Lindsay!).

Plus, it’s just exciting to try new things, which I’m doing both in training and in the kitchen. Along with my goal of finding safe, dependable pre-run meals, I’ve also set a goal of sampling one new in-season vegetable per week. Two weeks ago, I tried kabocha squash, sometimes called a Japanese pumpkin. I roasted it with brown sugar and spices, and learned that it tastes like a cross between a sweet potato and pumpkin, smooth, sweet and almost creamy. Last week, I mixed kale leaves into soup. Yummy, though I feel this is a bit of an acquired taste. This week, it’s Swiss chard and ambercup squash, a bright-orange pumpkin cousin. I’ll let you know how they work out for me.

I’m also finding motivation in looking to what’s worked in the past. On two separate occasions last week, I tried a slice of banana bread (the recipe I’m using right now involves pumpkin and oatmeal, plus some of my own tweaks — less sugar and oil, more pumpkin) and a latte (one shot of espresso, a tiny bit of nonfat milk) pre-run. Not sure how this combo will hold up on 15-milers, but it really does work like a charm before shorter workouts.

I also looked backwards, in a good way, when I revisited one of my favorite topics, sports psychology and motivation, in a guest post for the cool, helpful Web site Treadmill Reviews last week. I reminded myself of some of the tips I tried to master last summer, and I’ve had some luck getting my mind back on track already — turns out, I have control over my body AND my mind (who knew?).

What’s motivating you this week?


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Managing a runner’s stomach

Your legs are ready after months of speedwork and long runs. Your race plan is set, your gear well-tested, your shoes broken in. You’re perfectly primed to run a great race — except for your stomach, which is roiling from some unknown source of distress.

I’ve got a wide variety of perfectly manageable, not-at-all-serious digestive issues. I’m not going to elaborate on those here, but will say only that it’s not entirely surprising that I experienced race-ruining GI issues the day of the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 25. Here’s what is surprising: Since then, I’ve read dozens of blog posts echoing mine, with well-trained runners succumbing to similar issues despite following all the obvious advice about pre-race fuel. None of them seems to have a clue about how to prevent another such experience in the future.

I know all the obvious stuff: I shouldn’t eat or drink anything new leading up to race day, I should avoid bean burritos and chocolate chip cookies and wine the night before. My new plan: Look beyond the obvious to take my own personal nutrition plan to the next level.

A few things that seem to work:

  • I’ve got a few staples I’m pretty sure I’ll never remove from the pre-race rotation — pizza has literally been my pre-race meal for every longer-distance race I’ve completed (all but one have been free of stomach issues), and one of my first cooking experiences in high school involved a pre-race banana bread for cross country (right now, I’m loving my own version of sports dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield’s banana-pumpkin bread).
  • Eating stomach-friendly foods two days before a big race, not just Race Day Eve.
  • Eating a *small* meal or snack three hours before running. Not medium-sized, which my finicky stomach can sometimes get tripped up on. Small. Like, a single piece of banana bread and an apple.

A few pre-run breakfasts other runners have suggested:

  • Oatmeal
  • Wheat toast with natural peanut butter
  • Wheat bagel with banana and peanut butter
  • An Ensure or Boost shake
  • Cream of wheat

Here’s what I’m going to try:

  • I’m keeping a food diary tracking what I eat and how it makes my stomach feel.
  • I’m mixing up my routine to see if there are new foods to add to my repertoire. My first such experiment involved everyone’s go-to pre-run food, a bagel with some peanut butter. I visited friends in New Jersey last weekend, and enjoyed one of the Garden State’s characteristic chewy, doughy bagel smeared with peanut butter, eating half for breakfast and half with a banana for lunch. It was delicious! But when I ran about three hours afterwards, I could still kind of feel the bagel hanging around in my stomach. Next up: bananas and peanut butter, oatmeal.
  • I’m reevaluating everything I think works now. My current pre-run snacks or breakfasts involve a piece of homemade banana bread or a Luna bar and a shot of espresso with a tiny bit of milk. These have served me well for years. But does the espresso shot work because it’s a good and safe pre-race food for me, or because I’ve gotten lucky? Like a cheesy murder mystery at a small-town dinner theater, even the seemingly good guys are suspects at this point.

Which foods work for you, both the night before a race or the hours before a race or workout? Which foods definitely DON’T work for you? What steps do you take to ensure you don’t suffer GI distress on race day?

A few resources I’ve found helpful:

  • This article in the International SportsMed Journal details all the different things that can go wrong in the GI tract while distance-running.
  • This Runner’s World story details some “safe” foods, but my first experiment (see above) indicates even those will have to be carefully tested.
  • This competitor.com post offers some interesting insights from a triathlete who searched for her own answers on the topic.

Coming tomorrow: my adventures in iontophoresis. I get my second treatment today, and I’ll make sure to take a picture of the magic patch of anti-inflammatory goodness to share with all of you!


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We eat hills for breakfast: Bethesda-Chevy Chase Turkey Chase 10K

Everyone warned me about the hills.

Somehow, the constant rise and swell of the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase Turkey Trot 10K course still took me by surprise. Spectators even held signs saying: “Love those hills!”

Steve and I decided ahead of time we’d be running this race to have a good time, not to run one. My recently adopted chilled-out approach led to a surprisingly good 5K a couple weeks ago — could it lead to a speedy 10K on Thanksgiving morning?

I passed each of the first two mile markers in 7:50 minutes — on pace for a PR and feeling surprisingly great despite the hills. Buoyed by the knowledge that as recently as Tuesday, I’d held a solid 8:10-minute-mile pace in the hills with my running group, I pushed on.

I may have slowed down a bit by mile 3, but it wasn’t until the 4-mile marker that I felt like my muscles literally slammed on the brakes. Soon, my stupid sensitive stomach joined the party by reminding me that I’d spent the day yesterday munching on the Thanksgiving goodies I was prepping rather than carefully monitoring my pre-race diet.It became clear my chilled-out approach wasn’t going to lead to my running a great time this time around.

But it was a turkey trot, for goodness sake — is there any better time to chill out and not worry about one’s time? I was having a terrible race, but I could still have an awesome run. I didn’t stop trying, per se, but I definitely threw a nice, comfortable 9-minute mile in there. I was going slow enough to take in the throngs of students home for the holidays proudly wearing their college sweatshirts and fleeces. I watched dads coaching their tweenage sons to hold a steady pace, and moms tackling the killer hills with double baby joggers. The whole experience gave me a sense of contentment no PR could have, and when I crossed the finish line in 52:46, I couldn’t stop talking about how much fun I’d had.

For a more detailed course and race review, check out my Examiner.com post here.

Steve seconded my easygoing approach, and even one-upped me. When I asked what his time was, he shrugged, and told me he hadn’t even bothered to start his watch.

Easy pace notwithstanding, those hills made sure we still got an awesome workout. And after eating hills for breakfast, our Thanksgiving feast that afternoon tasted even better.


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A runner-friendly Thanksgiving: turkey trot, recipes

I participated in my first-ever turkey trot last Thanksgiving, and I’m convinced this is one of the nicest possible Turkey Day

Soon, this pumpkin pie will be in my oven. Shortly after, it will be in my belly.

traditions a healthy family can adopt. There’s a trot almost everywhere, so even when you’re traveling, it’s possible to get in a good workout — and get a taste of that city’s running community. Last year, we ran the St. Petersburg Times Turkey Trot near my parents’ home in Florida. This year, we’ll start the day with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Turkey Trot 10K (check out a fabulous PSA for the race here).But our runner-friendly Thanksgiving doesn’t stop there.

In the interest of helping other runners plan their own Thanksgiving feasts, here’s a roundup of the recipes I’m bringing to the table (literally) this Thanksgiving:

A harvest salad with pears, dried cranberries, blue cheese and walnuts.

Roasted turkey breast brined with vegetable broth and herbs.

Sweet-potato stuffing (made with whole-grain bread, minus the bacon)

Homemade cranberry sauce. I’d hoped to use my foodie-friend Chris’ awesome-looking chipotle cranberry sauce recipe (he swears it sounds weird but tastes great), but I couldn’t find a dried chipotle pepper. I’m making this Cooking Light recipe instead.

My own roasted butternut squash recipe: Peel and dice one large butternut squash. Toss diced squash in 1 TBSP olive oil; juice from 1/2 lemon; 2 TBSP minced garlic; and cinnamon, nutmeg, red pepper flakes to taste. Bake for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees. I like it a little crispier, so I leave it in for about an hour.

And a pumpkin pie. I’m planning to use up the sweet little pumpkin that’s been decorating my table since I bought it from my farm stand a couple months ago for the filling. I’m also planning to make the crust myself, because my dad worked in a bakery in high school and made fabulous pies my whole life, and ain’t no daughter of Ed Reinink’s gonna eat no store-bought crust on Thanksgiving.

Looking for more runner-friendly Thanksgiving fare that won’t make your dinner guests leave early in search of a Big Mac? Check out Deena Kastor’s Thanksgiving recipes here.

Still looking for a turkey trot? Check out my roundup of Washington-area races for Examiner.com.


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Running recipes: Apple with homemade pumpkin butter

I’ve been obsessed with squash lately, along with honeycrisp apples. I’ve also been My favorite pre-run (or anytime) snack. obsessed with tinkering with my pre-run snacks, and figuring out what my sensitive stomach likes and what it doesn’t.

That led to the perfect marriage of the two: a honeycrisp apple and some quick, easy homemade pumpkin butter, which I’ve been making in batches of just a few servings in the microwave. Here’s how I make the weird (but delicious!) little concoction:

1 c canned pumpkin

1/2 c apple cider

Several packs Truvia or other sweetener (Most recipes require roughly 1/2 c sugar for the quantities of pumpkin and cider I use. I find it’s tasty with less, too)

Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice – to taste, or roughly 1 tsp.

Combine ingredients in a microwave-safe container. Microwave for two minutes, or until the mixture starts starts to thicken. Cool in the fridge, then mix again. Slice apple, and garnish with cinnamon and nutmeg.

What’s your go-to pre-run snack?

Speaking of sports nutrition, the editor in chief of Prevention magazine will unveil the magazine’s “400-calorie fix” on the Rachael Ray show today (read my Examiner.com post on the topic here). Regular Prevention readers know the magazine advocates eating four 400-calorie meals composed of produce, whole grains, lean protein and dairy, and monounsaturated fats throughout the day — the good stuff runners should be eating, anyway. Obviously, endurance athletes have drastically different calorie needs than the general population, but I love the idea of breaking one’s meals into small chunks, rather than suffering carbo-bloat from overdoing it pre-race or post-run. Rodale’s recipe-finder provides a portal to both Runner’s World and Prevention’s virtual recipe boxes.

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Friends don’t let friends drink and run ( … do they?)

It occurred to me last week that I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol for about a month, thanks to training for the Marine Corps Marathon and post-marathon stomach ick.


The wine I brought back from California last summer is still unopened thanks to marathon training. Necessary? I'm not sure ...Marathon and post-marathon stomach ick.


I’m not a big drinker or anything — just a glass of wine or two here and there — but in the weeks leading up to a big race, I usually dry up completely. It never occurred to me to question whether this is necessary until I read an interesting Running Times column on the topic recently.

In the column sports dietitian Jackie Dikos says the effects of alcohol and performance aren’t entirely clear. But she says there’s enough evidence that it harms performance to lay off before big races or after tough workouts:

“To start, alcohol can impair performance by having a diuretic effect, resulting in dehydration,” Dikos writes. “There’s no question that poor hydration can be a detriment to performance. In addition, alcohol consumption may result in faster fatigue during hard workouts and slower recovery. It displaces carbohydrate from your diet, thereby impairing muscle glycogen storage.”

She also warns that your body has to “filter and process the leftovers from hard workouts. If you’re already feeling sore and damaged, treat your body right by avoiding alcohol for the next 24-36 hours.”

I think for me, abstaining before big races is less about the reasons above and more about some weird psychological advantage I glean from it. A nice glass of wine does a lot of things for me, but one thing it doesn’t do is make me feel sharp and race-ready. Then, there’s the effect on my sensitive stomach; trial and error has shown me there’s definitely good reason to stick to water the night or two before a race. And if nothing else, it makes a good glass of wine at a post-race celebration seem even more special.

Do you modify your drinking habits leading up to a big race? Share your tactics by posting a comment.


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Recipe: The perfect post-run protein shake

With 39 days to go until the Marine Corps Marathon, I’m starting to take my preparations seriously.

For the past couple weeks, that’s meant preparing for my long runs like they’re rocket launches, and adding some speedwork to my schedule of tempo runs, long runs and whatever-I-feel-like runs.

This week, that also means focusing on my pre-race nutrition, which I was a little too lax about before my 17-miler last week. I know not to eat burritos the night before; now, I know Mexican is also a poor choice two nights out. So I started the week by shopping for ingredients for roasted vegetable lasagna and homemade pizza, plus Mountain Berry Blast PowerAde, which is apparently going to be served on the MCM course.

I also bought ingredients for what’s become my standard post-long-run protein shake. I’ve been tweaking the formula since April, when I posted a call for new protein-shake ideas on this blog (check out a long list of great ideas here). It moved over to the “tried and true” category when I ran it by a few sports dietitians I talked to for a Running Times story earlier this summer. One proclaimed it “pretty much the perfect post-run snack.” Done!

Here’s my favorite recipe, which attempts to reach the magic 4:1 carb-protein ratio, with roughly as many grams of good, complex carbohydrates as my weight divided by two (try this easy formula to figure out your post-long-run carb needs, too!). For me, that’s about 62.5 grams of carbohydrates. If we stick with the 4:1 ratio, that’s 15 grams of protein.

1/2 c nonfat Greek yogurt

1/2 c milk

1-2 frozen bananas

Splash of vanilla

1/4 c Hershey’s cocoa powder

Sweetener of choice (I use a dash of Splenda)

1 TBSP peanut butter

Hershey’s syrup to taste

Blend in food processor or blender. Slurp frantically as you sink into an ice bath.


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