By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

Before we get to the good eats, I thought I would give you an update on the 7 Day Tart Cherry Challenge. In my last post, in addition to some recipes, I talked about the benefits of tart cherries and was planning on testing them out during my training for the Cherry Fest Half Marathon by doing the 7 Day Tart Cherry Challenge.

Cherries_IG_7DayChallenge_WebsiteImage_v05So here’s what I did and what I discovered: I drank 2 tablespoons daily of tart cherry concentrate (diluted with water in the morning and with water and magnesium powder in the evening before bed). I also took some dried cherries and a few of my “Cherry Bomb Energy Bites” as fuel with me on my training runs and bike rides. During the week, I went on three runs (one being a tough speed session), a 15-mile and 33-mile bike ride, and two open water swims (20-30 minutes each). And then this past Saturday I ran the Cherry Fest half marathon. I was amazed that during the week, the day after each tough workout, I felt great. No soreness and as a bonus I slept really well each night (even the night before the half marathon … I actually got up 1 minute before my alarm went off at 4:25 a.m.!) I ran a VERY speedy (for me) half marathon and the day after felt great. In fact, I even went out for a 20- mile bike ride and a 20-minute open water swim (go active recovery and tri training!) So, my unscientific results? Yay, cherries! I can’t scientifically prove that the cherries were magic, but I believe they contributed to my performance and very little muscle soreness. I plan to keep using the both the cherry juice and the dried cherries. I really like the taste and they are easy enough to work into my daily eating and drinking. Check out my recipes here and why not give the 7 Day Tart Cherry Challenge a try!

And now for some good outdoor eats! July is the time for outdoor eating — BBQ’s, family reunions, picnics … and that means lots of eating and drinking yummy food. Sometimes though, we end up eating things we would rather not (Aunt Bee’s Macaroni Salad or Cousin Betty’s “Famous” Ambrosia Salad) because that’s all that is available. I’ve got some great ideas for healthy and delicious dishes you can make and bring to your next outdoor gathering. (Although you can certainly eat these indoors as well!) And you don’t have to be a runner, either.

Blueberry Watermelon Feta Salad
I have a serious LOVE of watermelon and it is so perfect for keeping us hydrated in the summer, whether you are a runner or not. This salad is so yummy, refreshing and full of great flavors!

3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
3 cups blueberries
4 cups arugula
1/2 C fresh basil, chiffonade (stack the leaves and slice in thin ribbons)

1/8 C extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup or to taste

1/2 C crumbled feta cheese or more to taste
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine first four ingredients. Mix together olive oil, vinegar and maple and taste for sweetness and dress watermelon mixture. Top with feta cheese, nuts, salt and pepper and serve.

Ali's Summer Quinoa Salad.
Ali’s Summer Quinoa Salad.

Summer Quinoa Salad
Quinoa is a wonderful addition to any party. It’s a great source of protein, tastes good warm or cool and is so versatile. You can switch up this recipes depending on what is in season. Switch out the zucchini and tomatoes for asparagus and strawberries in the spring and try butternut squash and apples in the fall.

2-3 small zucchinis (about 1 pound), sliced in half lengthwise and then cut in half moons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup quinoa, cooked

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt and pepper, to taste

A few handfuls of baby spinach
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup cherry tomatoes, slice in half

To cook quinoa: In a saucepan combine the 1/2 cup quinoa with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered until the quinoa absorbs the liquid. About 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside covered for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400˚. Toss zucchini with olive oil. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes until tender and lightly browned. (You can also grill the zucchini if you want. If you do this then just cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, oil cut side and put on the grill for 4-5 minutes per side until cooked!)

Meanwhile, combine dressing ingredients. Mix zucchini with quinoa and add dressing. Before serving mix in spinach, tomatoes and almonds. Can be served room temperature or warm.

Bok Choy Salad
This is based on a salad my mom used to make and everyone always wanted the recipe. I’ve changes a few things, to give it a healthy boost, but it’s guaranteed to still get rave reviews! And a bonus: it is also still good a day or two later.

2 heads of bok choy (chopped into ½” pieces)
3 cups of thin-sliced red cabbage
2 cups carrots, shredded
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 sunflower seeds
1/2 sliced almonds
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup (my preference is maple)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari

Combine bok choy, cabbage, carrots and scallions in a large bowl and toss together to combine. Add ingredients for the dressing to a blender and blend until the consistency is creamy and thickened or use a whisk. Add seeds and almonds. Pour dressing over the salad and toss until everything is well-coated.

Have a fueling question for Ali? Post it below in the comments section or email MRG with your healthy-eating questions at heather [at] michiganrunnergirl [dot] com 

Ali will answer your questions in upcoming columns here on MRG. You can read her post about the Power of Smoothies, here »  She’s also written about superfoods and shares a great recipe for kale salad here »


Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

You can listen to a conversation about running and eating between Ali and Heather on a recent MRG podcast episode here »

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