This post was sponsored by Zehrs Markets. What does that mean? I got a free one-hour consultation with a Zehrs dietitan and was paid to develop this recipe for Roasted Strawberry Recovery Muffins for Zehrs Markets. The ideas, opinions and wording of this post are entirely my own. Sponsored posts help me to cover the costs of maintaining this website.
The night before my first half-marathon race a few weeks ago, I found myself frantically googling what to eat before walking 21.1 kilometres.
In all the weeks of training leading up to the big day, I’d been so focused on building endurance that I didn’t spend time researching the other important details, like how to fuel before a long walk at a good clip.
For most of my training walks, I felt energized. I could maintain a steady pace throughout, and even pick up a bit of speed at the end. But during one walk that stretched 18 kilometres, I felt like a slug — a hungry and tired one at that. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would scarf down the minute I walked into my house. A whole frittata, maybe. Or an entire bag of my daughter’s Goldfish crackers. Maybe I’d eat all the peanut butter and bread in our pantry. Or all those foods together. Then I would take a long nap.
Clearly, my pre-walk fuelling needed work. The days I was energized enough to power through my long hikes seemed to be pure luck.
The day of my race, I took a chance on some yogurt with granola and a swirl of jam for breakfast. I clocked a time of 3h17m — 13 minutes faster than my goal. And every step I took in the last half of the race, I felt unstoppable rather than hungry. (Being me, I also thought about what I’d eat as a reward after crossing the finish line.)
It turns out that eating for recovery — or post-race kudos — is just as important as eating pre-exercise. That’s something I learned during a consultation with Leah Mete, the registered dietitian at my neighbourhood Zehrs store. Experiencing the in-store dietitian services was my latest challenge in the Food Lovers Unite program. An athlete herself, Leah helped me understand what to eat when preparing for a race or heavy-duty training session, but also how to refuel afterward.
The Loblaw family of grocery stores, including Zehrs, has a network of more than 70 registered dietitians across the country, making the chain one of the largest employers of dietitians in Canada. They’re available to help with personalized nutrition counselling, whatever your nutritional concern, goal or diet. They also offer store tours and a shop-with-a-dietitian service. All you have to do is book an appointment online or at the store’s pharmacy.
In addition to at least four years of studying at university, dietitians are provincially regulated, ensuring a standard of service and consumer protection. Leah was an ace at breaking down the science of nutrition into easily digestible information for me. She was warm and approachable, so I was comfortable asking any questions about my diet as a competitive walker, a title that makes me giggle as I type it.
What to eat before a half-marathon race
Leah let me know that nutrition can’t make a mediocre athlete a champion, but it can make a champion athlete mediocre. So I need to remember that carbohydrates, such as pasta or potatoes, are our body’s main and first source of energy when we exert ourselves. That dismal 18-kilometre, hunger-driven hike during my training? I needed more substantial carbs before I set out on that walk. I also need to be mindful of timing, not eating too much fibre, protein or fat before training or racing, either. All of those can also slow a person down.
Staying hydrated with water before and during my walks is critical, too. It helps my body tap into my glycogen or energy stores, and keeps my muscles functioning properly.
Leah also suggested I check my iron levels at least twice a year — once before I get into training and again after my training year wraps up — given my vegetarian diet.
But what about those post-race noshes? Admittedly, I was shovelling anything into me after my long walks, treating it as a refuelling free-for-all.
Eating to recover from a half-marathon race
Leah had plenty of helpful tips for that, starting with not eating whatever I can get my hands on.
Instead, I should reach for fruit and vegetables, especially those with B vitamins, which convert food into energy, and synthesize protein to help with recovery. They also carry oxygen to my muscles. And fruits and veggies contain antioxidants or polyphenols to protect cells from damage.
Carbs and protein replenish my glycogen stores and aid muscle recovery, too. Healthy fats, like omega-3’s found in flaxseed, ease inflammation and joint pain. Being comfortably middle-aged, I put an asterisk next to that point and set out to create the ideal recovery snack. It would curb those urges I had to eat anything and everything after exerting myself. It would also set straight the notion that I could eat whatever I wanted after walking 21.1 kilometres.
The result: roasted strawberry recovery muffins loaded with sweet local berries that provide polyphenols, fibre and carbs. The muffins are rounded out with whole wheat flour, oats, nuts, and soy milk to replenish protein and carbs, and flaxseed and walnut oil for a hit of healthy fat. There’s also a secret ingredient: spinach for the iron, fibre, and a substantial dose of vitamin B6 to help with protein synthesis. If I lost you at spinach, trust me, you can’t taste it. Even my five-year-old gave these muffins the thumbs up, an endorsement she didn’t rescind after learning what the green flecks were in her muffin.
Better still, these muffins aren’t proverbial one-trick ponies, good only for helping a body recover from strenuous exercise. With sweetness from strawberries roasted in honey, they’re easy to eat any time, except before a race — unless you’re racing out the door in the morning, in which case, eat and enjoy! No matter our diet, health goals, or what we’re training for, we’re all food lovers, after all.
For the Roasted Strawberries
- 3 cups strawberries, quartered
- 2 tablespoons runny honey
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- Pinch of salt
For the Muffins
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup large flake/rolled oats
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- PC Blue Menu Sunflower, Pumpkin and Super Seeds Blend (optional)
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 cup soy milk
- 1/2 cup runny honey
- 1/4 cup walnut oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup packed spinach leaves, washed and dried, and woody stems removed
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss berries in honey, oil and salt, and spread onto the baking sheet. Roast until they release their juices and start to shrink in size, about 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside.
Increase oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). Line a muffin tin with paper liners or lightly coat with oil, making sure to cover all surfaces.
In a large bowl, combine all-purpose and whole wheat flours, oats, ground flaxseed, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Whisk until everything is blended well.
In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the soy milk, honey, walnut oil, and vanilla extract.
Pulse spinach in a food processor until it’s chopped into fine bits, but not liquidy.
Add spinach to wet ingredients and stir until everything is combined.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and combine until everything is blended well. Fold in the strawberries and their juice.
Using an ice cream scoop or small ladle, scoop the batter into the muffin liners/tins.
Sprinkle batter with PC Blue Menu Sunflower, Pumpkin and Super Seeds Blend, if using.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
Remove from oven and leave the muffin pan on a cooling rack for five minutes. Remove muffins from the pan and let them cool completely on the cooling rack.
Muffins can be stored, covered, on the counter for up to four days, or frozen in an airtight container for up to three months.
Depending on the juiciness of your berries, you may have batter for more than 12 muffins.