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Maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes; it’s poised to be the hottest sports food of 2017.
Buddy the Elf was on to something when he dumped maple syrup on everything he ate and declared it a food group. The sweet stuff has been rising steadily to the top of the sports nutrition food chain over the past few years, thanks in no small part to retired pro cyclist Ted King’s creation of UnTapped, a line of maple-syrupy stroopwafels and shots. This year promises to be maple’s breakout year as dozens of nutrition brands are working it into their lineups as a healthy, natural source of carbs for athletes. If you haven’t already, here’s why you should make room for every elf’s favorite food.
“With our continually increasing interest in real foods, it’s not a surprise that we are interested in that even when it comes to our sweeteners,” says Wendy Bazilian, a doctor of public health, exercise physiologist and co-author of the book Eat Clean, Stay Lean. Also helping maple syrup’s case: increasing research on the anti-inflammatory benefits of phytonutrients in plant-based foods. Plus the fact that carbs are still celebrated as essential fuel for endurance sports. “This makes a nice entrée for maple syrup, in a realm of competitive sports and fitness where athletes are increasingly suspicious and careful about engineered sports nutrition products,” says Bazilian.
Maple syrup is a minimally processed, concentrated source of simple carbs that contains magnesium, calcium and potassium, plus other antioxidant-rich plant compounds. It has significantly more zinc than other sugars, which—along with maple’s high manganese content—plays a role in muscle recovery, Bazilian says. Zinc is also important in tissue repair and a healthy immune system. She theorizes that maple’s flavor profile and viscosity (it’s thinner than honey and may mix easier into a product) make it appealing to nutrition brands. It also has a lower glycemic index (how quickly it’s delivered into the bloodstream) than regular sugar.
“Honey has long been in the limelight, and now maple syrup is getting its turn,” Bazilian says. “It’s the latest and greatest sweetener du jour, even though we’ve known about it and loved it on our pancakes forever.”
Our top picks for new maple-filled fuel.
Picky Bars Chai and Catch Me
The company’s ninth flavor—and first to contain maple—launches Feb. 1. In addition to maple extract, the date- and almond butter-based bar contains small morsels of almonds and a host of spices (cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom) to give it a gingerbread cookie-esque flavor and texture. Each 200-calorie bar contains 28 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. $2.75, Pickybars.com
Perfect Bar Maple Almond
Fair warning: Maple syrup isn’t the only source of sweetness in this new bar; it uses a bit of honey, too. But the two main ingredients are almond butter and maple syrup, giving it a creamy texture and toasty maple flavor with zero preservatives, so keep it in the fridge. Each 310-calorie bar contains 13 grams of protein, multiple superfoods (such as kale
and flax seed), and 27 grams of carbs.
Munk Pack Maple Pear Quinoa
Munk Packs are real food, not too sweet, in convenient packaging. The brand’s new maple flavor contains maple syrup, oatmeal, pear, apple, flax and quinoa, giving it a cooked oatmeal-like consistency. It’s rich in carbs (20 grams) and fiber (3 grams), and contains 90 calories per pouch.