Coach Mel: The Athlete Gourmet

In my last article I highlighted the importance of addressing your diet early in the training cycle.  The reason for this is diet plays such an important role in getting the maximum benefit from your training.  In setting goals, we always want to be sure that what we are doing is going to get us what we want.  If we feel that our efforts are bringing us no closer to our desired outcome, motivation is very likely to decrease.  For many, their motivation to train for triathlon is to feel good and look good as a result.  Diet is the key to any weight related goals.  However, I believe addressing your diet will be the key to lifelong health and wellness, so this isn’t just about getting to race weight.  To that end, training yourself to eat better is as important as training yourself to ride or run faster.  It is a key component in your overall race program and it is one thing that will benefit you well after your competitive career is complete. 

Just as increasing volume or intensity should be gradual, so too should dietary changes be made over time.  Better to find healthful habits that will have longevity than short term strict regimes.  The following are some foods that I believe should be included in your training diet.  I have outlined the benefits of including these in your diet as well as some ideas of how to enjoy them.  So often we are asked to try new things that we really have no experience preparing.  Millet, for example, is a fabulous grain for athletes and yet we would associate it more with the birdfeed outside than a breakfast staple (this grain was not included today – baby steps!).  Below is a guide to six foods that you may or may not be familiar with and some ideas on how to start to enjoy them on a more regular basis.  To your good health!



Walnuts are the fattiest of all nuts, containing omega-3 fatty acids, which are very heart healthy oils.  This is the same healthy oil that you would find in salmon.  These fats lower bad cholesterol and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Because nuts are very dense in calories, it is a good idea to watch your intake because a couple of handfuls will add up quickly.  However, including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is crucial to cell repair. A good way to enjoy walnuts is raw in a salad to add texture or add them to baking. 




Oats contain the highest fat content of all grains which is why many people find they comprise a satisfying and long lasting breakfast.  The fiber in oats is comprised of gums and mucilage, which helps to regulate glucose levels and aids in lowering cholesterol levels.  Oats also maintain their food value better after processing than most grains.  Packed with calcium, iodine, phosphorus, iron, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and the whole B-complex (crucial for metabolism), I choose Nature’s Path organic oat packets most mornings for breakfast.  This is one of the healthiest and most convenient foods we can choose.




Blueberries contain vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and carotenoids.  Most of the nutrients are found in the thick skin of the berry.  Most foods with very dark colors contain healthy nutrients which fight against cancer and heart disease.  Fresh blueberries would be best but in the off season, adding frozen berries to your oats in the morning would help pack a lot of nutrition into the start of your day.




Kale is thought to be one of the best cancer fighting vegetables on the planet.  Kale is rich in carotenoids which are thought to be powerful anti cancer agents.  Kale also is rich in vitamin A, C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur, sodium, potassium phosphorus and chlorophyll.  Kind of like a multivitamin vegetable!  For women, kale is very high in usable calcium, so if you like to drink coffee but don’t like to drink milk, this is your vegetable to fight osteoporosis.


Although heat destroys some of the carotenoids, the resulting balance in the vegetable is more available to the body and the chlorophyll will be unaffected.  Kale needs to be washed similar to lettuce.   You can chop the kale and add to pasta sauce just in the last 7 minutes of cooking, or similarly, add to Thai or Indian curry dishes when you are near to completion of the cooking process.  Kale is a coarse leaf, like other greens, but is better while still somewhat firm.  I try to add kale to any curry, tomato sauce or soup that I make to multiply the nutrition each time. 




Not a new vegetable to most of us but often is overlooked as a superfood for athletic performance and health.  Broccoli  Broccoli contains an abundance of chlorophyll and other cancer antidotes.  Green and dark orange vegetables (like pumpkin) contain numerous anti-cancer compounds as well as essential nutrients to cell repair, which is of interest to those of us intent at destroying cells during training. contains a chemical called sulforaphane which is a natural chemical for stopping the growth of tumors.


Broccoli should always be purchased while green, at its freshest.  I enjoy broccoli raw but light steaming also brings out the flavor. 




Pronounce kee-no-ah, quinoa is considered the best grain for building strength and endurance as it is a high source of protein, B vitamins, iron, fiber, calcium and phosphorus.  Quinoa was once the staple food of the Incas and contains all essential amino acids, which is important for vegetarians.  Not only is quinoa a very healthy food, it is quite tasty with a light nutty flavor that can be used to replace rice in savory dishes or can be eaten as a breakfast cereal with sweeteners.  The following recipe could be a good introduction to quinoa and a new way to enjoy broccoli.


Broccoli and Quinoa Salad


Steam a head (5-6 cups) of broccoli until it turns bright green then run it under cold water.  Reserve 2 cups of your broccoli water to add to 1 cup of quinoa, 1 tsp coarse sea salt, ½ tsp each of cumin, coriander and curry powder, and 1 tbsp of vegetable bouillon base.   Heat to boiling, turn down the stove to simmer until the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Add 2 tbsp of flax oil, ½ cup shredded carrot, ½ cup bean sprouts, 1 cup snow peas, and sesame seeds.  Toss with broccoli and refrigerate.  You can adjust oil and spices to taste.  You now have a tasty nutrient and protein packed salad for lunches.

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