Running on Fuel – Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Bars
In our home, eating nourishing and sustainable foods is just one part of our quest to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Dustin and I have shifted towards using minimally processed ingredients not only because of their rapport but because these foods help fuel our active lifestyle. We both typically engage in some sort of exercise every day. While our fitness obsessions have varied over time, from climbing, to yoga, to cycling, running, soccer and HIIT training, this vast cornucopia of exercises all have one thing in common. Each sport or hobby we take on requires that we power our bodies with clean burning fuel.
Back in our climbing days Dustin and I munched on countless cliff bars and downed an endless flow of vitamin water. But these bars and sports drinks, while not exactly abysmal, are far from clean and healthy. Vitamin water in particular is packed with processed sugars, artificial dyes, and chemically engineered flavoring. Clif bars were fine, at the time, for providing an immediate source of fuel to push us through laps at the gym, but with most varieties clocking almost 25g of sugar mostly from the primary ingredient, brown rice syrup (which, as an ingredient, boasts virtually no nutritional merit) these aren’t exactly a healthy option for most athletes.
There is a place for consuming quickly digestible sugars and other carbs in endurance heavy events, where you might be working out for multiple hours and might deplete your glycogen stores if you do not refuel. These bars could be used in this way – although, with about 7 grams of fiber in each bar you probably would not want to eat too many of them on a very long run. We’ve been using them as a pre-run fuel (taking advantage of the natural fruit sugars and complex grain carbs) or as a post-workout recovery snack (utilizing the 11 grams of protein from the nuts, seeds and protein powder).
What initially caught my eye in this post’s featured recipe was the lack of added sugar. Typically, granola bars or power bars contain a boatload of honey, maple, or molasses to sweeten and bind. Not so here! Also exciting to me was the fact that you don’t need to bake them. You may have a moment of doubt as you peer into the food processor wondering how on earth these things are ever going to stick together. But persevere – once the juice is added at the end the mix should start to resemble a piecrust dough, crumbly but clumpy at the same time. Like with a piecrust, go easy on the juice, adding a little at a time until you sense that the mixture will just bind when pressed into the pan. As with pastry, finding the right balance may take a batch or two to master.
I adapted the original recipe a bit to include some protein powder. I used an unflavored rice-based protein, which, I suspect, may have aided in the binding process. While I am fairly certain that any type of protein powder could be used here, it may alter the texture a bit. I am picky when it comes to buying dried fruit. I strongly prefer to buy organic as dried fruit are truly just shriveled versions of whole fruit and can carry with them the same residues from conventional growing practices, only in increased concentration. Trader Joe’s typically has an excellent selection of dried fruit and I find that their prices are far lower than large box stores.
I really like the R.W. Knudsen Family line of juices. I used their black cherry juice in this recipe. It is a simple juice made from only one ingredient! I imagine that any of their single fruit juices would work well in its stead. The black cherry is the only one I have found in small, 8oz, servings. If you have never come across quinoa flakes before, they are quite similar to rolled oats. I am fairly certain that oats could be successfully substituted but if you can find the quinoa flakes they are worth a try as they are much higher in protein content than oats and are likely a bit easier/faster to digest.
The amounts of the various dried fruits can be toyed with and adjusted to suit your specific preference. I used what I had on hand and I ended up really liking the balance of fruit in the end-product, but I imagine that there are many other dried fruits, from mangos, to figs, to dates, that would work well. Just as in other aspects of your diet, picking a variety of fruits from various different families (i.e. berries, stone fruit, pomes etc…) will provide, not only a well balanced flavor profile, but a broader nutritional profile as well.
Quinoa Fruit and Nut Bars – Adapted from “He Needs Food”
Recipe – Makes about 12 Bars
84g (1c) Quinoa Flakes
112g (1c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
15g (¼ c) Desiccated Coconut
120g Dried Apple Rings (About 30 Rings)
130g (1¼ c) Dried Cherries
130g Dried Apricots (About 20 Apricots)
30g (¼ c) Zante or Corinth Currants
40g (¼ c) Dried Blueberries
75g (5T) Vegan Rice Powder (other powder may be substituted, see note above)
120g (½ c) Cherry Juice
70g (½ c) cup Pepitas (divided)
Line a 7 × 11 inch baking pan with parchment paper (no need to grease or spray the pan.) Paper should hang over the sides; you will later use this overhang as “handles” to remove the bars from the pan. Set the pan aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place quinoa flakes, chopped almonds, and coconut on a large, rimmed baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden and fragrant. You may need to stir the mixture once or twice in order to ensure reasonably even toasting.
Roughly chop all of the dried fruit and then pulse once or twice in batches in the food processor until minced. Make sure you stop well short of turning it into a fruit paste!
Place the cooled quinoa flakes, almonds, and coconut in the processor and pulse briefly until it becomes a coarse meal. Add the protein powder to the bowl of minced fruit pieced and toss them together with your hands to distribute the powder and “unstick” some of the fruit clumps. Add this to the food processor along with half of the pepitas and pulse once or twice to combine with the nut/quinoa meal.
Drizzle over about half of the juice and pulse once or twice, continue adding the juice in TBSP increments, pulsing in-between until the mixture just starts to come together. When the mix is ready it should still contain discernable pieces of fruit and nuts and hold together if pinched between thumb and forefinger.
Dump the mixture into the lined baking pan and distribute evenly across its surface. Tear off a piece of parchment large enough to fit over the pan and place on top of the mixture. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, start at one corner and press down firmly on the mixture to compact the mix and even out the surface. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the remaining pepitas over the top. To adhere these to the surface, replace the parchment and press again, lighter this time (so as not to crush the pepitas.)
Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the bars to solidify. The next morning, lift the sides of the parchment to remove the bars and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife and a smooth vertical cutting motion (no sawing!) cut the bars into 12 even pieces. These keep well for a week or two in a tightly sealed Tupperware container in the fridge.