Keto. Paleo. Sugar-free. Dairy-free. Protein-packed. The information on best nutritional choices changes daily and can be overwhelming. However, what we eat, how frequently we do so, and when we grab a snack or sit down for a meal can drastically impact our athletic performance.
So, which is it? Which dietary fad should I be adhering to these days to maximize my trail running program?
“None of them,” says Kristy Bates, registered dietitian and nutritionist at Aspen Valley Hospital. “Forget dieting,” she continues. “Diets, especially fad diets, are rarely sustainable and may be detrimental.” Instead, Bates suggests common sense choices, such as reducing sugar and fat and increasing antioxidants and fluids in addition to controlling portions, avoiding alcohol, and enjoying balanced meals throughout the day.
“This is especially important when you’re training or simply being active out in the mountains, particularly in Aspen, where our runs, hikes and climbs start at 8,000 feet and ascend from there.” As opposed to adhering to a single diet or nutritional regimen for your training, Bates suggests powering your performance with low-sugar, nutritionally-dense snacks. This can be as simple as a potassium-rich banana or nut butter and apples to banana bread made with coconut oil and dates instead of vegetable oil and sugar.
For a more unique and savory treat, Bates interviews Guest Chef Dr. Allen Lim, founder of Skratch Labs, in her September episode of AVH’s Dietitian Demo series. Lim provides a creative, easy-to-make take on rice cakes with his Skratch Labs Rice Cakes recipe.
Skratch Labs Rice Cakes Recipe
- 4 cups uncooked sticky rice such as calrose or sushi rice
- 6 cups water
- 12 ounces bacon (optional) – consider halloumi as a vegetarian alternative
- 8 eggs scrambled with 8 dashes liquid amino acids
- Dash of sugar or maple syrup
- 1 cup liquid amino acids
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ½ cup maple syrup
1. If you want to use bacon, cook up to an entire pack. Tip: Lim recommendations dicing the bacon first and cooking it in parts. This creates a faster and more even cook because there’s more surface area. If using halloumi instead of bacon, slice and cook in a similar fashion.
2. While the bacon is cooking, begin prepping the rice by washing it. Rinse the rice four to five times until you pour out the water and it runs clear.
3. The ratio of water to rice is 1 cup of rice to 1.5 cups of water. Lim recommends using a rice cooker for the rice, however, most rice packaging will include pan-cooked instructions as well.
4. Next, prep the eggs. Lim’s technique includes getting the pan very hot without oil. Once heat waves start to rise from the pan, add the oil and the eggs simultaneously. This makes for wonderfully fluffy scrambled eggs! Once cooked, set the eggs aside.
5. Now prepare the Secret Sauce. Combine and mix the amino acids, olive oil, rice vinegar and maple syrup.
6. When the rice is finished cooking and while it is still very hot (Lim emphasizes the importance of adding the rice while it’s still steaming), add the rice directly into the Secret Sauce and mix until it is evenly coated.
7. Add the bacon and eggs to the rice mix. Taste and adjust with Secret Sauce elements to taste.
8. Lay the rice mixture onto an uncoated cookie sheet and spread eveningly. Let set for three to five minutes.
9. Once the mixture has set, cut five rows and five columns into the sheet of rice, creating 25 individual rice squares (each will offer 130 hearty, powerful, nutritious calories).
10. Wrap each cake with Lim’s special pan lining paper available at SkratchLabs.com, or use a similar parchment paper product.
Once wrapped, these individual homemade rice cakes provide easily packable, easily accessible, hearty, powerful and nutritious treats that can last up to three hours in your pocket or pack while training.
In an additional AVH Dietitian Demo video, special guest Tara Richardson, MS, CEP and long-time endurance athlete outlines her approach to sports nutrition as it relates to lifestyle, training and recovery. She emphasizes that nutritional intake and healthy eating habits should be individualized to you, continuously changing throughout your training cycle and during your races. Richardson’s tip? “Pre-exercise snacks and meals for low heart rate exercise should be carbohydrate-focused and easily digestible. My favorite go-to is a banana.”
For endurance running, carbohydrates should be the main focus of fuel prior to heading out the door. Richardson loves a hearty bowl of oatmeal. Here are some creative takes on the traditional grain:
- Granola (give your goop some extra crunch!)
- Peanut, cashew or almond butter
- A dash of maple syrup
- Roasted coconut chips
- Carob or cacao
When endurance training, or on the trail for a run that lasts longer than 90 minutes, Richardson suggests consuming 100 – 150 calories every 45 minutes. This can be a liquid calorie, fig bars or chocolate coconut bites, for example.
Of course, hydration is key to trail running success. Make sure to complement your calories with lots and lots and lots of water and electrolyte-infused liquids. Electrolytes help replenish all of the sodium we lose when we sweat.
After a long trail run, we get to recover! Richardson recommends a few of her favorite post-workout foods, including:
Consider doctoring up eggs with skillet-fried peppers and onions and tossing it all into a tasty tortilla for a savory recovery snack. Ultimately, a simple protein combined with some carbohydrates provide healthy fuel when the run is done. And of course, Richardson cautions, don’t ever introduce a new food on a training or race day.
While these tips are specific to mountain training, healthy eating matters in everything we do. For those looking for additional dietitian support, including diet and exercise in pregnancy and diabetes education, Aspen Valley Hospital’s extensive dietary resources and nutrition resources are an excellent place to start.