If you tuned in during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, we bet you found yourself awe-struck by the athletes’ resilience and stamina. But have you ever wondered what these athletes eat to help them build this resilience and stamina? Surely they don’t sustain themselves on the diet sodas and cheese sandwiches that we’ve come to rely on amid our no-time-for-lunch agendas? Um, no.
Our quest for inspired food know-how led us directly to chef Allen Tran, a registered dietician and the lead chef for the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding teams while in Sochi. Here’s what he had to say about healthy eating:
Do you have a food philosophy? If so, what is it?
During the Olympics, my philosophy was simple: To provide food that was safe (no food poisoning, as many of the places athletes travel have suspect food safety), healthy (combining my training as a registered dietitian with my master’s degrees in sports nutrition and exercise science), and tasty (high-quality food that packs big flavor as well as a taste of home). As a trained RD, that’s the foundation of my culinary point of view and job description—offering healthy food first, and providing performance food to elite athletes.
Athletes require calorie-dense meals. Assemble for us what a balanced meal would include for an Olympic athlete?
The key is to provide a balance of whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, colorful fruits, veggies, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
Here’s a sample menu:
- Breakfast: oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fresh berries, and hard-boiled eggs
- Post-morning workout snack: Blue Diamond almonds, banana
- Lunch: veggie and beef Texas chili, cornbread made with Greek yogurt, and spinach salad with avocado
- Post-afternoon training snack: chocolate milk, string cheese, and applesauce
- Dinner: grilled jerk chicken, roasted plantains, and vegetable kabobs (bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant)
Do you have a dietary criteria that each dish needs to meet in order to make your menu? If so, what is it?
The key (as above) is to provide a balance of whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, colorful fruits and veggies, and healthy fats. My job is to make tasty dishes that fit into that template. Different athletes have different needs (alpine downhill skier vs. Nordic endurance athlete), so the ratios of those components will differ for each discipline.
Strength activities demand more protein and moderate carbohydrate amounts, while endurance activities need more carbs delivered steadily, to fuel the activity all the way through. It definitely keeps it interesting in the kitchen!
What are your top five pantry essentials for an athlete?
- Peanut or almond butter
- Greek yogurt
- Nuts like Blue Diamond almonds (one of our most helpful sponsors) mixed with dried fruit
- Fresh fruit like bananas
- Water for hydration
How do you cater to dietary restrictions such as athletes who eat gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, etc.?
With athletes in totally different ski/snowboard sports, and athletes hailing from all parts of the U.S., we’re catering to different palates and occasionally different dietary restrictions. In particular, we deal with gluten-free athletes and athletes with food allergies. I have to provide the same level of food to these athletes, but also accommodate their conditions, so I try to build recipes that happen to be gluten-free (e.g. polenta, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice) as much as possible.
Can you suggest one healthy snack that any athlete can make use of?
Two favorites are also two of our U.S. Ski sponsors: Chobani Greek yogurt and Blue Diamond almonds are great snack options. Both are high in protein (needed to build or maintain muscle) and are portable, so they can be eaten within the 30-minute window following a workout when the body is most receptive to re-fueling. The reason they’ve become sponsors is that I’d been using their products consistently and was devoting a large chunk of our budget to them—it was crazy not to have them partner with us!
Can you share with us a favorite recipe that an average home chef can make use of in his or her eating plan?
Sure! Here’s a breakfast, lunch/dinner, and snack option.
Classic granola (this is the official U.S. Ski Team granola recipe)
8 cups rolled oats
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
Dash Kosher salt
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix first section of ingredients (oats through almonds) in a large bowl to combine. Spread ingredients into two rimmed baking sheets, making sure there is only a thin layer of mixture on each sheet. Bake in oven for 25 to 35 minutes, stirring midway, until just lightly toasted. Remove from oven, add dried fruit and coconut. Let granola cool, spreading out on baking sheets for a crunchy texture.
1/2 cup pine nuts (or almonds!)
1 1/4 cup baby kale leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Add all ingredients to a food processor. (Recipe can be prepared in a blender but may require additional olive oil to blend smoothly.) Puree until smooth. Makes 1 1/2 cups pesto. To store, refrigerate with plastic wrap pushed directly onto surface of pesto to prevent browning. To freeze, spoon small portions onto a wax-paper-lined small plate or baking sheet, freeze, and transfer to plastic freezer bags.
Sweet and salty chocolate almond cups
1 bag milk, semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup Blue Diamond dark chocolate or brown sugar and cinnamon almonds, coarsely chopped
24 Blue Diamond almond nut thins, coarsely broken
Line 18 mini-muffin cups with paper liners, set aside. Place chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until chocolate is mostly melted; stir until completely melted. Stir in remaining ingredients and spoon equal amounts into prepared muffin cups. Cool until hard. Makes 18 cups.