In Malcom Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath,” Gladwell describes the defeat of the monstrous Goliath by the weaker David, not as an improbable underdog victory, but as a highly misunderstood sure thing. Despite seeming weaker with only a rock and sling to defend him, David was likely a professional “slinger,” not just a simple sheepherder packing the ballistic power and accuracy of a 45 magnum. In contrast, Goliath, despite appearing bigger and stronger, probably suffered from acromegaly – a pituitary tumor, which can result in excess growth and double vision – making Goliath slow, clumsy, and a total mismatch compared to the quick and nimble David.
Like any misconception, outside appearances don’t typically reveal the truth. And while the story of David and Goliath might seem entirely disconnected from the idea of eating a cookie instead of a pre-packaged energy bar, the reality is that when it comes to taste and performance, our experience has been that in the right context, the simple and unassuming cookie is generally the better bet.
At first mention we often think of a cookie as a treat or a dessert – a guilty pleasure that connotes bad behavior that we sneak into our mouths when no one is looking. Rarely does a cookie impart the idea of health and fitness. For most, it’s a decadent snack, not a performance fuel. Even worse, when I was a teenager in need of food to fuel my long rides or Boy Scout hikes, I use to feel embarrassed when I would pull cookies or weird Chinese snacks out of my pocket when my friends pulled out their PowerBar®. I had it in my head that if I wanted to optimize my performance or fit in, I had to use products that were specifically engineered to make me better, faster, and stronger. It was a false belief.
To be clear, we did not design some new food with the intent of optimizing athletic performance or health. We set out to help people make really delicious cookies - to make the process of making cookies from scratch more convenient and foolproof with an end product no different than a more time consuming and error prone homemade cookie. While our cookie mix is not a ready to go solution it does go a long way in getting folks into the kitchen to bake when they normally wouldn’t. It’s a little bit of effort paired with a little more ease and confidence. It’s something we wanted to take on because even if we didn’t set out to design a better food, it just so happens that for a number of reasons, a freshly prepared cookie is better for athletic performance and health than many prepackaged energy bars. Plus, let’s face it, we all love cookies.
With that in mind, compared to prepackaged energy bars, a freshly prepared cookie from scratch has a similar nutritional profile, contains more moisture, has fewer and simpler ingredients, and tastes better. At the most basic level, when I study the nutritional panel and ingredient list of many prepackaged energy bars I find it difficult to justify how they are different than what I might put in a batch of cookies made from scratch. But there’s more than just nutrition at play here. There’s also form and function. With respect to form, a cookie is portable, small, and easily wrapped making it just as easy to eat, once prepared, as anything that comes in a package. Functionally, a cookie has a higher moisture level, making it easier to chew, swallow, and digest. In addition, consuming solid food that actually needs to be digested, helps to ensure that the rate at which fuel empties from the stomach (gastric emptying) doesn’t outpace the rate at which the small intestine can absorb fuel (intestinal absorption). This goes a long way to preventing gut rot and to keep a slow trickle of energy entering the body continuously during hard exercise. Lastly, keeping the ingredient list minimal and avoiding synthetic agents minimizes short-term mal-absorption and any long-term harm we may be inadvertently exposing ourselves to.
The real benefit of a cookie compared to a dry prepackaged food is taste. While this might seem self-evident, it’s important to recognize something less evident – the fact that the physiology of digestion begins when we smell and see beautiful food. When that happens, there are a host of physiological changes that ensue, which range from the release of various hormones and enzymes to changes in blood flow and the up-regulation of transporters that prepare us for the absorption and use of nutrients. When something appeals to us, our senses know there is something tangibly different, even if intellectually, those differences are marginal. The bottom line is that the human brain, especially when it comes to food, is much better at believing than reasoning. It’s a fact that can be a positive or a negative. Most prepackaged foods are designed to trick us into thinking they are delicious and good for us, when they are in fact bad for us with a shelf life designed to survive the apocalypse. With this in mind, the question I always had is why not just eat the real thing? Why not eat something that we naturally know is delicious and maybe even a bit decadent, when we need real fuel quickly and efficiently?
The irony is that just like cookies, most people aren’t eating prepackaged energy bars in the context of a physically active lifestyle or to enhance their athletic performance. They are overeating these prepackaged products as convenient snacks because they think that they are better for them than something like a cookie. The reality is that like so many of our food options, there is no better or worse. It’s not really about whether David and Goliath were actually well matched or a mismatch. In the end it’s context that matters. It’s a game of rock, paper, and scissors. And depending on the context, kale or a cookie may be the optimal choice.
Ultimately there’s no bad food, just bad behavior. So in the context of the right behavior – of a physically active lifestyle, of hard work, of freshly prepared foods, we hereby give you permission to have a cookie – to give yourself a little reward for making an effort to be better.
Allen Lim, PhD
If you love the idea of using cookies as a great real food alternative to prepackaged energy bar, but can't use our Cookie Mix because you follow a gluten free diet you're in luck!
Watch the video below and download the complete recipe details for free right here.
This is one of Chef Biju's all time favorite recipes during the holidays and colder months. It's super versatile and can be made into a very quick "dressing" or blended into a brilliant all vegetarian pâté.
We're using potato peels as a major ingredient to add some extra nutrients and flavor. Keep about 1 cup of thick peels from sweet or regular potatoes, and cook them until tender in salted water, drain and set aside until you're ready to make this delicious recipe.
None of the quantities need be to exact, this is the perfect recipe to just use whatever you have around. Leftovers will also freeze well for a quick lunch.
Bring a large, deep pan to medium high heat, no oil!
Add to the pan:
Saute until the mushroom edges begin to brown.
Saute thoroughly, then add a sprinkle each to your taste any combination of:
Remove from the pan at this point and use as a stuffing or dressing!
For a pâté fold in 1/4 cup of goat or cream cheese and cook on low heat until thoroughly incorporated. Blend in a food processor until creamy, spread over grilled bread or serve with crackers. It's also a great sandwich spread! Yum!
Most athletes are used to eating gels, even if they provide a small dose of GI distress. A Sticky Bite uses everyday ingredients to deliver that sweet kick you crave, but in a more palatable way. Even more importantly, the higher moisture content in the sticky bite allows the body to more quickly absorb energy than a highly concentrated over-engineered sports nutrition product, which draws water away from the body to dilute the energy gel. For more information on this topic and why many athletes are switching to #RealFood we suggest reading the first 55 pages of the Feed Zone Portables book.
Try making these Chocolate & Sea Salt Sticky Bites!
Chocolate and Sea Salt Sticky Bites are an athlete favorite for their one-bite combo of salty sweetness. In the video below, Chef Biju Thomas shows you a few tips and tricks in how to make them.
1 cup uncooked sticky rice
1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats
2 cups water
1 table spoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate (chips or shaved)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of salt to taste
1) Combine oats, rice and water with a dash of salt in a rice cooker and cook. Let cool to the touch
2) In a medium bowl, combine the cooked rice and oats with the remaining ingredients. Stir to incorporate the flavor throughout the sticky mixture
3) Press into an airtight storage container or shape as individual bites, Sprinkle with chocolate and salt (careful not to add too much salt here...a little goes a long way)
Storing / Wrapping: Sticky bites can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container or individually wrapped.
Storage: Press the sticky mixture into a shallow airtight container and top with plastic wrap. Simply cut and wrap the bites as you need.
Wrap: Place a heaping tablespoon of the sticky mixture on a small piece of plastic wrap. Press into a shape like an ice cube or spoon. Roll plastic wrap lengthwise and then twist the ends like a hard candy wrapper.
Download a pdf of the Chocolate Sea Salt Sticky Bites recipe here
Donny Roth is a Skratch Labs ambassador who believes in human-powered skiing (climbing to the top vs. using a chairlift). He believes there is more to skiing than simply going down hill. It's not all about the down, nor is it all about the up. Skiing and guiding for Donny is about the adventures, education and experiences. The following blog, written by Donny, sheds light on what a week of skiing and eating in Chile is like.
Very few people go all the way to Chile to ski for a day. Most folks come down for a week or so. The most common trip I guide is skiing several volcanoes over a week. We spend a little time each day learning new skills or refreshing techniques from the past season. Everyone gets a refresher on beacon use and skins, and most everyone uses ski crampons for the first time. What most people don't expect is how much emphasis I put on food, nutrition and hydration.
There is a huge difference between skiing for a week and skiing for a weekend. People like going to the office on Monday feeling a little worked from the weekend's activity. The sore quads and core sort of adds a little value, like you got the most for your money. Trying to ski everyday for a week is much more like a stage race then a crit. If you bonk early on, you spend the rest of the time trying to catch up. This isn't the best way to get the most out of your week long skiing vacation.
There are numerous challenges to eating well in Chile, which makes it an adventure of its own! The first is that there is nothing close to a Whole Foods or other markets that stock every type of pre-packaged or pre-prepared food imaginable. Simply running into a store and picking up things that look like portables is not an option. The only things available ready-made will be cookies, candy bars, empanadas and sopapillas – which can be delightful, I must admit. To eat well, one has to make their own portables. This is where the adventure begins. First, ingredients can be limited and inconsistent. What you find in Santiago will be much different than what is found in Puerto Montt in the south. Looking for organic berries in the middle of winter? Ha! Forget it. Your favorite hot sauce? Hope you got it through customs. The other hurdle is that kitchens can be very, very different from place to place. Some places challenge your image of a kitchen entirely. It is for these reasons that I travel with a small kitchen kit – everything from knives and cutting boards to baking pans and muffin tins. Sometimes I even have my camping stove as backup.
These obstacles can be overcome, with a little planning, When my clients are going to ski everyday, averaging between four and five thousand vertical feet of climbing each day, then we need to consume calories. Consuming 2000 calories of candy bars and empanadas would be gross. It’s for these reasons that we make portables from scratch. Its been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. To give you a better visual and idea of what it’s like skiing and living in Chile, here are some photos and descriptions that capture some of the adventures of cooking in Chile. After eleven winters in Chile, I really look forward to the challenge of cooking real food. Each season I continue to be pushed to think outside the wrapper.
This is one of my favorite vegetable markets in the country. In the major cities there are big supermarkets, which look identical to big U.S. chains, but the produce tends to on the very commercial scale – local and organic hasn't caught on yet. These veggies are at least local and fresh.
This is a sampling of typical touring food. Far-left: Baked eggs with breadcrumbs, bacon and cheese. Top Pan: Rice cakes with peanuts, chocolate chips and a touch of manjar; Center Plate: Spinach frittatas. Far Right Pan: Bacon bread bars.
These are some of the special moments. When the owners of the hotel let me share their kitchen, which meant I got to learn new recipes and partake in making these cookies, along with this little girl.
Cooking on a wood-fired stove is actually pretty fun and not as hard as I thought it would be. But it's certainly not instant heat!
Empanadas! This is the national food of Chile. They are traditionally filled with beef, onions, half a hard-boiled egg and one olive. I don't find this to be the most palatable while touring, but the concept is the ultimate portable. I like them filled with a spiced pear filling. Awesome!
This isn't typical, but it is a possibility. Sometimes the kitchen is a tent. Freeze-dried food sucks, unlike the views. It takes a little prep and planning; but we still eat well up here.
Breakfast while camped just below snow line. Warm oatmeal and real coffee to start the day.
After cooking on camping stoves and wood stoves, I feel like a hero in even the simplest kitchen. A morning feast means the clients have no excuses. Eggs over quinoa and topped with cheese and veggies, fresh frittatas for the way out the door and chocolate for later.
Sweet Rice Porridge is a clever recipe from The Feed Zone Cookbook that blends quick-absorbing carbs from white rice with the satisfying whole proteins found in eggs. Add bananas for some bonus carbs and potassium — or whatever fruit or nut you’d prefer, get creative and have some fun with the flavors— and you’ll enjoy a tasty, simple breakfast that will power-up your morning workout.
This porridge recipe is also a great way to put leftover rice to good use.
Timing: 5-10 minutes
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg yolk
1 cup cooked rice
1 ripe banana, sliced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
dash each of salt and ground cinnamon
fresh berries (optional)
Mixing / Serving
1. Whisk together milk and egg yolk in a medium pot, then heat gently
2. Add the cooked rice, banana, vanilla, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Cook and stir for 5-10 minutes or until mixture comes to a gentle boil.
3. Transfer to a bowl or plate and top with fresh berries/fruit, if desired.
You can download this recipe for free...really for FREE...Here.
Allen and Biju have put a gluten-free spin on the classic fig cookies that many of us grew up eating. These rice cakes make a sweet portable snack, but because of the excellent fiber that is in the dried fruit, they work even better as a snack following a workout or between meals. If figs aren’t your favorite, try raisins, craisins or dates instead.
SERVINGS: About 10 rice cakes
Timing: 25-30 minutes
2 cups uncooked calrose rice or other medium-grain “sticky” rice
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Cup toasted pecans
1 cup chopped dried figs
2 tablespoons honey
Brown Sugar (optional)
1. Combine rice and water in a rice cooker
2. To toast the nuts: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast 8-10 minutes. Stirring after 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, pecans and figs. Add the honey and stir thoroughly. Add more honey to taste, if desired
4. Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch square pan to about 1 1/2-inch thickness and sprinkle with brown sugar, if desired.
Cut and wrap the individual cakes. Enjoy!