‘I’m an Olympian With a Degree in Dietetics, and This Is the Protein-Packed Workout Snack I Make on Repeat’

Photo: Courtesy Colleen Quigley
Although Colleen Quigley's athletic resumé is filled with impressive running credits—competing in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the 2016 Olympics, setting a world record in the 4x1500-meter relay—she's been trying out a new challenge lately: triathlons. She'll compete in her first, a sprint distance race (half mile swim, 12.4 mile bike course, and 5K run) in San Diego on Feb. 11.

A professional runner since 2015, Quigley's more than used to logging major workouts. But it turns out that training in three different sports simultaneously—swimming, biking, and running—comes with one big difference: "I am super hungry all the time!" she says. "I'll eat a meal and then literally an hour and a half later, I'll be going about my life, trying to be productive, and it'll be like, ugh, I'm hungry again."

The morning we spoke, she'd just gotten back from a six-mile run and was about to head to the pool for an hour of hard hundreds, then planned to rest for a couple hours before hopping on her bike. No wonder she's hungry: Crushing workout after workout, day after day takes serious fuel.

Quigley has a degree in dietetics from Florida State University, so she knows the value of filling up on nutritious, whole foods. Although many endurance athletes rely on gels and bars to keep up their energy (and glucose stores) during workouts, Quigley likes to prepare her own workout food whenever she can. "Anytime I can make snacks that don't come pre-packaged, that's a win," she says.

Her go-to? Date balls. "I used to see them around at fancy grocery stores, and they're usually pretty pricey, but so delicious," she says. Knowing that dates are a great source of natural sugars that your body can quickly turn into fuel, she decided to make her own.

As she built her recipe, she folded in almond butter for a tasty dose of protein, fiber, magnesium, and monounsaturated fatty acids, chia seeds for a heart-healthy boost of omega-3s, whey protein powder to jumpstart her muscle recovery, and coffee grounds for a caffeinated performance boost.

Today, she makes a batch about every two to three weeks. They take about 20 minutes to put together (your blender or food processor does most of the work for you, she says). Quigley keeps them in the freezer for easy storage, then will typically grab a couple to let thaw and munch on before a workout, or will stash some in her pouch for a delicious boost on long bike rides.

The best part? You can mix and match ingredients based on what happens to be in your pantry—pistachios, chocolate chips, coconut flakes may not be listed in the recipe but they are all fair game. As Quigley says, "You can't really mess it up."

Colleen Quigley's Date Balls

Yields 20–30 balls, depending on size

20 medjool dates (pits removed)
1/2 cup almond butter (or nut butter of choice)
1/2 cup roasted cashews (or other nut)
1/4 cup chia seeds
3 Tbsp finely ground coffee
1/4 cup protein powder (Quigley uses Vital Performance chocolate protein powder or Vital Proteins chocolate collagen peptides)
1/4 cup rolled oats

1. In a food processor or blender, blend the dates with about a tablespoon of water (or more if needed) until smooth.

2. In a medium bowl, combine date puree with almond butter, chia seeds, coffee, and protein powder.

3. Pulse the cashews in your blender/food processor (no need to clean it out from before) until you get small chunks and some finer dust.

4. Add the cashews to your bowl and mix until smooth and sticky. If your mixture is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. If it's too wet, pulse some more cashews or oats and add to the mix to dry it out.

5. When the consistency is right, scoop the batter into balls—as big or small as you wish. (Quigley uses a heaping tablespoon to measure hers out.) Roll with your hands until smooth and set on a plate.

6. Place in the freezer for a few hours until they are hard and pop off the plate. Then store in a plastic bag in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy!

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