HEALTHY COOKING FOR ATHLETES
Food is fuel for athletes – you want it to be top grade and on-hand. Make it happen by being prepared to cook up a variety of tasty and nutrient-dense foods yourself.
Here’s a checklist of must-have tools for healthy cooking.
- BLENDER. A high-powered blender will make it easy to make soups, sauces, smoothies and vege juices, plus it will also be able to mix up cake, muffin and pancake mixtures. Make sure you get one with a removable stopper in the lid that you can take out when you blend hot liquids or veges.
- NON-STICK FRYPAN. This will drastically reduce the amount of oil you use. Don’t overheat it, otherwise the non-stick lining can release PFCs (perfluorocarbons), which are linked to liver damage. Use wooden or heat-safe rubber utensils with this pan.
- TRADITIONAL IRON WOK. The god of high-heat cooking. Coat the cooking surface with oil after cleaning to prevent rust.
- MICROWAVE OVEN.
- STEAMER. Get the type that folds out like a flower, so it can be used in anything from a small saucepan to a wok.
- MORTAR + PESTLE/HERB CUTTING KNIFE + BOARD. To unleash the power of herbs!
- BAKING RACKS. So meat fats can drain and baked items can get crispy.
- PRESSURE COOKER. For a very healthy and fast way to cook split peas, beans, lentils, pot roast, soups, stews and more.
- SLOW COOKER. An oven or casserole dish will work just as well.
COOK FOR SUCCESS
Some small adjustments to your cooking habits and methods can make a big difference with the health, nutrition and quality of your food.
Limit the oil you use by cooking with a non-stick pan, using spray oils or applying oils to the pan (when cold) with a pastry brush. You should not heat oil until it smokes, because by this point the heat is destroying the oil’s beneficial antioxidants and forming harmful compounds. Heat it just until it shimmers. The trick is to use an appropriate oil. For example, avocado and rice bran oil are very healthy oils that have very high smoke points, so use them for high-heat cooking, while extra-virgin olive oil is better for lower heat cooking and will add a pleasant flavour to food.
COOKING FOR VEGETABLES
First up, raw isn’t always best. Studies have found that cooking magnifies some nutrients, such as lycopene in tomatoes, and antioxidants in carotenoids such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and peppers (capsicum).
Microwaves do not “destroy” nutrients in fresh veges. Studies have found that veges cooked in microwaves have a significantly higher retention of iron and vitamin C than veges that are boiled, steamed or stir-fried in water or oil). For fast and nutritious ‘roast’ veges (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, onions), cook veges in the microwave (a little undercooked) then put them quickly under the griller or in the oven at high heat. Steaming is also an excellent way to retain nutrients, and it works very well for fish and some meats, too.
SCRUB, DON’T PEEL
Scrub the skins of vegetables (and fruits) rather than peeling them, as often the skins are an important source of nutrients. This applies to fruits, too – even bananas. In fact, banana peels are a rich source of potassium and they also contain tryptophan, which increases serotonin levels for better sleep and mood, while the lutein in bananas is a powerful antioxidant that protects the eyes. Chop skins finely and put in smoothies, soups or stews.
SLOW IT DOWN
Slow is sometimes better. Much of the claimed cancer-causing propensities of red meat relate to it being cooked at very high heat. Also, the meat cuts best for slow cooking are often more packed full of flavour, they can even be very low in fat and have added nutritional value from connective tissue such as collagen. Slow cooking meat is also more foolproof! For beef, look for skirt, chuck or shin (‘gravy’), and shanks for lamb.
TRICKS + TIPS
- Use less sauces and processed packet or canned sauce mixes – they’re full of salt and chemicals.
- Use more herbs and spices – these will flavour your food and can form the base for a sauce. Fresh herbs are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and many have medicinal functions as immunity-boosters (e.g. rosemary, chives), anti-inflammatories (chilli, garlic, ginger) and antioxidants (thyme). As a general guide, one teaspoon of dried herbs equals four teaspoons of fresh.
- Cook with wine – it will add flavour, tenderise and moisten meats and fish during cooking (as a replacement for fat), and it can form the base for a sauce. Don’t sweat the alcohol– research from the USDA shows that in food baked or simmered with wine for 15 minutes, 40% of the alcohol will remain; after one hour, only 25% remains; after 2½ hours, just 5%.
- Use different flours – it’s good to get a wider range of nutrients by eating different cereals. Most supermarkets sell a variety of flours, which you can substitute into recipes on a half-and-half basis (half wheat flour, half others). Try buckwheat and spelt flour (quinoa flour is very dry for baking).
- Prick your sausages and chicken wings then put them in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. This will remove some of the salts (from the sausages) and fat. It also makes your meat less prone to bacterial issues and it will cook more quickly, which means less carcinogenic black bits.
- Use low-fat yogurt or evaporated milk in place of cream or coconut cream.
- Thicken sauces with cornflour mixed with a little water – bring your sauce to the boil and stir in quickly. This works even for European sauces, e.g. white sauce, cheese sauce – no need for butter. A sprinkling of instant dried mashed potato mix can work, too.
- Don’t add salt to food as it is cooking. Add a splash of olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice close to the end of cooking time – it can enhance flavours in the same way as salt.
- >Use a plant sterol-based spread as a butter-substitute for baking or sautéing (e.g. mushrooms, asparagus, fish). Plant sterols are a very proven and effective way to lower both total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Some brands now come in ‘ultra-light’ versions, which are almost fat-free.
Funk up your cooking with fruit – foods such as plums, grapes and oranges are great, but protein-digesting enzymes in papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) help tenderise meat and assist with the digestion and assimilation of protein.