No Bake Chocolate Pecan Sunflower Butter Squares

Trying to keep healthy when looking for a snack can be difficult. My office recently underwent a huge renovation this spring that led to us all getting smaller cubicles (boo) but also high-quality standing desks (hooray).

Since our desks now take up less room, they had extra space to build a small vending machine area that has some fresh food but also tons of dangerous temptations, like Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I do my best to bring lunch everyday, which cuts back on making unhealthy choices at the cafeteria.

If I pack correctly, I will also have an afternoon snack on hand that stops me from having to lose the battle to these new vending machines. With that said, I’m always on the hunt for great healthy snacks that go beyond just a handful of almonds or being the weird guy at the office eating a hard-boiled egg at 3pm.

This is all a long-winded introduction to this amazing recipe for no-bake chocolate chip, pecan, sunflower seed butter squares.

I found the original recipe for granola bars via Minimalist Baker and adapted it to my tastes and available equipment.

With just 6 simple ingredients, the finished awesomeness yields 9 delicious chewy squares.

As you will see, it is pretty Paleo-friendly. The only item in question is the oats. I used organic, steel-cut oats found in the bulk section at my local co-op. It’s not the biggest of Paleo sins and since I really wanted to try these I decided to let this minor offense slide.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup packed dates, pitted
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 3/4 cup pecans (chopped)
  • 1 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips


INSTRUCTIONS

  • Place dates in a food processor / blender and pulse until small bits remain and they form a ball. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add oats, pecans, and chocolate chips. Stir with a wooden spoon, breaking down the dates so everything starts sticking together.
  • Warm the honey and sunflower seed butter in a small saucepan on low for a few minutes. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir quickly.
  • Transfer to a shallow 8 x 8 pan lined with parchment or plastic wrap and top with another piece of plastic wrap and use your hands to press and form the mixture into a tight square with a uniformly flat top.
  • Place the covered pan into the freezer to set for 15 minutes. Remove and cut into 9 equal-sized squares. Store in an airtight container or bag in the refrigerator to keep fresh, or in the freezer for longer term storage.

These are so good because you have some sweetness from the sunflower seed butter, honey and chocolate chips, you have some texture from the oats, you have some crunch from the pecans, and you have the health benefits from the dates.

Who needs any store bought snacks when you can prepare these from start to finish in less than 30-minutes?

Try out the recipe and let me know what you think in the comments below. Also, feel free to offer any suggestions as to what to name this delicious snack!

Counting to 3,500

At the start of July, I switched the focus of my training from spending the majority of my time doing CrossFit to weight lifting. It’s part of my larger plan to get stronger by lifting heavy and eating more.

Thanks to the nature of it being summer, a big change at work and lots of stuff going on with family and friends, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

A month later, my focus has not changed but I’ve hit the reset button now that things outside the gym, especially regarding my job, have been sorted out. Last week, I hit all four days of lifting as planned, plus made it to yoga and a CrossFit class.

This week, I was welcomed into a barbell club, which I will discuss more at length later, and we’ve been testing 1 rep maxes in anticipation of the structured programming that we will start on Monday.

With the lifting planned and penciled in on my calendar for the next 8 weeks, I’ve now been trying to figure out my eating.

My goal is to gain 10 pounds by October and a total of 15 pounds by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious plan but the timing is right and it’s what I need, combined with the weight lifting, to increase my overall strength to make me more competitive.

The key is to increase the total number of calories I consume everyday. The target number is 3,500.

Most of my friends from the gym think this problem is an embarrassment of riches. They seem envious of this challenge and want me to just chow down day and night on burgers, fries, cake and cookies. However, I’d like to take a healthier approach to this weight gain. Ideally, I would like to bulk up following the precepts of Paleo.

The exceptions to the Paleo rules that I am willing to more readily make are to continue taking whey protein isolate and allowing myself some dairy (i.e. chocolate milk). This might be too idealistic and too difficult to maintain; and I will admit that this first week I broke a lot of my own rules to get to the needed 3,500 calories.

Yet, I am determined to try and do this right by eating lots of whole foods rather than processed junk and empty calories.

One of the tools to help in this process that I’ve been utilizing, thanks to a recommendation by my friend Mike, is MyFitnessPal.

It tracks calories and, while used by many to aid in their weight loss goals, it can be used for gains. It’s free and is accessible online and as a SmartPhone app The main feature is a food diary.

There is a huge database of raw ingredients and brand name foods and restaurants to pick from (or you can manually enter your own) to fill out your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

It shows you the total number of calories, carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugar in each item.

I started tracking my calories last Friday and the daily goal in the app is only set to 3,360. Ideally, I’d like to consistently hit my 3,500 but it is tough.

I am not used to eating this much and now struggle with the constant feeling of being too full and that I might throw up. I am trying to combat this by spreading out my food intake. Here’s a look at how I did on my first week:

As you can see, I’ve been falling short of my 3,500 everyday but overall I am eating a lot more than I usually do so far in this first week .

In addition, I purchased a scale to do a weekly weigh-in. I’ve been told that there can be some variation from scale to scale in terms of a person’s definitive weight and that the best scales are the old-school ones used at the doctor’s office.

Knowing that, I am going to use this scale as my only source of measurement. As of this morning, I weigh 177.0 pounds after my first 7 days of counting calories.

While some may argue that the true measurement of strength will be on the bar, I believe tracking my weight will help me get a better sense in the short term if I need to adjust my calorie intake.

So what am I eating? Well it has varied a bit due to eating out quite a few times as I was on a two-day business trip and some social engagements.

I’ve gotten lots of great recommendations from my friends once they moved past suggesting cake. Here is a list of my favorite calorie-heavy Paleo foods that I am using in my bulking efforts to-date:

  • Almonds (1/4 cup) – 170 calories
  • Banana – 110 calories
  • Bacon – 40 calories per slice
  • Egg – 78 calories
  • Strip Steak (12-oz) – 468 calories
  • Sweet potato – 112 calories
  • Sunflower Seed Butter (2 tbsp) – 200 calories

So what do you think I should be stocking my refrigerator and pantry with? What healthy, nutrient dense foods do you recommend I pack in my lunch box everyday?

Leave your best advice in the comments section below. In the meantime, back to counting.

Famous Bulking Plans

My friends and coaches have offered some great (and some not so great) advice over the last two weeks as I focus on bulking up and gaining 10 pounds by October.

From drinking coconut milk to eating lots of bananas and avocados to loading up on the McDonald’s dollar menu, all have been appreciated for their enthusiasm and support, though not always for their actual prescription.

In finding my way here, I thought it might be useful to also look at some more famous approaches to bulking.

THE SUMO WRESTLER DIET

Sumo is an ancient Japanese sport that dates back to the 16th century. The premise is simple – a rikshi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō) or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet.

The men who participate are famously known for their enormous builds and massive spirit.

On FUEL, a new web series by Munchies dedicated to the high performance diets of athletes, they follow Byamba Ulambyar, current world sumo champion, through his average day of consuming 10,000 calories.

In this amazing video profile, Byamba explains that to best compete in sumo, you need to eat healthy and take a lot of protein. His go-to dish is chankonabe, a stew made up of protein sources, such as beef and fish, and vegetables, including daikon and bok choy.

It is served with rice and beer. There is no one definitive way to make it, but this recipe will give you a sense for what goes in the pot.

And while we might be inclined to enjoy a large bowl, Byamba will eat multiple servings to reach his daily caloric goal.

The soup is rich in nutrients and vitamins and so Byamamba explains that, “You want to absorb everything from the bowl.” The other key is napping after meals.

To be a sumo champion, it all comes down to soup and sleep.

THE WOLVERINE DIET

The fan favorite of the X-Men has always been Wolverine and it is much in part thanks to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal on screen over the last decade, especially his amazing physical transformation in the more recent films.

In one year, Jackman went from being thing and frail for Les Miserables to superhero form in The Wolverine. His trainer, David Kingsbury, recalled, “That year, Hugh’s weight fluctuated by about (44 pounds).

By the time shooting for The Wolverine began, he’d shed (15 pounds) and gotten his body fat down to six per cent.”

So how did he do it? In an article for Metronews, Kingsbury described the grueling process. In terms of training, he was in the gym at least 11 hours a week.

Jackman would do one hour of weights followed by one hour of cardio every weekday. On Saturdays, he’d do a one-hour interval session using a gym sled and on Sundays, he’d rest.

As for his bulking, he had to eat around 5,000 calories a day. His diet included lots of protein (eggs, fish, chicken), vegetables (spinach, broccoli), carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes) and fats (avocado, nuts, peanut butter, olives) but excluded all sugar, including fruit and alcohol. Kingsbury explains, “He ate protein every day, but to maximize results, we’d cycle his carbohydrates.

On weight training days, his first three meals would be carb heavy and the last three would include lots of healthy fats.

On non-weight training days (Saturday and Sunday) he would skip the carbs and just have healthy fats.”

GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day)

The premise is simple – drink 1 US gallon of whole milk everyday for approximately one to two months.

This approach has been used by many skinny guys, especially in their teenage years, to easily hit their daily caloric intake goals by drinking their calories, rather than eating them.

One gallon contains 2400kcal, 200g carbs, 120g fat and 120g protein – that’s enough when combined with even a normal diet to push someone’s total calories through the roof.

Stronglifts explains that the plan is simple, easy, cheap, natural and offers permanent gains, in terms of both weight and strength if combined with a lifting program.

It can be fast and efficient but definitely involves a lot more grocery store runs and I’m pretty sure you will never want to see a glass of milk again in your life by the time you finish.

THE GASTON

Thought by many to be the villain of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but for any hard gainer Gaston is a true hero. He’s been bulking since he was a kid so that he can be an intimidating specimen.

The fact is no one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston’s. There’s no one as burly and brawny and he’s got biceps to spare.

Some question if he is on any illegal performance-enhancing drugs due to the fact that he bites people in wrestling matches and every inch of him is covered in hair.

Regardless, his bulking plan is incredibly simple as he explains in rhymed verse:

  • When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs
  • Ev’ry morning to help me get large
  • And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
  • So I’m roughly the size of a barge!

Gaston’s approach may be a tad extreme as surely 60 eggs per day is going to cause one to have very unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Plus, that many fresh eggs ain’t cheap. Yet he might be onto something. Gaston might not get the girl in the end, but he’s full on “beast mode”.

THE MAC APPROACH

As the resident badass and karate expert “with “cat-like reflexes” on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mac is always eager, usually with the help of sleeveless shirts, to show off his physique.

In the seventh season of the show, the crew decides to find replacements (their “avatars”) for themselves to work at the bar.

They want the replacements to mimic themselves and Mac believes a massive bodybuilder who interviews for the position is his equal in looks, especially when he leaves the gym and “has a full pump”.

But he admits Dee, who says they look nothing alike, is right and decides that if he is going to look like that “gorgeous muscle monster” he has “to put on some serious bulk”.

Mac puts on about 50 pounds in an attempt to be the same size as the bodybuilder. However, he does so without going to the gym.

He’s been stuffing his face with donuts and candy and the like; and, in all his grandeur of delusion, Mac believes he is cultivating mass. Much like how the statue of David started as a slab of marble, so must Mac gain size first.

Like all his hairbrained plans, Mac’s approach is flawed and ultimately fails. The Mac approach does not involve anything besides overeating and he is informed by his doctor that he is not healthy at all and has Type 2 adult onset diabetes.

What the Bulk!?!

For the last two months, I feel like all I’ve been talking and thinking about is food. It seems like I am constantly at the grocery store or with my head in the freezer to see what I am going to cook up next.

You might have seen my many posts on Facebook or Instagram about me stuffing my face with pancakes, waffles and Sweet Martha’s cookies.

This summer, especially after my performance at the Dakota Games, my goal was to get bigger and stronger so that I can be more competitive. In order to do so, it was clear I had to eat more.

Since the start of July, I have cut out the cardio, focused on lifting 3-4 times per week and increased my overall food intake.

Everyone seemed to take delight in my new eating habits, living vicariously through my excuse for being gluttonous.

I attempted at first to eat clean, but that quickly devolved to enjoying chocolate milk and macaroni and cheese.

I read and researched about what others had done to successfully pack on the pounds and I even wrote about some famous bulking plans here on Man Meets Goat.

There wasn’t a clear way to go about it besides just eat more and more.

The results are clear as I have definitely put on weight and people have noticed. This is also probably very much thanks to all the dedicated lifting. Here’s the numbers to date:

  • August 1st: 174 pounds
  • September 22nd: 180.2 pounds

I started 2014 (not purposefully) at an all-time low since high school of 160 pounds due to a ton of CrossFit training as I got ready for the Freeze Fest Team Challenge and not enough eating.

With weight loss and gain it’s hard to deny the truth of calories in, calories out. So cut to almost 10 months later and now being 20 pounds heavier has definitely been a welcomed change.

However, despite what everyone thinks, it has not been all fun and games. You don’t get to just eat ice cream sandwiches in mass and feel like a million bucks.

The introduction of dairy, grains and sugar on a daily basis into my diet made me feel sluggish and uncomfortable in my own skin.

My face felt full and my sides seemed to widen quickly. Love handles are anything but lovely. Being swole is great until you just look swollen.

I definitely made gains in terms of my lifting. I celebrated new PRs in the back squat and deadlift just last weekend at my first powerlifting meet.

Yet, my weekly CrossFit class has been pure punishment. This past weekend, a WOD of pull-ups, pushups and dumbbell Deadlifts should have been right up my alley.

I was totally excited at the start of the clock, but three rounds in I was already starting to breathe hard and slow down. My endurance feels shot and asking me to run more than 400 meters is just cruel.

I know that if I want to keep putting on muscle, I need to keep eating to properly fuel my body. I also know that if I want to get bigger, I have to put vanity aside and deal with the fact that I might get a bit more fleshy.

Yet, I also know that I didn’t feel healthy eating so much crap just to hit my daily calorie goals. And I also know that conditioning is a necessary part of the training equation.

Is there a happy medium? Can I get bigger and stronger, but eat better and cleaner? How can I achieve lean gains rather than just bulk? (This is turning into the end of a Doogie Howser episode.)

My personal training sessions wrapped up last week. My barbell club is coming to a close. Winter is coming. I need to figure out what’s next.

There are more competitions on the horizon, more goals I would like to achieve; but, more importantly, I need to just feel better about what I am eating and what I am doing to maintain my overall health and wellness.

Muscle Man Pancakes

This past weekend I was flipping through the stack of magazines in my apartment to see if anything catches my eye before I tossed them into the recycling bin.

In the September 2014 issue of Men’s Fitness, I found an awesome simple recipe for flourless Paleo pancakes that are packed with protein and perfect for when you have a little extra time on the weekends to cook breakfast.

There are just three ingredients: 4 whole eggs, 2 bananas and 2 tablespoons of almond butter (I substituted in sunflower seed butter). Just throw everything into a blender on low to make the batter.

Then cook them normally over medium heat in a skillet as you would any regular pancake. One suggestion is to use coconut oil (I like Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray) instead of butter to grease the pan. The batter yielded 6 large pancakes, all of which you should eat.

Here’s the nutritional info for my variation:

IngredientCaloriesCarbsFatProteinSodiumSugar
Eggs (4)280020242803
Banana (2)2203001020
Sunflower Seed Butter (2 tbsp)20071671203
TOTAL70037363240026

The pancakes are really good, especially if you like banana flavor.

They have the same look and feel of regular Bisquick pancakes, yet are half the fat, half the carbs and three times as much protein.