What’s For Dinner? A Review Of Cookbooks For Athletes

Sunny Blende

If you’ve ever been to my house for dinner, you will soon come to understand that I am a nutritionist and not a chef. My meal planning consists of 1.0 – 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of “consumer” (guest or live-in), somewhere between 250 and 400 grams of carbohydrate (depending on size, what everyone just did or are planning on doing tomorrow), along with some monounsaturated or polyunsaturated healthy fats and maybe a little saturated fat for flavor… all scaled for the dinner meal. Sounds really appetizing, doesn’t it? Fortunately, for my guests as well as for me, there are actually chefs for athletes on the planet and they sometimes write cookbooks! I have sought out and reviewed five that I can recommend that will have your family and friends hoping for an invitation instead of finding some alternative “meeting” that they must attend in order to avoid coming to your house for a meal.

What these cookbooks have in common is an opening chapter or section that the “leftbrained” part of the author writes, explaining some of the concepts, science and nutritional nuances that explain why the foods/recipes/ meals work. Fortunately, most of these authors have paired up with a more “right-brained” dietitian- chef that brings some of these terrific real foods to the table in tasty, healthy combinations that mean increased energy for our endurance sports. And they often give us simplified instructions, great shopping short cuts and timesaving tips which still produce meals that the whole family will enjoy.

racing weightRacing Weight Cookbook – Lean, Light Recipes For Athletes By Matt Fitzgerald & Georgie Fear Velopress Publishing

Matt Fitzgerald begins his preface with “Most cookbooks are written for people who have a pre-existing interest in cooking. The Racing Weight Cookbook does not presume such an interest because it is intended to enable all endurance athletes, regardless of cooking experience, to feed themselves…” hence the division of recipes into three categories; 1) The Athlete Who Doesn’t Cook, 2) The Athlete With Some Cooking Experience and 3) The Athlete Who Loves to Cook. These can run from the simple, Toast with Cottage Cheese & Raspberry Preserves, to the more complex Apricot, Basil & Goat Cheesestuffed Chicken. All the recipes list per-serving calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates, including fiber, and further, have colored icons telling the reader if the recipe is “High-Carbohydrate,” “High-Protein,” “Recovery” or “Vegetarian.” Separate sections on Food Shopping and Cooking Made Simple help with practical tips on how to get started to a healthy fueling diet. The book also follows Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight program that guides runners to achieve their ideal racing weight for peak performance.

The Feed Zone Cookbook – Fast And Flavorful Food For Athletes By Biju Thomas & Allen Lim Velopress Publishing

Allen Lim sums up the philosophy of his cookbook by quoting Nietzsche, “You have it your way. I have it my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” He offers many alternative recipes, but his basic viewpoint comes through in his statement, “Regardless of diet, preference, or theme, what separates a good diet from a great diet are the ingredients one starts with. Begin with fresh, whole foods that come in their own wrapper with as many of their parts intact as possible.” Many of the common ingredients in the recipes are rice, eggs, sugar and salt. Kind of sounds like carbs, protein, quick-energy and electrolytes…just like in sports nutrition products, but closer to the source. The book also has a Science and Practice section that explains the basics of sports nutrition and cooking guidelines. Although the authors began nourishing endurance cyclists, the recipes are all appropriate for any distance athlete. The book is divided into Breakfast, Après (recovery), Dinner and Dessert, with further division of each section (Bowls, Handhelds, Small Plates and Big Plates). There are also a couple of “Portable Food” sections that blossomed into their next book (below).

Feed Zone Portables – A Cookbook Of On-The-Go Food For Athletes By Biju Thomas & Allen Lim Velopress Publishing

This cookbook is actually a book of sports nutrition foods made from scratch, and real food which is intended for consumption pre-, during and post-exercise, meant to replace commercial sport gels, bars and drinks – kind of a “fullcircle” creative journey from natural food, to processed and enhanced sports products engineered for performance, back to real food. Or in Lim’s own words, “My personal preference, professional observation, and plain common sense tell me that managing the intake of food and drink using recipes, real foods, and products that taste good and that intrinsically feel right works a lot better than trying to manage it with engineered nutrition pretending to be smarter than nature.” The introduction includes scientific explanations and calorie/intensity/weight charts that are very helpful. The recipe section provides interesting, tasty alternatives to traditional fueling regimes in the form of “Portables,” foil-wrapped treasures that include a variety of Rice Cakes, Baked Eggs, Two-Bite Pies, Griddle Cakes, Waffles and Cookies.

Peruvian Power Foods – 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, & Anti-Aging Secrets From The Amazon To The Andes By Manuel Villacorta & Jamie Shaw Health Communications, Inc. Publishing

This is not your normal athlete cookbook, unless you enjoy unique recipes with exotic ingredients as your carbo-load meals. But after further delving into this beautifully illustrated book, you will find Manuel Villacorta has introduced us to hardworking functional foods that are powerful health boosters with anti-oxidant, anti-aging, probiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. While these ingredients have been available in Peru forever, they are now available in the United States. Although most of us have heard of – or often eat – avocado, artichoke, purple potatoes, papaya, cilantro, sweet potatoes and the ever-present quinoa, how many of you eat pichuberry, maca, purple corn, yacon or sacha inchi? And have you tried Quinoa Pichuberry Muffins or Maca Waffles or Sacha Inchi Seed and Kiwicha Granola? Before you pass any judgment, just look at the mouth-watering pictures. All recipes have the calorie and macronutrient content as well as symbols that delineate Gluten-free, Power-Star or Vegan. They are simple to make and have only a few (fresh) ingredients. In addition, Villacorta has included an extensive and impressive list of Reference Studies for each Chapter/Food in his book.

thriveThrive Energy Cookbook – 150 Functional, Plant-Based Whole Food Recipes By Brendan Brazier Penguin Canada Books, Inc. Publishing

Brendan Brazier is a Canadian endurance athlete, a former professional Ironman triathlete, advocate of a vegan diet, creator of “Thrive Fitness Program,” and the author of Thrive Diet as well as this cookbook. His approach to clean, plant-based nutrition is based on “purpose-driven” eating with three goals in mind. 1) Going for a “high net-gain” – or eating healthy whole foods that may be lower calorie, but give us higher energy. 2) Choosing alkaline-forming foods that avoid acidic conditions that promote a host of illnesses and fatigue. 3) Acquiring energy through nourishment, not stimulation. In other words, if you are nourished from food, you may not need to seek sugar, caffeine, etc. to stimulate energy. Brazier’s intention, through his recipes, is to drastically reduce the emotional and physical stress that hinders our body’s ability to recover from exercise. There is an introduction to the overall concept, followed by delicious, nutritious, vegan recipes with minimal prep time, including icons that help the reader know if the recipe is a Transition (for those who may not be totally vegan or are eating a more traditional diet at the moment), Raw, Gluten-Free, Protein-Rich or Super Nutrient- Dense recipe. The book has beautiful photography together with clear instructions and a special section on Thrive Sport Recipes for pre-, during and post-exercise foods.



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Sunny Blende

Sunny Blende, M.S. is a Sports Nutritionist who writes and counsels individuals and teams on fueling for enhanced performance and making healthy food choices. Currently she writes the nutrition column for UltraRunning magazine and runs ultras herself. She has presented at the National RRCA Convention, the National Rowing Convention, Nike San Francisco Marathon Expo, and the Runners World San Francisco Marathon and worked as an assistant with the Los Angeles Marathon Association. An avid master competitor herself, she trains and competes in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Sunny received her Bachelor of Science degree from University of Southern California and her Masters in Human Nutrition degree from University of New Haven. (Photo at left, by Luis Escobar).