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While the origins of the pre-made, packaged energy-food market can be disputed, few would argue that the release of the malleable, malt-flavored PowerBar in the ’80s was a launching pad for what has now become a multibillion-dollar business. Sure, its cardboard-like taste was appetite killing and it would turn harder than carbon when temperatures dipped, but athletes suddenly had a convenient source of energy that they could stash in their gym bags or backpacks and turn to in a flash.
In the years since, the market has been flooded with a dizzying array of engineered products that run the gamut from powders to bars designed to provide athletes of all stripes with specialized fuel. As society as a whole abandoned their kitchens in droves in response to increasing demands on time, these products continued to rise in popularity and even transcended the role of workout fuel to become regular snacks and meals. Professional athletes with sizable sponsorship deals have been all too happy to plug one product or another as a means of achieving athletic greatness. And the rise in popularity of sporting events such as marathons, Gran Fondo road races, and mud runs has only served to fuel the packaged-fuel biz. Heck, you can now even subscribe to delivery services where a box of bars, chews, and sticky gels arrives at your front door monthly—exercise fuel in your hands without moving a muscle.
Despite the size and prevalence of this pre-packaged food industry, a powerful movement is now afoot among athletes and adventurers. They are increasingly ignoring the sea of sales pitches and flashy packaging and instead once again turning back to energy food created in their own kitchens to power their active lifestyles. Food blogs, Pinterest, and other social media platforms are being saturated with recipes from pro athletes as well as weekend warriors, all offering up tasty ideas for homemade bars, sports drinks, and copious other sweet and savory performance-fuel options. These athletes are committed to raising the bar, so to speak, on sports nutrition. It’s never been a better time to be a fit foodie.
While the day of the pre-packaged gel and bar hasn’t yet come and gone, and likely won’t ever disappear, there is a broad movement in sports nutrition toward once again embracing real food. More people are becoming aware of the potential benefits of ditching some of the store-bought stuff for made-with-love forms of performance nutrition that keep them naturally fit.
*Courtesy of Matt Kadey, RD, author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure
Matt Kadey, RD is a James Beard Award winner and registered dietitian. In Rocket Fuel, he offers 126 of his creative and delicious recipes for before, during and after activities like hiking, cycling, trail running, camping, backpacking, climbing, fueling up the team at halftime, or just getting around town on a busy day.