Training for endurance sports can be very time-consuming. If you also want to maintain some semblance of a healthy diet throughout your training, the time-suck can seem even greater. Because proper nutrition is so essential to successful training, making the effort to prepare your own healthy meals at home is one worth making. Lucky for you, I have some tips to help you not just survive the food-prep obstacle but conquer it with ease.
First, while I’m mostly a minimalist in the kitchen and therefore don’t like to have too much equipment to deal with, a few kitchen appliances and accessories have been invaluable to me during long training cycles: a slow cooker, a rice cooker, and a steam basket. The cookers come in various levels of technology these days, but even the most basic models will do the trick.
- Slow Cooker
Here is one instance in which dry beans are actually your friend. If you’ve ever tried cooking beans on the stove top, you might have made a quick enemy out of a very slow-cooking food. But with the use of a slow cooker, you can let them cook all day long while you’re at work, and perhaps even through training afterward. With a slow cooker, you can make your own deliciously seasoned beans or a great variety of soups and even casseroles.
- Rice Cooker
Like the slow cooker, this time-saving appliance allows you to forget the cooking while you are out for a run or bike ride. I often come home from work, get ready for a run, and set my rice (or quinoa, or even lentils!) to cook and then automatically stay warm until I’m back and ready to enjoy. Then I need only to prepare the other elements of my meal, which I try to make fast and easy.
- Steam Basket
When I mentioned to one of my coworkers a while back that I just boiled all of my vegetables because I didn’t know how else to cook them, he gasped in horror. Soon after, I had a mystery gift in my office, which turned out to be a steam basket. Steaming is a fast and easy way to cook fresh vegetables, and it preserves more nutrients in your veggies than boiling does (in case anybody else in the world boils their vegetables; I was led to believe I was the only one). And if steaming sounds bland, you can always toss the cooked veggies in some olive oil and seasoning afterward.
Next, here are some staple items I keep in my kitchen:
- Beans and Lentils
I like to keep a variety of dried and canned legumes in my pantry (if you go the canned route, check for BPA-free cans). The dried version are great for slow-cooker meals, while the canned version make quick additions to salads, stir-frys and patties.
I try to eat a gluten-free diet because of a variety of inflammatory conditions I have (asthma, allergies, arthritis — and those are just the As), but there is also some emerging research about improved athletic performance in athletes who maintain gluten-free diets. I cling pretty closely to brown rice and quinoa, as they are easy to mix with other foods, but millet, buckwheat, and a variety of GF pastas are also good options.
- Frozen fruits and veggies (see why frozen is OK!)
The fruits are great for smoothies and the veggies go well in stir-frys, casseroles, and loafs, or they come in handy when you didn’t have time to plan anything ahead (i.e., fresh vegetables) and need a quick go-to.
Finally, here are a few types of meals that are perfect for endurance athletes and that allow more time for your training schedule:
- Refrigerator Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a longtime favorite of endurance athletes — and for good reason. Oats are a heart-healthy food, they contain a high amount of manganese (which helps us burn fuel), and they have both fiber and protein, which we need to keep us healthy and active. But instead of eating instant oatmeal, which is convenient but often contains unhealthy additives, consider preparing your oatmeal in a jar the night before. Many recipes can be found online, but the basic principle is to combine steel cut oats, your favorite milk (I like almond milk), fruit, and a sweetener, if desired. Nuts and seeds also make great throw-ins! Let the mixture sit in a covered jar overnight, and in the morning you have a wonderfully fresh, cool, and nutritious breakfast awaiting you.
- Confetti Lunches
This is a type of meal I began playing with years ago, and they have proved so easy, effective, and changeable (and delicious!) that I continue to make them each week. Basically, I add equal parts grain, protein, and vegetable, which I prepare on a Sunday evening and make enough to last me through the week. For example, I might make one with quinoa, lentils, carrots, and peas, and perhaps add in some Indian spices. I might make it for weeks — sometimes months — before I decide I want to try something else. I realize others may not have quite the same tolerance for food repetition as I do, but making lunches this way also helps regulate my sensitive stomach so I can focus on training.
- Casseroles and Loafs
This may sound very 1950s, but these dishes are great time-savers that can be prepped ahead of time and that can often be used for leftover meals later in the week; you can even double your recipe and freeze one for use when you know you’ll be particularly time-crunched. This lentil loaf is one of my absolute favorites! And check out this mega-list of mouth-watering vegan casseroles.
Patties have become one of my new favorite types of food — so much so that I made them a category. They’re a great way to diversify your use of beans and legumes, which, if you’re rushed and uncreative like I am, can get old. Plus, they’re filling and nutritious to meet your training needs. And in many cases the prep can be done ahead of time.
Fast, healthy, and versatile, stir-frys are a great way to quickly prepare a meal with any vegetables you want — or whatever is left in you refrigerator or freezer — and add in beans, tofu, seitan, or tempeh for protein. Need some carbs? Use the rice from your rice cooker, toss in quick-cooking quinoa, or cube some potatoes to make this meal complete. Here’s a simple step-by-step list on how to make a veggie stir-fry to get you started.
Hopefully, these ideas will help you maneuver the challenge of eating healthy vegan meals at home while making gains in your endurance sport endeavors. Happy training (and eating)!
Image source: Martineric / Wikimedia Commons