COOKING 101: Fueling athletes to go the distance

I used to hike with a guy we called “Rocket Man.”

He’d be slogging up one of the 4,000-footers that define the skyline of the High Peaks Region of western Maine when, suddenly, he’d take off as if jet propelled, leaving the rest of us breathing his trail dust.

It wasn’t until many hikes later that I learned the source of his fuel – Little Debbie’s tucked in his backpack.



We weekend warriors know that a shot of sugar can add a needed boost to sagging spirits and dragging feet on the home stretch, but it takes a lot more than a Ring Ding to go the distance.

In these days of Ezekiel bread and electrolytes, carb-cramming and potassium-packing, women are much better prepared nutritionally for the pounding a century ride can inflict on their bodies.

My stepdaughter Kate, a gym devotee who plays tennis and thinks nothing of cycling a century (100 miles), has a formulaic approach. On a gym or tennis day, she breakfasts on Ezekiel bread with mashed avocado and egg white. Ezekiel bread is today’s new Wonder Bread, a no-flour, high-protein bread made of fresh sprouted organic grains and jammed with healthy amino acids.

On a long bike ride, she plans on eating every 25 miles and packs foods that are easy to carry and process – bananas, bagels with peanut butter, orange slices, almonds, Gu energy gels.

“I don’t worry too much about how much I am eating. The purpose is to fuel the machine,” she says.

For us aging athletes – those of us who remember when that old standby, Wonder Bread, was touted for its powerful abilities to “build strong bodies 12 ways” – it’s a whole new world. Today we turn up our nose at white bread.

Instead, we build strong bodies by bulking up on pasta the night before a marathon, downing a big bowl of oatmeal with bananas before biking the Park Loop Road and peddling to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, stuffing our packs with bagels and nut butters, hard-boiled eggs, hard cheeses and packaged salmon for the powerful P’s – protein and potassium – before striking out pre-dawn to summit Katahdin.

The apre?s-drink of choice following a day of electrolyte-infused waters: A chilled glass of low-fat chocolate milk, and maybe a sweet potato on the side. The trick is to stay hydrated and pump enough fuels in our bodies to keep us going, without tipping the scales in the wrong direction.

“I just try to eat well and not take in more calories than I’m burning off,” says Judy, a very active runner, skier, paddler, biker and hiker who celebrated her 60th birthday trekking the Bigelow Range – in a day. She carries granola bars, bananas, cucumbers, peanut butter sandwiches, nuts and eggs in her pack to snack on.

Sandy and Judy are both members of the Carrabassett Valley Outdoor Association, a very active club of outdoor enthusiasts with an average age that qualifies for AARP benefits. She has hiked all but two of Maine’s 4,000-foot peaks since turning 50 and spends her winter on cross-country skis. She tries to focus on potassium-rich foods with a low-fat content to keep her weight in check, her blood pressure down and her post-exercise leg cramps at bay. There’s usually chicken, eggs, cheese, dried fruit, homemade trail mix and peanut butter and honey sandwiches in her pack.

Outside, a magazine with the motto “Live Bravely,” says the nine best foods for athletes are beans, berries, bananas, nut butters, quinoa, salmon, pasta, cruciferous veggies and chocolate milk. The magazine Active says the best foods to keep you hydrated while you’re working up a sweat are watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, cucumbers, peppers and celery.

Most of that is stuff you can tuck in a pack and take on your next outdoor adventure, as you can with these tasty breakfast treats.


These muffins include lots of high potassium ingredients – molasses, raisins, orange juice, pistachios and rye flour. Using orange juice and applesauce lowers the fat content, while increasing the potassium. The OJ also gives it a hint of orange. If you really like the orange taste, add a little orange zest, as well. Two of these muffins provide approximately 16 percent of my potassium for a quick breakfast.

Being a teacher – I am always on the run – two of these muffins and a cup of cantaloupe, a banana or dried apricots (all high in potassium) are an easy breakfast that I can eat, even in the car on my way to school I call it my “finger food breakfast!” On weekends, I love to hike or cross-country ski – both activities that require a potassium boost to prevent leg cramps. Again, these muffins are an easy “take-along” for any outdoor adventure.

Boston Brown Bread Muffins

1?2 cup rye flour

1?4 cup yellow cornmeal

1?2 cup whole wheat flour

11?2 teaspoons baking soda

1 egg (or egg substitute)

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup dark brown sugar – firmly packed

1 cup orange juice

1 container low fat orange or vanilla Greek yogurt

1 cup raisins

1?2 cup chopped pistachios (or walnuts – I use pistachios for their unique flavor and they are higher in potassium than walnuts).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tins with olive oil spray.

Mix together first four ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine egg, molasses, brown sugar, applesauce, yogurt and orange juice. Stir or beat until well blended. Stir liquid mixture into dry mixture and mix well. Add raisins and pistachios and stir to mix. Fill muffin tins about 3?4 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Do not over bake.


1 cup dried fruit (craisins, apricots, etc.)

1 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)

1?2 cup toasted oats (sprinkle with cinnamon and toss with 1?4 cup melted coconut oil and bake at 350 degrees until oats start to brown, turning frequently and adding additional oil to keep moist if needed)

2 pieces candied ginger, diced

1?2 cup dark chocolate chips (if it’s a cool weather expedition)

Toss all the ingredients and pack in Ziploc bags. Eat a handful every hour or so on your hike or if you start feeling lightheaded.


Chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumbers (good sources of potassium and they help keep you hydrated)

Chucks of cheese or chicken

Hard boiled eggs

Pumpernickel pretzels to dip in nut butter

Trail mix or dried fruit and nuts

Peanut butter and honey sandwiches (add extra nuts or diced apples and use a whole grain bread)

Bananas (eat at first sign of cramping)

Granola bars

Packets of salmon

If you’re going on a long hike or bike ride, pack lots of protein-rich foods to snack on as your energy wanes and blood sugar droops. And bring plenty of water – sipping from a hydro pack or stopping often to drink. Gatorade and other drinks with electrolytes are good to take along. They come in powdered form you can add to water. Eat the heaviest and most perishable foods early, saving the other snacks for later in the day. Pack in Ziploc bags or small plastic containers to minimize weight.

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