I buy a lot of bananas. I can’t help it. When the lonely onlies are bagged up and on sale, I stock up.
Last week I got 42 bananas for $4!!!
I freeze them, dehydrate them, and bake with them.
There’s always a banana bread recipe on the back of the bag giving you ideas of what to do with all those bargain bananas. And those recipes usually include a stick of butter, a bunch of eggs, and cups of sugar.
Not exactly what you want to be putting in your body every day.
Don’t get me wrong, I love banana bread, most of the recipes you’ll find are more like cake than bread.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cake, mind you, but I really don’t want to eat cake everyday for breakfast.
(I mean, I do want to eat cake for breakfast every day, but I really don’t!)
So I set out to make a version of banana bread without eggs or dairy, of course, but also without any sugar or oil.
Sounds dreadful, right?
I promise you, it’s far from it!
My version ends up with a crackly, crumbly crust and a soft interior busting with luscious blueberries.
If you think about it, regular whole wheat bread is typically sugar-free (or close to it) and is easily made without oil, eggs, or dairy.
I want a healthy banana bread that tastes more like bread than cake, but is still slightly sweet, and a good vehicle for a healthy smear of nut butter for protein and good fat.
And it can be made using just one bowl for easy clean up!
The trick to the one bowl method is to add the baking soda, powder, cinnamon and salt while you are mashing up the bananas. They get evenly distributed throughout the wet ingredients and the flour gets added last.
And if you are already going to the trouble of making fresh banana bread (and it’s really not much trouble), you might as well make two loaves and freeze one. Once they are completely cool, simply slice, put the loaf in a bread bag and freeze.
You can either remove a couple of slices at a time each day to toast up or plow through an entire loaf in a couple of days like my family does!
But I know what some of you are thinking. Banana bread with no sugar? You can’t be serious.
The browner your bananas are, the sweeter your bread will be naturally, but I did add an unexpected ingredient to make sure that the bread still had a hint of the classic sweet flavor:
Since it’s fall, we happen to have a gallon of cider in the fridge, but feel free to sub apple juice or applesauce instead.
With only 125 calories for a 2-slice serving, you could eat 4 slices and still have room in your breakfast budget for a banana and a good spread of almond butter on each one!
And if you really, really, want a traditional, sweet and cakey banana bread, go ahead and sub the juice for sugar or maple syrup. (I won’t tell anyone!)
When cooler weather sets in, I want comfort food. Steamy bowls of something hearty and filling where you wipe the bowl clean with a hunk of toasty bread.
And preferably it’s easy to make and easy to clean up.
That’s where this white bean chili comes in.
Inspired by a traditional White Chicken Chili recipe I found on a can of Bush’s Beans, my version skips the chicken of course, and relies on a little help from my Australian friends.
I found these non-chicken, “chicken style” bouillon cubes in the soup aisle of the grocery store when I was looking for veggie stock. Normally, I’m not the type to buy things that are trying to be something they are not, but I was too curious to pass it up.
And the ingredients are pretty normal so I gave it a go:
But if you don’t have any Massel’s 7’s in your cupboard, substituting veggie stock or broth works just fine!
My version of this chili turns out to be very mild, so for our family, hot sauce is a must! So feel free to adjust the spiciness to your tastes.
This chili is also high in iron, calcium, and potassium, which runners need to perform at their best. (But if you are watching your sodium intake, you will want to cut back on the salt added.)
Another cool thing about this recipe is the complementary proteins with the white beans and corn (over 21 grams of plant protein per serving!).
In case you don’t know what I mean, all whole plant foods have some amount of protein, but the amino acid profile is different. Grains and beans complement each other just like nuts and seeds.
You don’t have to get complementary proteins together in every single meal (your body is smart enough to grab what it needs whenever it comes in!), but it’s always nice to cover your bases!
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit/adjust if your broth is salted)
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
4 cups home cooked Great Northern or Navy beans, or 2 (15.8 oz) cans
2 cubes Massel's 7's Chicken style cubes (optional, can sub veggie broth for bouillon and water)
2 cups water (if using bouillon, omit if using broth/stock)
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup defrosted frozen corn
2-3 handfuls of chopped kale
salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce and/or salsa for garnish (optional, but highly recommended!)
Cook the onions and celery either in the pressure cooker or on the stove in a couple tablespoons of broth or water for 5 minutes or until onions soft and transparent
Add garlic, chilies, cumin, salt, and flour and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.
Add the beans, bouillon and water (or broth/stock), and corn.
If you are using the stove, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.
If you are using a pressure cooker, cook on high for 3 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.
Add kale and almond milk and stir until kale is wilted.
Taste and adjust spices as necessary.
Serve with a dollop of salsa and a thick slice of toasted bread.
This only serves four so double for leftovers!
Each serving (without salsa or hot sauce) contains 361 calories, 66.1g carbs, 2g fat, 21.4g protein, 1227 mg sodium, 1516 mg potassium, 19.4% RDA of Vitamin A, 110% RDA of vitamin C, 36.2% RDA of calcium, and 46.4% RDA of iron.
An innocent browse through social media and before I know it, I’m reading scientific nutrition papers well past my bedtime.
What caught my attention this time was this paper outlining specific, scientific guidelines on how to fuel vegan athletes.
No more guessing or cobbling together various bits and pieces from all over the internet. This is a comprehensive analysis of what the best science says now about how to fuel a vegan athlete for health and performance.
Written by David Rogerson and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this long paper takes all the available data out there and sifts through the good and the bad, the praises and the pitfalls of a plant-based vegan diet and how it specifically applies to athletes.
I’ll give you the highlights and my take on them.
While I like to think that I’m doing everything right when it comes to eating well for my health and for my training (and those can be very different things), I’m always open-minded to learn something new that could make my nutrition just a little bit better.
And it looks like I need to make a couple of changes!
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research specifically on vegan athletes, so Roberson admits that some of the information has to be extrapolated from non-vegans. Sure, vegan athletes are becoming more visible, but it’s not like there are enough of them yet to conduct widespread, double blind, replicable nutrition studies.
But even without perfect studies, the plant-based movement is becoming popular enough that athletes and sports nutritionists are looking for answers.
One issue is that the word “vegan” can mean a huge range of eating styles. Some believe that if it didn’t come from an animal, it’s fair game, while others, myself included, base their food selections on whole, unprocessed food, free of artificial ingredients. In other words, “junk food vegans” and raw, microbiotic herbivores (not me!) can’t all be lumped together.
So let’s assume that the vegans that are being referred to in this analysis are less the Oreo-cookie-and-French-fry vegans and more the whole-foods variety.
The author does not seem to think that vegan athletes have an easy road. He states that “while little data could be found in the sports nutrition literature specifically, it was revealed elsewhere that veganism creates challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet.”
Well, sure, eating just plants can be challenging in the sense that you do need to make sure that you are getting in beans, greens, seeds, nuts, fruits, whole grains and veggies each and every day, but once you get in that habit, I’d hardly call it a challenge at all.
Nearly all nutrition guidelines seem to claim that just about everyone is missing some kind of nutrient, no matter what diet. Omnivores need to pay attention to their micronutrient needs just as much as plant based eaters so a lot of the information in the paper is fairly universal.
Roberson points out that vegans and vegetarians do need to be mindful of several nutrients, specifically “the sufficiency of energy and protein; the adequacy of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources.”
I personally have zero trouble getting all my calories in, so I’m not deficient in energy (aka calories). I love to eat and love to eat big portions, so I rarely ever have the issue of eating too little.
“Achieving a high energy intake is difficult in some instances,” Roberson writes, “owing to plant-based foods promoting satiety.” In other words, plants make you feel full and satisfied! In fact, this is one of the great benefits of eating plants. You get to eat a lot and you get to feel full!
But if you are new to plant-based eating, you might want to track your calories for a little while to be sure you are eating enough.
Let’s take a deeper look into the recommendations that vegans need to pay attention to. Come down the rabbit hole with me!
From the studies cited in the article, many vegan athletes tend to fall short of optimum protein levels. Furthermore, fewer plant proteins contain all of the 8 essential amino acids required by the body. A glass of cow’s milk, for example, will be a complete protein, while a glass of almond milk will fall short.
But this fact is easily rectified by eating a variety of sources of protein throughout the day (it doesn’t have to be the same meal). Grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while provide all the protein needed to support recovery and adaptation from training. Aim for 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes, 1.8-2.7 if you are trying to lose fat. I easily reach this target without protein powders or a ton of soy and tend to come in somewhere around 1.75 and 2g/kg a day.
This is where plant-based athletes shine. “Vegan diets tend to be higher in carbohydrates, fibre, fruits, vegetables, antioxidants and phytochemicals than omnivorous diets,” Robertson concludes. “The consumption of micronutrient and phytochemical-rich foods is an important benefit of any plant-based diet. This might help to mitigate the effects of excess inflammation and promote recovery from training.” Endurance athletes should aim for 4g to up to 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight depending on training load. I easily reach 6-8g/kg a day or 55-65% of daily calories.
Roberson notes that fat intake needs to focus on quality intake instead of quantity and admits that the relationship between fat consumption and athletic performance needs additional study. It’s almost too easy to meet the fat guidelines with avocados, nuts and seeds. Endurance athletes should consume 0.5–1.5 g of fat per kilogram of body weight per day (or 30% of daily caloric intake) through avocados, nuts and seeds. I’m generally in the 25-35% range and well over 1g/kg.
ALA, EPA and DHA
Unless you’re eating salads of seaweed and microalgae, vegans are not getting many dietary sources of the omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, EPA, and DHA. You can consume ALA in walnuts and flaxseeds, but as little as 0.5% convert in the body to DHA. This may have important performance implications as omega-3s play an big role in cardiovascular health.
Fish aren’t the only living beings in the ocean that supply omega-3s. Supplementing with microalgae oil combined with whole-food sources of ALA might benefit health as well as performance. The recommendation is 500-1000mg DHA to EPA in a 2:1 ratio or 2-4 commercially available capsules a day. Yep, I need to get some of these! I just ordered this brand.
Vegan diets tend to be higher in micros than omni diets, but attention does need to be paid to a handful of them: B12 (vegans should supplement), iron (get a blood test to determine if you need to supplement), calcium (greens, broccoli, beans and fortified foods are great sources), vitamin D3 (“further research is warranted to determine optimal vitamin D doses for athletes”), zinc (beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to the rescue again!), and iodine (choose iodized salt over sea salt).
And now the really interesting part, ergogenic (or performance enhancing) aids:
Creatine: The classic bodybuilders’ supplement may actually help endurance athletes and its effect may be more pronounced in vegans and vegetarians who have naturally lower muscle stores of creatine. “Creatine supplementation might also lead to increased plasma volume, improved glycogen storage, improved ventilatory threshold, and reduce oxygen consumption during submaximal exercise.” But before rushing out to your local GNC, creatine has also been shown to lead to weight gain, so be sure to think about how to time that appropriately for your training, if you choose to try it.
Beta alanine: If you are racing at high intensity for longer than 60 seconds, your performance might benefit from this beta amino acid, which is mainly found in meat and poultry. Because vegans’ muscles would be low in this amino acid, supplementation would theoretically help vegans even more dramatically than omnivores who might have larger reserves. (The article was not as clear about whether or not this would apply to the marathon distance which is not at high intensity.)
I’m not sure if I’m ready to experiment with creatine and beta alanine just yet, but it’s certainly something to think about!
The paper ended with the following conclusion:
Through the strategic selection and management of food choices, and with special attention being paid to the achievement of energy, macro and micronutrient recommendations, along with appropriate supplementation, a vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes satisfactorily.
All athletes need to pay attention to their diets, just like they pay attention to their training. Perhaps plant-based athletes need to focus on things a little differently than omnis, but it’s great to know that the science is starting to catch up with us!
I usually roll my eyes when I come across salad recipes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love salad and eat one every day, but a recipe for a salad? Don’t you just throw some veggies on top of some greens with maybe a little dressing and call it good? What do you need a recipe for?
As it turns out, a little saladspiration is exactly what I needed to break free from the same old sad salads.
So before a recent dinner party, I opened one of my favorite cookbooks, Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking. Inside was a gorgeous photo of a beet and orange salad that looked perfect for an early fall evening.
This is not that gorgeous photo.
This is a oh-I-just-made-dinner-for-eight-people-I-should-probably-hurry-up-and-take-at-least-one-picture picture.
Roasted beets paired with sliced oranges and toasted walnuts drizzled with a tahini dressing was the perfect accompaniment for the rich and creamy golden broccoli soup I served. Along with Thanksgiving-style sweet potato dinner rolls browned in a cast iron skillet, the humble soup/salad/bread trifecta was elevated to company status.
But as simple as this salad might sound, there’s quite a bit of effort involved in washing, peeling, chopping and roasting the beets let alone toasting the walnuts just right so they don’t burn. If you want to make this salad for a weekday lunch, you’re probably just not.
So I decided to make the weekday lunch version that seriously took less than 5 minutes to put together and tastes just as good.
Admittedly, I do have a love for the rich sweetness of roasted beets that cannot be rushed, but this is close enough for your average Tuesday.
I also found that I prefer honey instead of maple syrup in the lemon tahini dressing. (Honey is not strictly vegan so if you are, you can sub agave or maple syrup.) The combo of honey and tahini is something that I learned from some of the Greek athletes I coach at RunnersConnect who eat it on their toast in the morning. It’s perfect whisked with lemon juice for a light and tangy complement to the beets, oranges, and walnuts.
Using raw walnuts, easy-to-peel mandarins, and economical canned sliced beets, a wow-worthy salad can be ready in minutes!
Aquafaba is a miraculous ingredient. The liquid from a can of chickpeas that you normally dump down the drain can be whipped into meringues, baked into cookies, and frozen into ice cream.
What’s normally thought of a waste product is actually one of the greatest egg substitutes that’s ever been discovered and it seems that there is almost no limit to what it can do. (Well, don’t try to make an angel food cake with it, but that’s another story.)
At only 5 calories per teaspoon, with a touch of carbs and protein and almost no fat, it makes the lightest, creamiest, and impossibly delicious ice cream! And, no, it does not taste like chickpeas at all.
Each enormous serving has less than 100 calories!
Even if you are not vegan, you’ll want to try this just for the sheer magic of it. It really is that amazing.
And no ice cream maker required!
I love mangos and when they are on sale, I like to grab a big box of them. And they make perfect ice cream.
But you can substitute any fruit you like with this recipe. It really is that simple.
Just 5 ingredients (or fewer if you omit the lime and salt) and four hours in the freezer and you’ll have your own delicious treat that hits the spot after a hot summer run!
I swear, this recipe is so good, even my non-vegan husband loves it.
As much as I would love to believe that people come to my site to read my sage training advice and chuckle at my endless witticisms, I (sadly) know that’s not the main draw.
People want the recipes!
By far the most popular thing I have ever posted is my recipe for DIY Generation UCAN, a sugar-free race fuel made with slow-release carbohydrates that you can mix up in you kitchen for pennies.
So when a reader recently asked if I had a version of the Chocolate Protein UCAN, I decided to rise to the challenge. I’ve already posted my chocolate version, but it’s naturally low in protein by design.
Of course, my version will not contain whey powder (obviously not vegan, but even if I weren’t plant-based, I wouldn’t recommend it, and here’s a few reasons why) xanthan gum (I’m okay with this ingredient, but I don’t like thick drinks), or sucralose (an artificial sweetener that definitely should be avoided) like the original contains.
PB Fit does contain a little sugar, so if you are looking to make this sugar-free, use a defatted peanut butter powder or flour that is sugar-free.
One scoop of UCAN’s protein version contains 110 calories for a 30 gram scoop, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat.
My version is 122 calories, 19.6 grams of carbs, 7.3 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat. Mine also includes 354mg sodium, 87.5mg potassium, 4.7% of the RDA of calcium, 5.3% RDA of iron, and a touch of magnesium.
Now I’m not going to lie and tell you this tastes like drinking a luscious chocolate peanut butter milkshake. But it’s still pretty good.
And let’s be real: not even the pricey commercial version can claim that that people are ending their meals with UCAN milkshakes for dessert simply for the scrumptious flavor.
This is performance fuel, not dessert, and it works!
For me, this is far superior to any gel or other race fuel that I have ever tried and keeps me going without the crash!
Liquid starch-based fuel that is an alternative to gels or chews.
My version is 122 calories, 19.6 grams of carbs, 7.3 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat. Also includes 354mg sodium, 87.5mg potassium, 4.7% of the RDA of calcium, 5.3% RDA of iron, and a touch of magnesium.
Along with the beets, a key ingredient in my version is walnuts. Walnuts contain an essential fat called alpha-linolenic acid (usually abbreviated as ALA), or omega-3 fat. It’s only found in just a handful of plant foods (ground flaxseed and chia are two more) so it’s important to try to eat a good source of omega-3s each day.
What’s great about these is that you can swap out the beans and/or the grains (yes, quinoa is technically a seed) for whatever you have on hand and they’ll still turn out great. No quinoa? Sub brown rice. Don’t like pintos? Go for black beans. You really can’t mess up here.
And while I’m not a huge fan of fake meat substitutes, it’s almost scary how much these look like beef while you are making them. But after they are cooked, they are a brilliant magenta pink, guaranteed to catch everyone’s attention at the table!
This is a great reason to make a few extra cups of beans or rice whenever you are cooking them for something else to tuck away in the freezer. That way, awesome veggie burgers come together in just a few minutes.
I like to make huge batches of these because beets can be a little messy to work with. I’d rather only clean up once and have a nice stash of homemade burgers in the freezer for a quick lazy meal.
These patties can be a little delicate, so be careful with them on the grill. I like to play it safe and dry fry them or use a pan on the grill and cook them until they start to get just a few slightly charred spots.
Nooooo!! Not again. Another damn nutrition article ruins the fun.
What’s the villain in our diets this time? One of the usual suspects: salt.
But not for the reason you might think.
According to an article published in the New York Times, researchers have discovered that salty diets can dramatically increase hunger and lead to overeating. And not just a few extra snacks. A whopping 25% more calories.
That’s like eating an extra meal a day.
The researchers fed cosmonauts living in isolation to mimic space travel a salty diet and despite conventional wisdom, the cosmonauts actually drank less fluid than on a lower sodium diet. And here’s the bad news: their levels of hunger dramatically rose, even though they were eating the same amount of calories.
Hmmm…so maybe it’s not the extra carbs that cause some marathoners to gain weight in training despite running more miles.
It’s the extra salt driving us to eat more.
Salt has always been the one thing as a runner that I have felt pretty good about indulging in. After all, sodium is an essential electrolyte that is lost in sweat and is critical for life.
At my house, we can go through a bottle of (low-sodium) soy sauce in a week. I grind pink Himalayan salt over roasted veggies and sprinkle a few shakes on my oatmeal.
Salt makes food taste better, plain and simple. (Remember the watermelon post last week?) But when food tastes good, we are more tempted to overeat.
And it’s not just the salty deliciousness of the bag of Sea Salt Waffle Chips that makes us want to eat more, it’s the body crying out to eat more to make up for the extra calories it burns creating extra fluid to dilute the sodium.
It’s a double whammy.
Strangely, instead of continuing to signal your thirst to bring on more fluid to dilute the salt, your body will create its own. Just like a camel breaks down the fat in its hump to unlock the stored water, our bodies do the same thing cannibalizing your own fat and muscles.
This process burns calories, of course, which should mean we’d lose weight on a salty diet. But we don’t, because our brain ramps up the hunger cues, leading us to eat more (salty) food.
Athletes seem to be given a free pass, when it comes to sodium. After all, nearly every sports drink on the planet contains salt. Marathons offer water and salty Gatorade at every mile.
Runners even take salt tabs, especially during hot races, believing that it will prevent cramping. (Probably not.)
Athletes need more salt than non-athletes, right? Salt stings our eyes in the summer and leaves chalky stains on our t-shirts. Of course we need to replace it!
Yes, but it’s not that simple. Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is a real issue in long distance events, but what about our daily lives?
It seems like scientists might know a lot less about salt’s role in the body than we thought.
We know that water, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes work in a delicate balance in the body. If you take on too much water, you have to pee. If you eat something salty, you drink, which is why smart restaurant owners provide those salty bar snacks.
Now it seems that the salty pub mix not only increases drink sales, but it probably also increases food sales too.
So what does this mean for an endurance athlete?
Sodium is still a critical element in our diets, but we should probably be careful about our consumption, just like the rest of the population. Many exercise scientists, most notably Tim Noakes, believe that runners’ deaths from hyponatremia come from over-hydration, not from under-consuming sodium.
What’s the bottom line, then? How much salt do athletes need? There is no clear answer. Some say that excreting excess salt in our diets is one of the best benefits to exercise because we consume too much.
There’s something about its weirdly sweet flavor which is just, well, so watery.
But my kids love it. They beg for it. They would eat nothing but watermelon for dinner if I let them.
So every summer, I buy watermelon, cut it up for the kids and I eat none of it.
Then the other day, I got the latest copy of Nutrition Action, an awesome monthly publication created by the dedicated people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
You know, the food lobbyists for the people, yo!
CSPI created scores for fruit by calculating the percentage of the recommended daily intake of seven major nutrients plus fiber and carotenoids.
What are carotenoids? you might ask. Carotenoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and veggies their bright colors. They act as antioxidants in the body fighting inflammation and protecting against disease. Well-known carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein.
Watermelon was scored second highest on the Nutrition Action list, right behind guava (which amazingly was twice as high). Two cups of watermelon has a score of 302, while an apple only weighs in at 34 with a difference of only 10 calories.
The publication makes it clear that all fruits are good for you so it isn’t necessary to only eat guava and watermelon while shunning apples, but adding a few more fruits that are higher on the list is probably a good idea.
Watermelon, in all its watery voluminousness, is also great for helping you feel full without costing a lot of calories.
But I don’t like watermelon!
So maybe I’ll try to find a guava.
Okay, I didn’t try too hard to find that guava, because I came home with a watermelon.
Later that night, my husband cut it up for the kids as usual and I decided to figure out a way to like watermelon.
At a dinner party years ago, some friends served mango for dessert dressed with a little lime juice and salt. It was a delicious combination so I thought I’d try it with the watermelon cubes.
The salt cut the sickly sweet taste of the watermelon and it became fresh and tart with the lime juice. I ate my 2 cup serving and then went back for seconds!
It’s the perfect combo to eat cold out of the fridge after a hot, sweaty run. Two cups of watermelon provides 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and almost no fat.
But the vitamin and mineral content is where watermelon is a superstar for runners. It provides 34% of your RDA of vitamin A, 42% of vitamin C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. And when you sprinkle a little salt on top, you are helping to replace the sodium you just lost in your sweat.
Natural glycogen and electrolyte replacement at its finest!
The carotenoid content of watermelon is also quite high, providing more than 20% of what you need in a day for optimal health. So it’s not just great after a run, but any time of the day.
One thing to remember is that carotenoids are fat-soluble, so sprinkling some sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds on your frosty, limey, salty cubes is a great addition to make sure that all of those micro-nutrients are being absorbed well in your body. It’s also a good idea to get some protein with your carbs post-run, so those seed sprinkles are doing double-duty!
So often we runners like to over-analyze and over-complicate things. We buy gels and powders and goos and gadgets that are supposed to make every facet of our fitness optimized to the nth degree.
Yet sometimes, we just need to take a step back and look for the simple choice right in front of us: whole, unprocessed food straight from nature.