Cooking for Athletes: How to Fuel Your Body for Exercise
Based in San Francisco, Anja Lee is not only a French- and California-trained chef and cooking instructor; she also provides the fuel for some of the top athletic teams in the world, including the Cleveland Cavaliers (helping bring them to victory in 2016 National Championships). We got a sneak peek into how she creates menus for athletes.
I cook for athletes that value both fitness and food. These include World Champion basketball teams, Olympic rowers in training, professional triathletes going for the win, acroyogis high off the ground ... although their actions may be different, they all follow a few similar, simple guidelines when it comes to what they eat.
I've learned that, no matter what their sport, athletes cherish their food because they know that what they eat can make them stronger and more energized. Here are a few tips that I've learned from them to feel good, be strong and enjoy a healthy meal:
1. Eat clean protein within 30 minutes after your workout. How do you do this? Think ahead! Stock your kitchen with the ingredients you need, or prep your protein in advance to make sure you have it post-exercise, and avoid binging on unhealthy takeout when the first hunger wave hits. (When you're cooking for athletes, you often see hungry beady eyes if food isn't ready within 30 minutes.)
Want to make the planning easier? Check out PlateJoy - they'll send you all of the ingredients and recipes you need to create the ultimate recovery meal in 30 minutes.
2. Find your fuel food. I'll never forget catering for the Cavaliers during the 2016 championships. Matthew Dellavedova told me that he would only eat three things before the game: grilled chicken, roasted asparagus and brown rice. He knew that's what made him feel right. Next time you prep for a workout, take time to think about what makes you feel your strongest. Grab a handful of nuts, half a piece of fruit or another light fibrous carb. Leave a 2-hour window before your workout starts to digest.
3. Learn your triggers. Many athletes these days avoid dairy, gluten, refined sugar or acidic foods. Dairy causes bloating in many bodies, gluten can lead to indigestion and loss of energy, and acidic foods cause digestive pain while in activity. If you're not feeling your best after a workout, try cutting out trigger foods 1-2 weeks at a time. Think about how you feel and determine what is best for your body. (You can learn to make healthy gluten-free and dairy-free meals in my upcoming cooking classes in San Francisco!)
4. Drink a large glass of water before bed, every time after visiting the restroom and immediately upon waking. Water rids your body of toxins and helps the digestive system absorb essential nutrients. It makes up 80% of your body, so learn to love it! If you need a little more flavor, grab a tea or add a squeeze of lime.
5. My favorite: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. What do I mean? Getting stronger, eating healthier, learning to cook—all of these things can cause us discomfort at first, if they're not part of our familiar routines. However, we can train our minds the same way we train our bodies. Many fellow triathletes and I commit to being at the gym every morning at 6:30am, and pushing through the discomfort has led us to become a team that has fun training together. Plus, after a morning of hard work, we can treat ourselves to a great breakfast to start the morning, and enjoy each bite because we've worked hard for each one.