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Gazette Premium Content Energy bars for grab, go

By Gretchen McKay Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Published: February 24, 2014

Tempting as it might be to cozy up on the couch and hibernate during winter, slacking off is not an option for marathon runners.

Despite the snow and cold, the vast majority already have logged several of many, many planned training runs.

Running, of course, burns calories - roughly 100 a mile at a moderate pace. Only problem is, you don't always feel like eating before you hit the track or trail, especially when you have to drag your body out of bed before dawn. Many runners, in fact, barely can choke down a handful of Cheerios with their coffee before a morning workout, let alone a bowl of oatmeal, one of the most recommended pre-workout foods for a run of an hour or more.

Still, dashing out the door on an empty stomach is a mistake.

Eating before training has been shown to improve performance. And isn't that every marathoner's goal - to be able to perform?

Unless you're the type who eats before going to bed, you're going to wake up with a completely empty tank - zero, zip, nada. (Remember, your body has been fasting for eight or more hours.) That could lead to fatigue or dizziness during your workout or worse, running out of energy completely before the big finish. Do your body good, and you'll run strong.

The best pre-run breakfast consists mainly of carbohydrates, since they're quickly digested and are your body's preferred fuel source, says Heather Mangieri, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who works with endurance athletes. Aim for about 30 grams for runs longer than a hour or intense workouts. You also need a little protein to help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.

One easy solution is a homemade energy bar. They're easy to make the night before, good for the body and require no thinking the morning of. Just grab and go.

The main benefit of a homemade bar as opposed to, say, a CLIF bar, notes Mangieri, is that you can adjust the ingredients based on individual taste and needs. Looking to cut a few calories? Simply omit the nuts or cut them into smaller portions. Not crazy about raisins? Substitute dried cranberries or blueberries or chop up a handful of dried apricots. Or heck, add all three.

How big a bar you'll want to eat depends on how much time until takeoff, the number of miles planned and how fast you're going to log them; the fuel required to run 5 or 6 miles is completely different from the amount needed to crank out 10 or 12 miles. If you plan on starting your run within an hour, opt for a smaller portion that weighs in at about 200 calories; if you have more time to digest, says Mangieri, go for a larger-sized bar that will provide closer to 300 calories.

CEREAL-AND-FRUIT BARs

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Yield: 8 bars

1 cup rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies) 1 cup uncooked quick- cooking oats, whole or ground in processor 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or almonds (or your preferred nut) 1/4 cup chopped dried fruit 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 cup brown rice syrup, honey or molasses 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar 1/3 cup nut butter (cashew, almond peanut, etc.) 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon honey, for drizzling

Procedure:

In a large bowl, combine rice cereal, oats, flaxseed, nuts, dried fruit and cinnamon. Mix well. (A large bowl is recommended because you will need extra room for when the other ingredients are added.)

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring syrup and brown sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in nut butter and vanilla.

Pour hot nut butter mixture into bowl of dry ingredients, stirring well (mixture will be very stiff). Use a piece of wax paper to press the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Let cool.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over the top of the pressed, cooled mixture. Cut into 8 bars. Wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Source: Heather Mangieri, Nutrition Checkup

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