After a few requests from friends, family and fools, I’m sharing a recipe for some nutritious, energising, great-value snacks to fuel your next training session, adventure or race.
In 2009, after a decade after becoming vegetarian, I once again started to become more conscious and experimental in my eating: first vegan, then raw foods. A friend raved about his raw food experience and after my initial scepticism (I doubted one could exercise or race intensely on such a diet) I gave it a go. 3 months in to a full-on raw food diet I completed a 24 hour adventure race eating mostly salads. This was actually a poorly-thought out strategy as I nearly collapsed and it was only a team-mates muesli bar that got me through the last 5kms. That experience did open my eyes to how much expensive and unhealthy food many endurance athletes can consume, but also how important good nutrition is in races. Since then I’ve refined my approach, diet and experimented more. This recipe is one I’ve used a lot in the last two years while training for and racing in endurance cycling races (road and mountain bike, 4-12 hours).
This recipe is for people training and racing quite hard. I wouldn’t recommend eating this as a snack — although all raw, natural and ‘healthy’ this is quite potent, salty, and high-energy food. It also doesn’t taste that good unless you’re really needing what it provides and listening to your body more than your preconceived ideas of what ‘goodness’ tastes like. I haven’t done detailed nutritional analysis on the ingredients but have chosen a mix that gives a mix of energy (e.g. glucose from dates), nutrients (e.g. calcium from tahini, iron & zinc from pepitas, magnesium from almonds) and electrolytes (e.g. coconut).
These are a good substitute for the expensive, very sweet and intense ‘gels’ and other energy bars out there. I do use some of those products esp. caffeinated ones to help in the latter stages of races…and because I recently won a year’s supply of them. The best of those energy foods are Torq — organic, fair-trade, natural ingredients, taste great are scientifically formulated and seem to work. They’re also $3.85 for 65g, but you can scroll down for more on costings.
This recipe was inspired by some of the others in “Thrive” by Brendan Brazier. Many raw food books have recipes that are expensive and time-consuming to make, and unsuitable for anyone exercising heavily, Brendan’s book was a gret find. If you’re in Western Australia all the ingredients can be sourced at lowest cost and highest quality from Kakulas Brothers (shopfront) or 2Brother’s Foods (online, home delivered).
- Dates (dried) — 500 g
- Goji berries (dried) — 50 g
- Almonds (raw) — 200 g
- Apricots (dried) — 100g
- Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) — 50g
- Cacao nibs (chopped) — 50g
- Salt — 1tsp
- Lemon zest — from 1 lemon
- Lemon juice — 1tbsp
- Tahini — 375g
- Coconut (fine or shredded) — 100g
Making (takes 20-30 minutes)
- Chop — Use a food processor with blade attachment to separately chop each of the dates, goji, almonds, apricots and pepitas. Chop until pieces are between pea and thumbnail size i.e. still chunky.
- Combine — In a large bowl mix all fruit and nuts with salt, lemon juice, lemon zest. I use a salad bowl and wooden spoon, but you could also use large-capacity food processor with the mixer attachment.
- Mix — Add half the tahini and continue to mix, monitoring the consistency.
- Mix more — Add more tahini until the ingredients are all coated and are starting to clump together. Clumps might be the size of a grape (see image below)
- Form — Grab handfuls of the mix, squashing and shaping into a ball then coating using a separate dish containing the coconut.
- Freeze — Once you’ve used all the mix and have all the balls prepared, place in the freezer. I just use an open bowl.
- Grab — When you need them, grab some balls from the freezer and place in a re-usable zip lock bag, glad wrap or small container.
- Eat — I tend to take a bite of these every 30mins when training or racing and probably eat one an hour (50g each ball)
There are many, many variations on this recipe. Some of those I have tried successfully include:
- Using different fruit esp. those that are seasonal, local e.g. cranberries, fresh or dried figs, sultanas
- Using different things for taste or consistency e.g. ginger instead of or in addition to lemon, cocoa powder (chocolate), rolled rice (crunchy)
- Using different things to hold together e.g in colder climates you can use coconut oil instead of tahini, but tends to liquify and melt in temperatures over 25C
- Use other superfoods or supplements e.g. chia seeds (protein, but they stick in your teeth), spirulina powder, using more (or less) salt, amaranth (for protein), yerba mate (for mild caffeine hit)
- Make different shapes e.g. press into the bottom of muffin trays coated with coconut oil then freezing to create ‘discs’ that can be pried out of the tray when needed
Some of these ingredients are expensive. Using current (early 2013) pricing and using organic where possible (e.g. apricots, pepitas) at 2Brother’s Foods:
- Total cost = $16.00
- Cost per ball (this made 30 balls at approx. 50g each) = approx. $0.60
That is very, very cheap considering something like Torq bars are $3.85 when bought individually (65g) and I’ve seen similar prices for 50g “Raw Revolution” organic food bars at the local shops. You could easily add all kinds of interesting superfoods and keep the cost per 50g ball under $1 each (and then sell them yourself for $2 or 3).
I’d love to hear about other’s recipes, suggestions for what to call these ‘balls’ or recommendations from nutritionists or experienced racers about additional ingredients you suggest adding to the mix?