From The Archives: Seven Smart (And Easy!) Nutrition Hacks
These strategies will get your nutrition back on track for a better, stronger and healthier you—no calorie counting required.
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When you’re juggling training with the rest of your busy life, one of the first things to suffer is your diet (healthy does not always equal convenient), which will affect your performance and overall health. These strategies will get your nutrition back on track for a better, stronger and healthier you—no calorie counting or complicated dietary restrictions required.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Triathlete magazine.Section divider
1. Stock a smart kitchen
When you hungrily open up your pantry door and see nothing but packaged mac-n-cheese, half an onion and some leftover Halloween candy, chances are high that you will end up making some not-so-healthy eating choices. Keeping some nutritional powerhouses on hand that can fit into several different meal options can help you get a healthier meal on the table with little effort.
“We always keep sardines on hand because they offer a big dose of omega-3s,” says Dorette Franks, a registered dietitian, triathlon coach and Ultraman finisher. “I also think eggs, sprouted grain tortillas and salsa make for a great combination, especially for breakfast, which is one of those meals people often skip to their own detriment because it sets them up to overeat or not eat well later in the day.”
Here are some more staples she recommends that are nutrient-dense and can be used in a variety of recipes or to snack on in a pinch:
miso and/or bone broth
lean meats or tofu/tempeh
corn or rice cakes
mini Babybel cheeses
pre-washed leafy greens
2. Batch-freeze healthy meals
While making large batches of meals ahead of time might seem like a time-consuming affair, if you set aside some time every weekend to simply double a couple of recipes, you’ll set yourself up for healthy eating for an entire week. Meals that can be cooked in muffin tins are especially easy because you can make individual servings to pop in the microwave, your lunch bag (or your mouth) as needed. Healthy breakfast muffins, mini turkey meatloaves and egg-quinoa quiches can all be cooked in muffin tins and freeze well. If cooking large quantities still seems daunting, Franks recommends utilizing a slow cooker to make large quantities of oatmeal and soups for quick breakfast and dinner options. Throw everything in the slow cooker in the morning before your long weekend run, and at the end of the day you’ll have a meal waiting for you, as well as healthy leftovers.
Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours
1 T grass-fed butter
8.5 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can
2 cups steel-cut oats
2 T ground flaxseed
¼ cup honey, agave
or light brown sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup blueberries
1 T hemp seeds
2 T walnuts
Coat the inside of slow cooker with the tablespoon of butter. Add in oats, coconut milk, water, sugar, flaxseed and salt, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours. Stir in the vanilla and top with desired toppings. Leftover oatmeal will keep in the fridge for several days or can be frozen.
Mini Turkey Meatloaves
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20–30 minutes
1.5 pounds ground turkey
(or ground meat of your
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 T chopped parsley
2 T chopped basil
2 T coconut aminos
2 T nutritional yeast
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 T ghee or coconut oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a muffin tin with butter or oil of your choice. In a medium-sized skillet, heat the ghee or coconut oil on medium heat and add in the diced carrots, onion and celery. Cook the veggies just until they get a little soft (about 3–5 minutes). Dump them into a large bowl to cool. Add parsley and basil to the bowl and lightly toss. Add in the rest of the ingredients and hand mix well. Fill each tin with the mixture and bake for 20–30 minutes or until cooked all the way through. These “muffins” will last in the fridge for 3 days and can be frozen as well.
3. Get a nutrition buddy
You use your training partner to push you farther on your bike rides and swims, so why not encourage each other with healthy fueling as well? Take turns providing healthy meals for one another when you meet up for workouts. Meet for group runs after work? Make enough quinoa salad with chicken for the whole group and take turns being the one providing the meal. “Make it a positive experience to get together with your training buddies and talk about nutrition and new recipes you’re trying,” Franks says. “Set some structure to your nutrition goals, ones that are specific, measurable and attainable. And remember that your goals don’t—and maybe shouldn’t—be the same as your nutrition buddy’s.”Section divider
4. Think micro
When we think of what makes up the content of our food, we usually break things up into fats, carbohydrates and protein. These macronutrients are needed in large quantities by the body for energy production. Micronutrients, which consist of vitamins and minerals, are needed in much smaller quantities but play very important roles in everyday processes such as immunity function, metabolism, heart beat regulations, cellular pH and bone density.
For an athlete, micronutrient deficiencies can show themselves in the form of severe fatigue, illness and muscle cramping. While the best way to get all your necessary micronutrients is by eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed foods, micronutrient supplementation can help bridge the gap, especially for the time-pressed age-group triathlete. Jason Houston, senior vice president of the micronutrient supplement company EnduroPacks, experienced the benefits of supplementation first hand after taking up triathlon nine years ago. “I was training a lot, and I was also getting sick a lot, and I just couldn’t figure out why,” Houston says. “I, like a lot of triathletes, was overly focused on the training aspect of my routine and I wasn’t focusing enough on the recovery aspect and how to repair my muscles after each workout.” Micronutrient supplementation, particularly amino acids taken after a workout, have really made a difference for him.
Dietitian Franks cautions athletes not to use micronutrient supplementation as a Band-Aid for bad eating habits. “Before you spend a bunch of money on supplements, you need to take the time to figure out what is really missing in your diet,” she says. “Plus, a lot of triathletes are subscribing to a high-protein, Paleolithic diet, and if they aren’t careful they are seriously skimping on their fiber intake as a result. Fiber is really important for nutrient absorption, whether you’re getting it through supplements or, ideally, through whole foods.”Section divider
5. Snack like a pro (or a squirrel)
Keeping healthy snacks on hand—at your desk, in your purse and in your car—can keep your blood sugar stable, which keeps you satiated and energized throughout the day. “You’d think I was a squirrel if you looked in my car,” laughs Franks. “But if I don’t snack well, I know I’ll make bad food choices later.” Franks keeps a box in her trunk filled with individual trail mix packets from Trader Joe’s, unsweetened applesauce and at least a few of her favorite protein bars. For post-workout protein, she stashes away boxes of almond milk, a shaker bottle and individual packets of protein powder.Section divider
6. Grocery shop like a nutritionist
Strolling the grocery aisles like a trained nutritionist will take some practice. The first rule? Never go shopping on an empty stomach, which can lead to impulse buys and poor choices. “Have a plan and a shopping list,” says Franks. “Know the food staples you need and then plan a couple focused meals for the week and shop for those ingredients.” Franks also stresses the importance of reading labels so you know exactly what you’re eating. “If sugar is listed in the top five ingredients, walk away. Unless you’re buying ice cream—which is perfectly fine in moderation,” she says. Franks says you should be able to pronounce and recognize all of the ingredients listed, and try to pick items with as close to five or fewer ingredients as possible. “Also look at fiber content. Women need roughly 25 grams of fiber a day and men need 35 grams, and the average American gets nowhere close to that.”Section divider
7. Make a green smoothie
We’ve all been there: You have one hour to work out, shower, change and be back at the office or home with the kids. Getting in a nutrient-dense meal doesn’t exactly fit into an already compressed timeline. What to do? Green smoothies are a great option for a quick, healthy meal on the go—as long as you concoct it with nutrition in mind. “If you think about a nutritious plate of food, it’s going to have fruits and veggies, some fat and protein. A green smoothie should have all of those components as well,” says Franks, who also advises using blenders instead of juicers in order to retain as much fiber as possible. Franks recommends pairing leafy greens with a citrus fruit, which will both taper the bitter taste of the greens and help your body absorb iron. “Avocados are a great alternative to bananas in smoothies. They offer healthy fats and create a great creamy texture. I also tell people to throw in raw oats for a fiber boost that will keep you feeling full for hours.”
The Hail Mary Green Smoothie
For when you absolutely, positively have to make it out the door to work out. This smoothie packs a nutritional punch with iron, potassium, healthy fats, amino acids and some energy-boosting carbs.
1 bunch spinach leaves (or leafy greens of your choice)
1 frozen banana
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
1 cup almond milk