Feed Zone Portables: book review and road test

26 September 2013, 12:17

I don’t tend to buy many “books about running”, but I’m a total sucker for cookbooks, so when my husband alerted me to the fact that there’s a new cookbook out specifically for food to eat while cycling or running, I was intrigued.

Then, after skimming through the introduction on Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I realised I was taking screenshots of pretty much every page, so I broke down and bought it.

Feed Zone Portables

Yes, it’s primarily a cookbook, but the first 50 pages are possibly the best, and most easily understood description of basic sports nutrition principles that I’ve ever read, and completely worth the price of the book alone. It’s written by a chef for the US cycling team and a PhD in exercise physiology, so you get a ton of Actual Science about carb deficits, calorie burn rates at various running & cycling speeds, glycogen storage capacities, etc. There’s a disastrous amount of psuedoscience in pretty much everything I read about exercise in the media and online, so just the fact that they’ve cited the studies makes me sit up and take notice.

They also explain how your GI tract works and how exercise affects it, why coconut water isn’t a great sports drink, why liquid calories are not the same as solid food calories while on the run, why some people get diarrhea when taking gels, and the difference between pre-packaged energy bars and home-made bars.

I respect the last point most of all, because there’s clearly not much scientific research going into it, so these guys just bought up everything they could find in the store, and analysed the carb, protein, fat, calorie, and fiber content, the percentage of the ingredients which sounded like “real food”, and tallied all these up in a spreadsheet (these guys really like spreadsheets!). As it turns out, the main difference between the bars you buy (even the nice ones, like Nakd) and the bars you make is the water content. This makes total sense, as you need water to stay hydrated and to digest the solid food, but shelf-stable foods need to be dry, of course, so they’re actually dehydrating you while you eat them!

So having read through all this, I was pretty fired up to try some of the recipes and test it out on the run.

The recipes are largely broken into: Rice cakes (soft, not crunchy), baked eggs, tiny pies, cakes & cookies, waffles, and little sticky bites. There’s a good mix of sweet and savoury options, loads of vegetarian recipes, and a lot are gluten-free, too. They’re also really mindful of using common ingredients, so I went straight for the tiny apple pies, since I had just been given some cooking apples from my in-laws’ garden, and I had everything else on hand already.

There are four crust options for the Two Bite Pies, and I used the “Traditional Pie Crust”. I do a fair amount of baking, but I always buy pie crusts because it seems like too much work. But I actually made the crusts here, since it used the food processor and was actually pretty easy, too. Each recipe makes 12 crusts (which can be frozen), so you can either fold them like Cornish pasties, or do as I did and stuff them into muffin tins.

Tiny apple pies - composite

The filling was enough for 10 pies, so I threw together some chopped fresh fig, blackberry jam, and goats cheese for the other two crusts. I made these on a Wednesday, and by Saturday I was lucky to still have some left, because these were really freaking tasty. Or, in the book’s terminology, they “passed the sofa test”.

To see if they passed the road test, I enlisted the help of my friend Murdo to help me eat the pies on our 20km run (what a guy!).

Pie carrying methods

The only real problem is that they’re a bit awkward to carry – I tried first to put them into a stretchy belt I have, but they bounced so badly I had to tie them around my Camelbak after the first kilometer. If I’d make the turnover crust, or sticky bites, or cookies (or if I had my jacket pockets), I don’t think it’d have been an issue.

Murdo & his tiny pie

We brought out the pies at about 10km in – Murdo was restrained and ate his in several bites for the next two kilometers, but I wolfed my down in one go.

Melissa & her tiny pie

Both of us loved the taste, neither had any stomach issues, and the crust and filling were moist enough that he didn’t even need any water, either (I just drank my usual few sips). It was our only fuel for the run, though to be fair, I often run that distance without anything at all so I wouldn’t necessarily need it (but a tiny pie midway through really helps boost morale!). So these definitely got two thumbs up! I also had my husband taste-test one after his cycle ride, and he agreed they were pretty freaking tasty little pies.

So the verdict is that, after reading the book, I now understand a hell of a lot more about what my own body needs (and can handle!) during a long run, and I’ve got a ton of tasty and versatile recipes to try out during marathon training season this winter.

There are some free recipes from this book available here if you want to try these for yourself!

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