For pro surfer John John Florence, one of the greatest the sport has ever seen, growing up on Oahu’s north shore meant a lifetime of ripping waves—from full days in the water learning to surf starting at age two, to all-day competitions.
Those epic, hours-long sessions in the surf demand what’s called sustained energy—or, as New York-based dietitian Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. succinctly describes it, “Energy that lasts for a long period of time.” And the best sources of that long-haul fuel—which can benefit anyone who’s looking to get in a monster workout, on land or sea—are whole foods. Specifically, complex carbohydrates—carbs that contain fiber and protein—and healthy fats, which take longer to digest and thus remain in your system throughout longer workouts.
Before hitting the waves, Florence often grabs his favorite Clif Bar, which contains a multitude of complex carb-rich, whole-food ingredients, like peanut butter and honey, the latter of which Florence actually now harvests in his yard.
Read on to find out a few of Rizzo’s recommended foods that deliver the flavor, fuel, and sustained energy for a day on the move, along with Florence’s official go-to pick.
Because they take longer to digest, rolled oats provide that coveted sustained energy. A hearty bowl of oatmeal can work wonders for your heart, energy levels, and digestive system, and beta-glucan, the soluble fiber found in oats, has also been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Steel-cut, old-fashioned, and quick-cooking are all perfectly good options. The differences are in how the oats are cut; the nutritional benefits are relatively the same, Rizzo says.
Yes, honey is a sugar, and while you don’t want to eat a diet super high in processed sugars, the carbohydrates found in sweets are key in fueling your workouts.
Honey, which is less processed than white sugar, is made up of fructose and glucose. That means it’s absorbed into your system quickly, which kick-starts your energy levels, Rizzo says.
“Honey is a quick-acting fuel,” she says. “If you have honey 30 minutes before your workout, you’ll get the quick energy from that and the longer energy from something like oats.”
It’s hard to find a plant-based food that packs more nutritional bang for your buck than soybeans. One cup of roasted soybeans contains a whopping 11 grams of complete protein (which means it contains all nine essential amino acids).
“For vegetarians, vegans, and even people who eat meat, soybeans are a good source of lean protein,” Rizzo says.
Having some of this plant-based protein before a workout will give you sustained energy. Additionally, research has found that combining carbs and protein after a workout helps restock your glycogen stores. which helps muscles recover.
“If you have some protein in your system going into a workout, it may help with this process,” Rizzo suggests, though she notes it will depend on the length of the workout and how long before you ate.
“If it’s a two-hour workout and you ate three hours beforehand, it might not help,” she says. Instead, reach for the soybeans (or other protein source) about an hour before a 45- to 60-minute workout.
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Fat is an excellent source of sustained energy. Rizzo cautions that consuming too much fat before a workout like running could cause some GI distress due to how long it takes to digest. But for lower-impact activities like surfing, hiking, swimming, cycling, or climbing, peanut butter is a great food to include in your diet. Just make sure the ingredient list is little more than peanuts and salt—avoid the highly processed stuff.
We know that diets high in processed sugars aren’t great for your health. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who consumed “sugar-laden diets” (where 10-25 percent or more of their caloric intake came from added sugar) had a significant increase in risk for cardiovascular disease death.
But! Sugar has a place in an active person’s diet. It is, after all, a simple carbohydrate that provides immediate energy.
“Sugar is a quick-acting fuel,” Rizzo says. “But we don’t need straight-up sugar for every workout,” particularly quick ones lasting fewer than30 minutes.
For longer sessions, though, you can get a quick jolt from sugar in one of its many forms, including honey, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, agave, molasses, glucose, and fructose, to name just a few.
Sunflower, pumpkin, chia—these seeds are “small but mighty,” packed with nutrients, including healthy fat, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and in some cases, protein. Similar to peanuts, Rizzo says, seeds are able to deliver long-lasting energy thanks to their fat content.
Clif Bar Peanut Butter & Honey with Sea Salt
You wanna combine everything listed above? Do as Florence does, and turn to
his favorite CLIF BAR flavor, a nutritious and power-packed blend of wholesome, organic ingredients. It delivers an immediate jolt from the quick-acting sugar of the honey, and then helps you through your workout with sustained energy from the fat, fiber, and complex carbs in the peanut butter.
Okay, so technically it doesn’t contain every ingredient above. But if you pair it with another one of Florence’s favorites, the Nuts & Seeds flavor (made with organic almonds, organic pumpkin and sunflower seeds), you’ll truly have it all.
“Having a quickly accessible Clif Bar has become a must for me while traveling around the world,” Florence says. “It’s great to have fast energy between meals.”
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