Chefs’ Picks: Workout Fuel

Getting the right nutrients can make all the difference when it comes to actually going the distance. Your pre-workout fuel doesn’t have to be flavorless, though, as these chefs prove.

Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

Whether you’re gearing up for a spin class or a bike race, a jog around the block or a marathon, getting the right nutrients can make all the difference when it comes to actually going the distance. Your pre-workout fuel doesn’t have to be flavorless, though, as the following chefs prove. Read on to find out which of their power-packed dishes are perfect to devour before any sweat session.

A Deceptively Delicious Smoothie

For Chef Kelly Liken of Harvest in Colorado, where there are so many opportunities for outdoor adventure throughout the state, exercise and food have a natural connection. Liken plucks her workout fuel straight from the Harvest pantry menu. “The POW POW POWER Smoothie is my go-to fuel, or refuel, for that matter,” she says. “It has a good dose of lean protein as well as just a touch of caffeine jolt. The flax and banana provide some fiber to help stay full longer, and it's brimming with antioxidants.” And what’s arguably the best part of this winning smoothie? “It's decadent and tastes like a treat,” Liken says.

POW POW POWER Smoothie
1 cup ice
1 tablespoon cacao
1 double shot espresso
1 whole banana
1 tablespoon flax seed
1 scoop organic whey protein
1 teaspoon agave syrup

Place all of the ingredients into the blender in the order that they are listed.

Blend until smooth.

A Simple Yet Supercharged Combination

Jeff Mahin, chef of M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago and North Bethesda, Md.) and Stella Barra (Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Calif., Chicago and North Bethesda, Md.), knows a few things about prepping for a workout. The chef is an avid biker who can often be found cycling when he’s not in the kitchen. For his pre-workout fuel, he keeps it simple with two tablespoons of pistachio, honey and orange nut butter. "This is a great way to start your exercise, because when you eat fat prior to working out, you start to train your body that fat is a good fuel source,” he says. “There are 9 calories of energy in 1 gram of fat, as opposed to 4 calories of energy in protein and carbs.” Since the nut butter contains so many good fats, as well as some carbs and proteins, Mahin’s deceptively simple combination is packed with enough energy to keep you going for up to 90 minutes of a workout, he says. “It seems counterintuitive, but I assure you it works — also drink water!"

For Mahin, the nutrients don’t stop after the workout ends, as he considers what you eat in recovery mode another integral factor of any fitness plan. “Recovery is something overlooked by a lot of people,” he says. “We hit the gym, the bike, the beach and push ourselves to the point of exhaustion. What you eat next will determine how you feel after the fact.”

For his post-workout recovery, Mahin whips up a “Kick Ass” shake. “This post-workout shake combines protein, simple carbs, complex carbs, fats and coffee — each of the ingredients plays an integral role into getting you well fed, recovered and ready to face the world," he says.

“Kick Ass” Shake
1 banana
4 tablespoons protein powder
1 tablespoon nut butter — almond or cashew (chef suggests Justin's)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 ounces iced coffee
1/4 cup organic oats
2 dates
Water and ice

Blend all of the ingredients together.

A Vegan Approach

Chef Anoosh Shariat of Noosh Nosh in Louisville, Ky., has a menu full of healthy breakfast items (along with a full lunch and dinner menu), but he points to one vegan dish in particular as a pre-workout winner. “The Tofu Florentine is a unique take on breakfast and provides an exciting option for our vegan (and even non-vegan) diners,” he says. “The combination of spinach (a superfood), protein-packed tofu and nutrient-rich asparagus provides all the fuel you need for a powerhouse workout."

Tofu Florentine
Serves 1
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce onion, diced
1 ounce red pepper, diced
1 ounce asparagus, diced
2 ounces tofu
1 ounce Thai curry paste
1 ounce baby spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute onion, pepper and asparagus for 1 minute. Add tofu and curry and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach and stir just until wilted. Serve with potatoes.

Vegan is also where it’s at for Chef Tal Ronnen of Crossroads. A longtime expert in plant-based cuisine, Ronnen serves up creative versions at his popular Los Angeles vegan restaurant. Much of his cuisine’s philosophy lends itself well to performance athletes, but his own favored workout fuel is the mushroom farro burger. The burger packs in nutrition with beets, broccoli, shitake mushrooms, and farro for an extra dose of fiber and protein.

Mushroom Farro Burger
Serves 4
2 cups cooked farro
4 broccoli florets
6 shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
2 shallots
1 medium red beet (chopped thin so it cooks fast)
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum

Saute garlic, shallots, mushrooms and broccoli for 5 minutes to release flavor, then add farro and beets. Cook for 2 minutes until the beets are cooked (you might need to add some stock) and you start to see that red "beef" color. Take that mixture and put it in a food processor. Add xanthan gum and pulse to give it the appearance of ground beef.

Use a large ring mold to make patties of your preferred weight (they don't shrink when you cook them, so an 8-ounce patty will remain an 8-ounce patty).

Grill or saute for 4 minutes on each side.

POW POW POWER Smoothie photo courtesy of Ric Stovall and Chef Jeff Mahin photo courtesy of Davey Wilson

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