Today is my first day back in the office, and (like many of you, I’m sure) I would rather be in bed right now than sitting at my desk with a mountain of work to do! Yuck. Thankfully, I am finally going on holiday later this month – only 18 more days and I will be sunbathing on a beach in Zanzibar for a week. This California girl desperately needs a break from winter, and also just a vacation, period!

I did many long weekends throughout the UK and Europe in 2010, but the only proper holiday I took (excluding the US) was my post-Paris marathon vacation in Spain, which turned out to be a marathon in itself! You all remember the fun surrounding the Icelandic volcano last April – that thing erupted just before I needed to fly back to London, and as a result, it took me five days and four trains to get home. Let’s just say it was not the relaxing vacation I had envisioned! So, with another big race coming up and a few more months of winter to go, this beach holiday is well-timed.

While I countdown the days until I start popping Malarone pills, I need to keep myself in good spirits, and one thing that always makes me happy is baking! Nothing beats the smell of something sweet and delicious in the oven – except eating what you bake once it’s finished!

What’s my favorite baking ingredient? Extra ripe bananas.

The banana, from my experience at least, seems to be the most prevalent (and easily digested) foods for runners. It’s one of the only things I can eat shortly before putting on my running shoes, and I always see them in mass quantities before and after races.

Loaded with carbohydrates, it’s no surprise that this fruit is great pre-run fuel – tastier than a sports gel, and far cheaper and easier to obtain, that’s for sure! As for post-run, bananas don’t contain much protein (only about 1g in a medium sized fruit), which is crucial to recovery in addition to carbohydrate, but they can certainly tie you over in a pinch!

Not a big banana fan? Sure, bananas are a bit boring on their own when compared to prettier fruits such as berries or more exotic fruits like mangos. But what other fruit is so cheap, readily available, versatile and delicious in hundreds of different contexts?

How about sliced with peanut-butter and honey on top of wholegrain toast, with a glass of milk? Or frozen, thrown into a blender along with Greek yogurt, agave syrup, cinnamon, vanilla extract, a splash of milk and a few walnuts? Or sliced on top of plain yogurt with berries, museli and honey? Or sliced and baked, drizzled with cinnamon and honey, and placed on top of wholegrain pancakes or waffles? Or (when extra ripe), mashed and added to oatmeal, cooked with milk, cinnamon and honey (that is my pre-race meal, minus the milk)? Or dried into crunchy chips or chewy slices? Or frozen and dipped in dark chocolate? Or baked into a cake or cookie?

Okay, I’m getting a bit carried away, but as you can see, the possibilities really are endless…Let’s not forget, however, one of my all-time favorites: Extra ripe bananas used to make banana bread or muffins. YUMMY!

I won’t deny that some of the most delicious versions are loaded with white sugar, butter, white flour and other things that make baked goods amazing. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m in training now so I’m craving something more nutritious. I’m looking for something that would not only be a delicious dessert but would also serve as a perfect pre- or post-run snack, leaving me satisfied without feeling like I just wiped away my efforts.

Is that too much to ask for from a muffin?

Nope – check out my Healthy Banana Walnut Muffin (or Bread) Recipe! It’s high in complex carbs, fiber, protein and healthy fats, without the oil, butter, egg yolks and white flour found in other recipes.

How can that taste good?!

Well you can’t compare these to muffins loaded with all kinds of unhealthy goodness (butter does make everything taste great, after all), but you won’t be disappointed and your body will thank you. Somehow these always turn out great and everyone always asks me for the recipe. The key is using VERY ripe bananas, and the walnuts/dark chocolate chips add some indulgence while also boosting nutritional value.  I often use this recipe to make banana bread, but recently I’ve been more into making muffins since they’re such a convenient snack and can be thrown into the freezer.

So without further ado, let’s bake some banana deliciousness!

Claire’s Healthy Banana Walnut Muffins (or Bread)