Here’s a story that’s proof even dietitians mess up when it comes to healthy eating. The number one rule of grocery shopping is to never go shopping when you’re hungry because you’re more likely to buy high sugar, high fat foods and things you don’t need. I know this and teach this to my clients constantly, and yet I found myself succumbing to temptation on a recent trip to Costco. I’d just run a half marathon and although I’d eaten some snacks after finishing, I was hungry for a full meal. We needed to get a few things at Costco, so we decided to brave the weekend crowds and make a stop. Next thing I knew, I ended up with pumpkin spice yogurt covered pretzels. You get a measly 9 pretzels for a whopping 190 calories and 18 grams of sugar (4.5 teaspoons of sugar)!! Ugh! I was allured by the fact that they were pumpkin spice – I totally fall into the “pumpkin everything” crowd. Have I mentioned how much I adore the fall season??
Anyway, I was so mad that I’d bought the stupid pretzels (which I would inevitably overeat) that I decided to develop a pumpkin snack full of healthy ingredients and my favorite fall flavors. These pumpkin pie protein bites are no-bake, easy to make, and nutritionally well-balanced. I wish I’d had them on hand to help optimize my recovery from the half marathon. Additionally, these bites would be excellent before and during exercise (depending on your training goals) as well as a balanced snack for any time of day.
Here’s a little sport nutrition lesson (did you know I’m a sport dietitian??) about what’s good about these bites.
Pumpkin, maple syrup, molasses, oats, cereal: Provide carbohydrates to replenish glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in muscle and antioxidants to reduce muscle pain and inflammation.
Whey protein: Provides high quality protein for building and repairing muscle tissue. Whey protein is quickly absorbed and readily available for muscle protein building
Pecans and cashew butter: Provide healthy fats and protein. Pecans and cashews are rich in antioxidants and provide muscle cramp-relieving magnesium and potassium.
Spices: Provide powerful antioxidants to reduce inflammation and reinforce the immune system.
Another important part of sport nutrition is hydration so be sure to pair these bites with a cup of tea, water, or milk. Below I’ve listed recommended ways to enjoy these pumpkin-y treats.
- Pre-exercise: Eat 1-2 bites a couple hours before exercise as a source of energy to fuel your training.
- During exercise (lasting longer than about 60-90 minutes): These bites may be well tolerated during certain sports like ultra running or cycling where the digestive tract can tolerate more whole food nutrition. Consume with water or electrolyte drink.
- Post-exercise: Have 1-2 bites to replenish energy and repair muscles after exercise. Pair with a cup of milk for additional carbohydrates, protein, and fluids.
- Sensible snack: Savor 1-2 bites with a cup of coffee or tea.
I particularly love these bites rolled in shredded coconut. Yum!!
- 1 cup cashew butter
- ½ cup plain pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
- ½ cup pecans
- 6 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsulphured blackstrap molasses
- 3 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
- 1½ cups rolled oats
- 1¼ cups puffed brown rice cereal
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon*
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg*
- ¼ teaspoon cloves*
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger*
- (Alternately you could use 1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice)
- Optional toppings/mix-ins:
- - Dried unsweetened coconut
- - Dark chocolate chips
- - Graham cracker crumbs
- Combine cashew butter, maple syrup, and molasses in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and then mix well. Stir in pumpkin puree and protein powder.
- In a large bowl combine oats, brown rice cereal, spices, and pecans.
- Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients and stir until well mixed. Mixture will be sticky.
- Place dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. This will help with rolling into balls.
- Form into balls the size of about 2 tablespoons.
- Optional: Roll balls in shredded coconut or graham cracker crumbs. Mix chocolate chips into dough before rolling into balls.
I used cashew butter for its mild flavor, however any nut butter can be used. I found cashew butter for a good price at Trader Joe's.
Use gluten free oats if you have a sensitivity to gluten. However, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease it may be better to omit the oats entirely. You can substitute with more rice cereal or use an alternate gluten free grain/cereal.
Please note the nutrition information will be slightly different if you add the optional toppings/mix-ins.