Carbohydrates are the body's first go-to energy source for powering activities. While the body will convert any carb-packed food you consume into muscle glycogen to fuel your training and daily activities, you know that a candy bar doesn't pack much nutritional value. But, fueling up for your next workout or big race doesn't have to mean eating the same old pasta dish or a boring toasted bagel with peanut butter.
Spice up your repertoire with the following five super grains. You'll not only reap the nutritional benefits of the extra fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals these amazing grains contain, but you'll also learn how to use these ancient, exotic carbs to create new, yet familiar recipes.
Super Grain No. 1: Black Rice
Black rice, also known as forbidden rice because in ancient China only the emperor was permitted to eat it, adds striking drama to any dish. It offers a wealth of nutrition, including fiber, vitamin E and more anthocyanin antioxidants than blueberries, according to research conducted at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. A team of researchers at Cornell University found that antioxidant levels in black rice were six times higher than those found in brown and white rice.
Coconut Macadamia Black Rice Recipe
2 cups uncooked black rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 small shallot, diced
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts
3 tablespoons toasted coconut
Combine water, coconut milk, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat; stir until sugar dissolves. Stir in rice. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer on low until all liquid is dissolved and rice is tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, heat coconut oil. Add diced shallots and saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until translucent.
Fluff rice with a fork, and stir in shallots, macadamia nuts and toasted coconut.
Super Grain No. 2: Farro
Farro, the Italian name for emmer wheat, has a pleasantly chewy texture and nutty flavor, making it ideal as a stand-in for oats in granola bars, white Arborio rice in risotto, slow-cooking oats in oatmeal, and as the starch in room-temperature pasta salads. A one-cup serving contains 8 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein as well as vitamins E and B.
Start with a 3-to-1 ratio of liquid to grain when cooking farro, but keep in mind that semi-pearled and whole farro may require a little more cooking liquid than pearled farro. Similarly, cook times can vary from 25 minutes for pearled farro to 40 minutes for semi-pearled.
Farro Almond Blueberry Granola Bar RecipeIngredients
1 1/2 cups cooked farro
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons canola oil or coconut oil
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup dried blueberries
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Spray an 8x12-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Toss the oatmeal and almonds together on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, tossing every once in a while, until lightly browned. Transfer oats and almonds to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the farro, flaxseed and wheat germ.
Place the oil, honey, maple syrup, almond extract, cinnamon and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for one minute, then remove from heat. Pour mixture over oats, almonds, farro, flaxseed and wheat germ, and stir to combine. Stir in the dried blueberries.
Pour the mixture into the baking pan, and lightly press the mixture into the pan with a baking spatula. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until light brown. Cool in the pan for at least two hours before cutting into bars.
Super Grain No. 3: Amaranth
A seed native to Central America, amaranth has a toasty, nutty flavor and is sold as seeds, flour or puffed cereal. One cup of gluten-free amaranth contains a whopping 13 grams of fiber, 980 grams of potassium, an important electrolyte that regulates heartbeat and muscle function, as well as 30 percent of the USDA recommended daily amount of calcium, 81 percent of the recommended amount for iron and 55 percent of the recommended daily amount for vitamin B6. Unlike most grains, amaranth contains lysine, an amino acid similar to the protein found in milk.
Amaranth Porridge With Spiced Apples and Pears Recipe
1/2 cup amaranth
1 cup water
1/4 cup dairy, almond, soy, hemp or rice milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey, optional
2 teaspoons chia seeds, optional
1 tablespoon chopped almonds, cashews or walnuts, optional
Spiced Apples and Pears Ingredients
1 bosc pear, chopped
1 gala or granny smith apple, chopped
1 cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 slices fresh ginger
Zest and juice of half an orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium-sized pot, bring amaranth, water, spices and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until most of the water has absorbed. Remove from heat, pour milk on top and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat, bring all of the spiced apple and pear ingredients to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until fruit is soft.
Stir porridge and spoon into serving bowl. Top porridge with spiced fruit and optional syrup or honey, chia seeds and nuts.
Super Grain No. 4: Teff
This tiny, high-protein whole grain, a staple in Ethiopian cooking, is an ancient North African grass. The major ingredient in injera, the spongy, sour, crepe-like bread that is a staple in the Ethiopian diet, teff is gluten-free and an excellent source of vitamin C. Teff takes the crown for the most calcium of all grains; it offers 123 milligrams of calcium in a one-cup serving, which is the equivalent to a half-cup of cooked spinach.
Teff Chocolate Chip Pancakes Recipe
3/4 cup low-fat dairy, almond, soy, hemp or rice milk
2 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
1 cup teff flour*
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
*You can grind up teff grain in a spice mill if you can't find the flour.
In a large bowl, beat egg until fluffy. Add milk, oil or butter, agave and the dry ingredients, and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
Heat a griddle pan or large frying pan with a little bit of butter or oil and ladle batter in 1/4-cup servings onto pan, leaving enough space between each pancake so you can easily flip them. When bubbles start to form on the surface of each pancake, flip pancake over gently with a spatula, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the other side.
Super Grain No. 5: Millet
Another gluten-free grain, millet is loaded with antioxidants and high in magnesium, a mineral that maintains muscle and nerve function. There are four types of millet: pearl, foxtail, proso and finger. In India, finger millet is most commonly used to make roti, a flatbread staple. In Africa, millet is typically eaten as a porridge.
Millet can be ground into flour and, because of its mild taste, can be combined easily with other flours in baking applications; it can be toasted and boiled for use in pilafs, casseroles, soups and stews; whisked with plenty of water, broth or milk to create a creamy substitute for oatmeal or polenta; and can be popped for a snack (like popcorn) or puffed for cereal.
Marshmallow Millet Treats Recipe
1/4 cup butter, canola oil or coconut oil*
4 cups sugar-free marshmallows (see recipe below)
5 cups puffed millet cereal
*Can substitute peanut, almond or cashew butter for the oil/butter in this recipe to increase the protein and heart-healthy fat content.
Heat oil or melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Add cereal, and stir until well coated.
Spray a 13x9-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Cover bottom and sides with parchment or wax paper. Dump mixture into pan and spread out mixture evenly with a spatula. Allow mixture to cool in pan. When completely cool, cut into 2x2-inch squares.
Sugar-Free Marshmallows Recipe
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons gelatin
1/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix 1/2 cup water and gelatin together in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 1 cup of water to boiling, then remove from heat.
With a hand mixer or standing mixer, begin mixing the water and gelatin mixture on low speed. Slowly stream in all of the hot water. Mix in maple syrup or agave and vanilla, then turn mixer speed to medium-high. Beat for 1 to 2 minutes, then increase speed to high; continue for 10 to 12 minutes or until mixture is thickened.
Spray a bread loaf pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Pour marshmallow mixture into loaf pan, spreading mixture out with a spatula until even. Let sit at room temperature for 4 to 5 hours to set.
When set, grip the parchment paper and lift marshmallows out of pan. Cut into small wedges, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Note: You can find black rice in Asian markets, specialty grocery stores and on Amazon.com. Buy farro, amaranth, teff and millet at health-food stores, in the specialty health foods aisles in some large grocery stores, and online from Bob's Red Mill.
Sabrina Grotewold is the running editor for active.com. She runs nearly every day, and enjoys cooking and developing recipes, traveling, and hiking. This article originally appeared on Active.com — your source for information, training plans, expert advice and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.