What do you have when you’ve got nuts, dates, cocoa, & salt in a food processor? Sounds like a nutrient-packed snack or fuel option to me! If you take a look online these days, you’re sure to hear about “energy balls.” They are all the rage (do people even say that anymore?) Like most things in nutrition, there’s not much new under the sun, and it’s a lasting whole-food (non-processed) eating philosophy, not fad diets, that make up a healthy eating and fueling plan.
Just like the bars and stuffed dates we’ve made, these balls are a great fueling option in a new form: The Energy Ball!
Recipe of the Week: Power-Punch Cocoa Energy Balls
- 16 dates, pitted
- 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
- 3/4 + 1/4 finely chopped nuts such as cashews, almonds, walnuts etc (or a mix)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Additional sea salt if using as training nutrition.
Place 1/4 cup chopped nuts in your food processer; process until finely ground (almost like flour but don’t process all the way to a nut butter). Empty from processor and set aside.
Remove pits from dates (if needed) and process them until they’re stuck together in a large mass in food processor. Empty dates into into a bowl.
Add cocoa powder to bowl and mix well using hands.
Add vanilla and continue mixing.
Lastly, add the 1 cup chopped nuts and sea salt – mix well.
Roll the cocoa-date-nut mixture into small balls about 1-inch in diameter. Then roll each in the finely chopped nut meal and set aside.
Enjoy immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
If using for fueling, spinkle 1/12 tsp sea salt for 200 mg sodium.
If using for training fuel, sprinkle each ball with 1/12 tsp sea salt for 200 mg sodium.
I’ve said it before (just a few weeks ago in fact with our Nut Butter Stuffed Dates) and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to go into the sports nutrition aisle of your store to find some of the best fueling options available. And, you don’t have to put much prep into it, either. In fact, our no-bake, no-fuss Cocoa Date Energy Balls are as easy to eat as they are easy on the taste buds and stomach. They make for a great fuel option on long rides. Here’s why:
The right carbs: Dates are mostly carbohydrates, with a dash of protein. The carbohydrates are both glucose and fructose (at almost 50:50), which give you the fastest available energy source (glucose) for use and replenishment of muscle glycogen, along with a slightly slower carbohydrate source in fructose. Dates do also contain fiber, and even though conventional wisdom would teach us that sports nutrition and fiber don’t mix, many athletes do fine with the digestion of dates, just like they do fine with high-fiber chia seeds and training.
A concentrated source of carbs: One of the best parts of many engineered energy fuel, and especially gels, is the amount of carbs you get in a small volume. It’s easy to pack an extra gel in case the last hours of a century call for a bit more pick-me-up. Or, it’s easy to take one on a short ride without having to figure out where to carry it. The same is true of dates. Whole or chopped, they fit easily in your jersey pocket.
The right electrolytes. Dates naturally contain a significant amount of potassium at 100 mg per day. Since I recommend 100-300 mg potassium, and 400-700 mg sodium per hour for any ride up to 3 hours, you’re covered with 100% potassium needs and 50% sodium needs (thanks to the added salt). Add in a sports drink with at least 100 mg sodium per 8 oz., and you’re all set.
Antioxidants including vitamin A (eye health from betacarotene and zeaxanthin), tannins, and flavonoids. Like other whole foods, the nutrients go beyond the carbs, proteins, and fats to offer nutrients that enhance cellular health and fight and prevent disease.
Minerals. In addition to potassium, you’ll get calcium, manganese, copper, and magnsesium! These minerals are especially important for bone health, muscle contractions, and energy production. Sounds like a good combo for a cyclist.
A bit of protein, fat, fiber, & satiety: Although protein and fat are not needed from a nutrition standpoint on most rides, easy-to-digest proteins (such as nut butters, nuts, chia, or ground flaxseeds) can provide great satiety on longer rides. If you use all quickly-digested carbs on a ride >3 hours, you’ll often get that hollow-stomach nausea feeling. Real foods, with real-food nutrients (as opposed to gels), can satisfy your stomach WHILE providing the nutrients your body can use.
Some other goodies: Cocoa. Raw cocoa contains dietary polyphenols. These antioxidants reduce inflammation and make cells more sensitive to insulin. Both of these factors are super-important to the athlete. First, inflammation is an issue for cellular health, whole body health, and recovery. When you think of inflamed cells, think of angry, out-of-control, destructive cells that simply do not function right. When we eat foods and nutrients that are anti-inflammatory, they can calm these cells and create a balance in our bodies that responds better to all the chemical reactions and toxins we throw at it.
Next, there’s the whole insulin-sensitivity issue. The more sensitive cells are to insulin, the healthier they are and less likely to store fat. They “use” carbs better, when you need energy, and replenish glycogen stores more efficiently for that upcoming ride…yes, please. When cells are resistant to insulin, they don’t respond well to blood sugar. This promotes a whole host of problems, including out-of-control blood sugars, disease, and more insulin resistance. The nutrients in raw cocoa can help.
Energy balls may be all the rage, and this week they are great training fuel. Just 5 ingredients for this wonderful little fuel ball, and you’re set. What’s more, they healthy whole food ingredients make a great snack and can curb a chocolate craving. So, use as a snack within your meal planning, or add some salt and take along for the ride. It’s a win-win.
Fuel Your Adventure. Nourish Your Body.
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