As I finish training for my first marathon, and as my need for weight loss slows down, my big struggle is figuring out how to fuel for long distances without gaining weight. I wanted to read The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes because I wanted to know real athletes do it. I know I’m nowhere near a professional cyclist or a marathoner, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from their tricks. Plus, the book is written by a sports physiologist/cycling coach and professional chef duo (Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim), which is a bangin combination for a nutrition cookbook. Lucky for me, the publishers gave me a copy to review.
The cookbook has sections that suggest what to eat before, during, and after endurance activities, as well as some treats. There are many grab-and-go recipes that you can prep beforehand so that you have a nutritious breakfast or fuel on the go. Things like a waffle sandwich, burritos, savory muffins, and the popular rice cakes are all things I can have ready in your freezer for early morning race days.
Each recipe also has the basic nutritional breakdown. Since this is a cookbook for athletes, these recipes are not necessarily for people looking to lose weight. The dinner recipes come in at around 700+ calories; not exactly diet foods. If you are an experienced dieter, it wouldn’t be hard to adjust your portion sizes or the amount of carbs to make it fit your diet. I can incorporate the dinner recipes into rest days or short workout days by simply reducing/removing the rice and potatoes. I love that the recipes are totally in line with how I try eat normally – fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, veg-friendly, small amounts of meat. Another thing I like is that the meals are written for 2 servings. It works out perfectly for my house of two.
The recipes themselves have a lot of variety. It isn’t just brown rice, salmon, and broccoli every day. Since the recipes are meant to be fast and easy, I looked at some of them and wondered why I had never thought to put together these simple combinations of ingredients or put them in a different context. For example, eggs and rice were a standard “instant” meal for me growing up and here they appear as an easy to make, easy to digest athlete breakfast. Another “a-ha” is making mini frittatas bulked up with rice or potatoes right in with the egg to make it a small calorie-dense meal perfect for hiking, backpacking, or ultramarathons. The dinner recipes are real, normal food that are full of flavor, easy to make, and low in fat. Some recipes that I bookmarked to make: chicken tacos, veggie burgers (yes, from scratch!), wine and soy mushrooms, grilled chicken skewers with orzo, and spiced bison.
I have already made three recipes:
Allen Lim’s Rice Cakes, which I ate for breakfast before a 20 mile run. (Learn how to make them here) / text version
Pasta Salad with Blue Cheese and Nuts, eaten for dinner the day before the 20-miler:
Added to the pasta is chicken from the Whole Roasted Chicken recipe. I am terrible at roasting whole chickens and I only do it a couple of times per year. Brian was in charge of the chicken this time and it came out perfect. He decided that we need to do this more often. Ooh look – the chicken is also a free recipe / (text version). The chicken and pasta meal was so good that we made it twice.
When I read Feed Zone Portables: A Cookbook of On-the-Go Food for Athletes, I wondered why the recipes often used rice instead of bread. For example, why make a jelly “sandwich” out of rice cakes instead of just putting jelly between two slices of bread? It turns out that my question was answered in the intro of the first book. The authors spent a season cooking for a cycling team that decided to go gluten-free that year. They already developed many gluten-free recipes during that season and included them in this book. The chefs also had anecdotal evidence from professional championships and the Tour de France, where some athletes had positive results going gluten-free. That said, the authors are honest about the fact that they don’t advocate one type of diet over another. They just point out that gluten-free works well for many athletes while other athletes don’t like it at all. I appreciate these options because, I have noticed that when I started to “carb up” in prep for long runs, I felt bloated from the excess breads. I have been feeling much better now that I’m using rice as a primary carb source. I have cut back on rice in my everyday diet and being Asian, I miss it. At least there is room for it when I’m distance running 🙂
I also followed their advice which said that a slow moving athlete doesn’t need as many carbs as the blanket information given to athletes. I was told that with a long run pace of 13:00+/mile, I don’t have to worry as much about finding quick starches to digest because I’m burning a lot of fat. In practice, I have cut down on the fueling during these long runs and my times haven’t suffered. I used to take Clif blocks for things longer than 6 miles; generally one serving (100 Cal) for every 3 miles. For a half marathon distance, I used to eat 400 calories of Clif blocks (pure sugar) but now I would just take one or two servings (200 Cal total) of a Feed Zone Portable recipe. I think I need to experiment longer to know for sure how this works.
I assumed that this book was written for a “real” athlete, not a slow novice like myself. Whether that’s true or not, I learned a ton of new information about what the body needs to go hard. I feel like I’ve been “dieting” for so long that this book helped me see how I can continue to eat while not being on a diet. This book is so valuable for any athlete – from beginner to advanced; even if you’re like me and don’t consider yourself an athlete.
Check out the Feed Zone Cookbook’s free recipes here
Check out Dr. Allen Lim’s Ted Talk