Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Fueling our bodies: MB’s Energy Bites

hiking

“I hate hiking and I’m never gonna do it again.” -me (age 15, yelled to my mom and anyone else within hearing distance on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Mt. Washington, NH)

When I was a child growing up in a regularly food-insecure home, my food preferences were whatever my mom had available for us to eat, whether I liked that food or not (spoiler alert – I usually didn’t like it). Although she did a wonderful job with the frighteningly little she had available, the poor quality of that food  – outdated boxed and canned goods, sad and squidgy produce, greenish rinds of cheese, and the bits of meat that no-one else wanted –  could not be masked by the spices and creative preparation techniques she employed.

Food, then, became a tool for survival, not something consumed for enjoyment or even with deliberative selection for health.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, because my body was not regularly receiving nutrient-dense fuel, I struggled to be successful in – or enjoy –  physical activity of any sort. Although I did try to compete in school sports and also tried to keep up with my very active friends as they rode bicycles and played impromptu games of flag football, I simply did not have the necessary nutrients to support my body’s regular needs, never mind the increased needs that accompanied regular exercise or participation in a long-distance endurance sport like hiking.

Fast-forward many years, and the activity that I used to dread and detest as a child because I lacked energy and endurance – long-distance hiking – has become one of my favorite activities as an adult. Where, as a child, I struggled to even run one lap around the track while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I am now able to carry 40+ pounds of gear and complete 20+ mile hikes with several thousand feet of elevation gain in one day. The difference is that I now know what fuel my body needs to operate well, whether hiking, competing in sports, doing zoomies with my dogs, concentrating on my work, or even simply resting. And, since I know what my body needs to operate (fairly!) well, I am very intentional about properly fueling it.

hiking

Numerous studies exist that support the relationship between regular consumption of nutrient-dense foods and physical performance.1-2  Furthermore, there is also an established relationship between intentional nutritional intake and high-endurance performance, overall wellness, and emotional and mental well-being.3-5 This information is not only important in the context of supporting the regular physical exercise that helps to keep us holistically healthy, but it also is important in supporting the cognitive alertness needed to remain mentally sharp in all of our responsibilities, whether for fun (like hiking!) or fulfilling our responsibilities at work or in the classroom.6

Although I am more food secure now as an adult than I was as a child, I am also mindful of being food-aware. I am intentional with my resources, avoid food waste, and try to be creative in food preparation so that I can meet my nutritional needs (on a budget!) to remain active and productive. When possible, I will make ready-to-eat food ahead of time when I know that I will be extra busy or traveling, so that I do not have to rely on pre-packaged foods that are often less nutrient-dense but more expensive than some self-made alternatives. This strategy is especially helpful when I know that I will be especially active, and so will need a little more nutrient support during the day.

One on-the-go recipe that I regularly make is these no-bake energy bites. They are a simple way to create a delicious and nutrient-dense snack that can be customized to dietary restrictions and preferences. I hope that you enjoy one of my favorite trail nibbles, and that you enjoy them in good health!

energy bites

MB’s Energy Bites

Servings: 20

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup ground flax seed
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • ¾ cup nut butter
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips OR chopped dried fruit of your choice
  • 1/3 cup honey (or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix until combined.

2. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let chill for about half an hour (helps to ensure that the mixture will stick together when being rolled).

3. After chilling, measure a tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball. Repeat until all of the mixture is used.

4. Store in an air-tight container in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for longer than 2 weeks.

Nutrition Information: (1 serving. Servings per recipe: about 20. Analysis prepared using chocolate chips and honey) – Calories: 163; Total Fat: 10.1g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 41.8mg; Carbohydrates: 15.9g; Fiber: 4.3g; Sugar: 7.7g; Protein: 4.9g

References

  1. Cornil Y, Gomez P, Vasiljevic D. Food as fuel: performance goals increase the consumption of high-calorie foods at the expense of good nutrition. Morwitz VG, Kirmani A, Janiszewski C, eds. Journal of Consumer Research. 2020;47(2):147-166.
  2. Van Vliet S, Beals JW, Martinez IG, Skinner SK, Burd NA. Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption. Nutrients. 2018; 10(2):224. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020224
  3. Williamson E. Nutritional implications for ultra-endurance walking and running events. Extrem Physiol Med. 2016;5:13. Published 2016 Nov 21. doi:10.1186/s13728-016-0054-0
  4. Owen L, Corfe B. The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2017;76(4):425-426. doi:10.1017/S0029665117001057
  5. Weaver LJ, Hadley C. Moving beyond hunger and nutrition: a systematic review of the evidence linking food insecurity and mental health in developing countries. Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 2009;48(4):263-284.
  6. Holler P, Jaunig J, Amort FM, et al. Holistic physical exercise training improves physical literacy among physically inactive adults: a pilot intervention study. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):393. Published 2019 Apr 11. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6719-z

All photos courtesy of the author

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MB, an ADK 46-R, is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Online MPH Program at George Mason University. In her free time, she can usually be found scampering up and over mountains whilst munching on eggplant bacon, writing odd things, or doing zoomies with Sig and Bella, the shollie and entledoodle dynamic duo who own me. She can also be found at: dr.mb.mitcham@gmail.com


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One Response

  1. Dick Carlson says:

    Very nice! Food is fuel, and becoming fat-adapted makes this recipe all the more compelling. And with thee price of prepared energy bars going up – make your own makes great sense.

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