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Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods

park-side power food

In elementary school, I was always the slowest kid at the track during the mile-run in the annual Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Every spring I'd see all the other kids perched at the edge of the track, pulling up tufts of grass while I puffed my way around the turns to complete those eternally long mile-long runs.

Even my most patient gym teachers grew drowsy watching their stop watches before I poked along into the final stretch.

Thus, it tickles me pink that I'm now a person who runs. I may even be so bold as to call myself a runner.

This month, in fact, I'm in training to run a jaunty little 3.5 miles for the gigantic JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. I have an official number that'll be pinned to my tanktop. And I'm not just going to complete it, I'm going to run the whole thing.

Yeah, it's no Ironman, but I bet even old Mr. Wolf would be slightly impressed at my bookworm-to-budding-jock progress.

One of the things the newbie athlete (or honestly, anyone who has working eyeballs) can't help but notice along the journey to fitness is all the so-called "power food" on the market. Endurance workouts are undeniably hungry-making, and there's all kinds of products competing to fill your empty belly. Nutrition bars. Performance beverages. Magic athletic potions and powders.

I have a hard time believing that convenient, inexpensive real-food snacks (such as a handful of dried prunes mixed with raw almonds) could somehow be less powerful for an active body than those nutrition bars that run between $1.50-$2 and contain:
Soy Protein Nuggets (Isolated Soy Protein, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Malt, Salt), Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Natural Flavor), Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Peanuts And Less Than 2% Of The Following: Butter, Lecithin, Gelatin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbyl Palmitate, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Fish Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Cyanocobalamin.

I don't buy into products with yard-long ingredient statements, and I don't believe anybody's body really needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Thus, I offer my top recommendations for cheap, easy, tasty performance foods that are made out of genuine, old-school food.

My Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods:

1. Boiled Eggs. Mankind's original power food. Eggs come in their own biodegradable packaging, offer protein, iron and vitamin A and cost about 18 cents each for the high-end organic variety. Boil a few on Monday for workout snacks all week long.
2. Yogurt-Fruit Smoothies. A tasty, nearly-instant breakfast. Combine, in a blender, a half-cup of yogurt, a cup of plain soy milk, a half-banana (store the other half in the freezer for future smoothie action) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-cup of any fruit you happen to have around. Throw in a tablespoon of wheat germ and a scoop of whey powder for a fiber + protein power boost if you're into that. Blend until smooth. Drink. And feel pleased you've avoided any sticker shock you might experience at the local Jamba Juice.
3. Fruit & Nut Bars. The Clif company recently produced a line of bars they're calling Clif Nectar Organic Fruit-Nut Bars. I'm pleased to report that they're tasty and the formula contains no high-fructose corn syrup... just dried fruit, roasted nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. All certified organic, of course. That's great, but it seems to me that the cheaper route would be a DIY bar made of the same stuff. As it happens, others have already had this idea. So if you've got a blender, an oven and some plastic wrap or waxed paper for easy wrapping and transportation, you're set to make "power" bars on the cheap.
4. Juice + Water. Gaterade? Powerade? Vitaminwater? You're paying dearly for their national marketing campaigns. My co-worker, a Gotham Girls Roller Derby powerhouse, needs to drink a lot of water to keep up her speed and bruiser moves on the rink. She dopes that quart-size water bottle at her desk with juice to keep the hydration task more interesting. Do like the rollergirl and tip in about a half-cup for every quart of water. WebMD recommends you add a half-teaspoon of salt and/or baking soda if you want to give it electrolytes like the ones found in Gatorade or Smartwater.
5. Scrambled Egg Burritos/English Muffins. Fry or scramble an egg in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pile onto/into a warmed tortilla or a toasted whole-wheat English Muffin. Fast fiber + protein = yum.
6. Ripe avocados. A hyper-fast post-workout snack. Full of fats? Pshaw. It's all good fat. Do 'em up like my big, strong (and remarkably slim) boyfriend: Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, sprinkle each half with salt and pepper. Scoop into mouth with a spoon.
7. Apple slices with peanut butter. Fuji apples are a good choice, and Smucker's Natural PB has a nicely roasty flavor.
8. Carrots with hummus. Vitamin A, protein, fiber and flavor.
9. Classic trail mix. Throw some raisins or dried currants in a little bag with your favorite nuts. Add some apricot pieces or coconut chips if you're feeling wacky.
10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans. A great source of protein with iron and fiber... but that's not why I eat 'em. They're deliciously addictive when drizzled with the slightest amount of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Add a squirt of fresh lemon or some chopped cherry tomatoes if you're into it. Go fancy with some chopped parsley or diced cucumbers if you have 'em around.

Got a good real-food workout snack of your own? Throw it in the comments!

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6.13.2007

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like oatmeal with a soy sausage patty for breakfast. Just that little bit of protein mixed with the carbs will fill you up until lunch!

6/21/2007  
Blogger Ovens2Betsy said...

Steel-cut oats with a bit of brown sugar and either a sliced banana or some blueberries is my breakfast of choice before a long run. Fills me up and keeps me going!

6/21/2007  
Blogger e said...

This is a good list! I tend to forget about energy needs and instead think, "I just ran a lot therefore I can eat a ton of food!" A peanut butter banana smoothie sounds really good for tomorrow morning.

6/22/2007  
Anonymous bee said...

Fantastic list. Thank you! One of my energy snacks is two slices of whole wheat english muffin, peanut butter and sliced bananas. Adding honey gives this snack and extra kick too.

6/22/2007  
Blogger MissGinsu said...

Here, here! I'm for steel-cut oats. They take longer, but they're so very worth the time. And if you make them the night before, they reheat well in the microwave. Makes the busy morning a little less crunched.

6/22/2007  
Anonymous Nana said...

Breakfast burritos can be enhanced with cheese, bacon, tomato or salsa. Plain can also be frozen. Make a dozen, freeze, customize as desired when you thaw.

6/22/2007  
Blogger freya said...

You can also make steel cut oatmeal in a crockpot. Set it up before you go to bed, and you have breakfast when you wake up!
Here's a good recipe: http://www.recipezaar.com/101101

6/22/2007  
Blogger Melissa said...

Funny! I just finished working out and am sitting here with one of my favorite post-workout foods: a leafy green salad with a handful of walnut pieces and an ounce or so of crumbled feta, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This time I also shredded some basil and marjoram just because I had it lying around. Anyway, it's satisfying, not too heavy, and gives you about 10g of protein!

6/22/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you forgot about chips and salsa. or nachos.

~spring~

6/25/2007  
Blogger gwen said...

i eat yogurt with blueberry milled flax seed for breakfast (available at trader joes). it is so filling, and flax seed is amazing!

6/25/2007  
Blogger MissGinsu said...

So many oatmeal lovers... that's great! That ensures the shops will keep old-school steel-cut oats on the shelves alongside all the sugary crushed oat stuff they sell.

I, too, am trying to work flax into my diet in subtle ways. But they're so darn small and slippery, I think they're falling to the bottom of my granola jar...

6/26/2007  
Anonymous kitchen said...

to get the most use out of flax seeds you actually need to grind them or somehow break the hull or shell. otherwise they pass right through you.

coffee grinders are good for this. clean it out before and after by grinding a little rice and wiping it out.

more tips here: http://waltonfeed.com/omega/flax.html

7/01/2007  
Blogger Shannon said...

I buy already milled flax seed in the baking aisle near the flour and mix it in my yogurt in the morning with granola.

4/04/2008  
Anonymous Hänni said...

my fav pre-workout snacks are:

celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log we call it)

and whipped sweet potatoes with almonds on top. sometimes, if i have some on hand, i'll top the potato with lentil soup <--- yum!

6/23/2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually eat a simple tossed salad with tuna and mayo.It's a very high protein food and yummy.

11/19/2009  

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