Monday, September 30, 2013

Performance Pumpkin Spice

Oh yes, you read that right... we're one-upping your favorite Starbucks creation and turning it into a performance-enhancing treat. The Starbuck's pumpkin spice latte is packed with sugar and doesn't have very many redeeming qualities. Today I'll share a version that you should definitely drink before your next long hammer ride (or whatever it is you do!) to see performance benefits.

Some people think coffee is somehow bad for you, but here's my conclusion: it's not and it's delicious. I am a regular coffee drinker, but I'm also a very nervous athlete so for a long time I avoided drinking coffee before races. Then one day in the spring of 2008 I was desperate: I hadn't PRed on my 2k erg test in 2 years and I had one last shot for the season. Figuring it couldn't get any worse, I downed a cup of coffee before the test... and PRed by 5 seconds. (For those of you who don't know, this is a ~7 minute test so 5 seconds is pretty significant, especially after not improving for 2 years.) Turns out, the science backs this, caffeine is really performance enhancing.

This pumpkin spice latte is made with pure pumpkin, coconut milk (those medium chain triglycerides will definitely help too!) and strong coffee. If that's not enough, it's flavored with cinnamon and ginger, two herbs that are known to be anti-inflammatory.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

1c strong coffee
2T pureed pumpkin
1/2c coconut milk
2 drops vanilla
dashes of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
maple syrup to taste

Brew an extra-strong pot of coffee (or use your espresso maker). In a blender, combine pumpkin, coconut milk, vanilla, and spices. Puree until smooth, then transfer to a microwave safe mug. Microwave for 1 minute or until warm. Add a splash of maple syrup & stir. Pour yourself a cup of that coffee and top it off with the pumpkin spice creation. Enjoy and get ready to kill it on your ride/ long run/ hike/ life in general!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekend Adventures

Well, this weekend marked my last road race of the season. It was the Mt. Kearsarge Hill Climb in Warner NH. It was part of the BUMPS races that I've been competing in. I think I won the 20-29 age group for the series, but I couldn't compete in the overall standings because one of the races I was signed up for was cancelled. Oh well! It was great fun. This race was one of the best that I've been to as well. The sun was shining and there were great views all the way up the course. I put in a good effort and was rewarded with a 2nd place finish. I threw a set of running shoes in my summit bag and hiked up to the summit after the race to be rewarded with this view:

This road cycling season has been really surprising and fun for me! It was my first year training and racing. I started the year with the intent of doing hill climbs and time trials only and ended up doing a ton of road races, some stage races, and even a crit! My favorite was the Tour of the Catskills stage race, in which I placed 2nd and won the QOM jersey for the women's cat 3/4 field. It also got me an upgrade from cat 4 to cat 3!

Other than the race, my fiance have been playing it low key this weekend. We always make Sunday brunch and this Mushroom Breakfast Sandwich is one of our favorites. More recipes to come this week!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Blackberry Ice Cream

Happy Friday! You've almost made it to the weekend, congratulations :) As a reward, I am finally sharing my vegan chocolate birthday cake with fudge filling, buttercream icing, and blackberry coconut ice cream.

Well, in all of my recipes thus far, I've been able to give logical reasoning as to why you would want to put that food into you. I can't begin to pretend that this post is about a health food. This post is about a decadent vegan dessert that I made for my fiancĂ© for his birthday. It would also serve as an amazing source of calories after a long ride though! Especially the ice cream, as the antioxidants in blackberries and the medium chain triglycerides in coconut have been shown to speed recovery and enhance athletic performance.

The one question that remains to be answered... why a vegan dessert? I have nothing against eggs... except their cholesterol, which over time can wreck havoc on your heart. In this recipe, we replace the eggs with flax seed, which also is known to prevent coronary heart disease, so you can feel good about that.

Chocolate Cake 

I borrowed the base cake recipe from Kathy at Happy. Healthy. Life. I omitted the maple syrup/ agave though and added a total of 1 1/3c brown sugar. I also used canola oil rather than safflower. No cayenne and I used white whole wheat flour. Let the cake cool completely before you start going at it with the fudge filling and the icing :)

Chocolate Fudge Filling

1/4c chocolate chips
1/4c powdered sugar
3T cocoa powder
2T coconut oil

In a small microwave safe bowl, microwave the chocolate chips for ~1 minute, until they are soft and melty. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Continue microwaving for 30 second intervals followed by stirring until you have a thick fudge sauce.

Vegan Buttercream Icing

3/4c earth balance vegan buttery spread
1/4t vanilla
3c powdered sugar
2T vanilla almond milk

Cream "butter" and vanilla using a beater. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until thoroughly mixed. After the last cup is added, the mixture should ball up slightly. Add almond milk to return to creamy texture and beat until light and fluffy.

Blackberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream

1 bag frozen blackberries
1 can coconut milk (the low-fat coconut cream type that comes in a can)
2c coconut milk (the thinner type that comes in a carton)
1c white sugar

1. Let blackberries defrost then puree until mostly smooth in a food processor. 
Note: If you don't like bits in your ice cream, you can pass this through a strainer to get rid of the seeds and chunks and get get blackberry juice. We do like the bits so we left them.
2. Add coconut milks, sugar, and blackberry puree to a large pan. Heat on high stirring constantly until it begins to boil, then reduce to medium heat and let bubble for 2 minutes. Keep stirring.
3. Remove from heat and let cool. (I usually let it cool overnight in the refrigerator.
4. Transfer to ice cream maker and let it do it's magic. 
5. Enjoy alone or a la mode with the cake above!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Green Soup with a Protein Punch

I decided that the highlight of last weekend's birthday feast (vegan chocolate cake with fudge filling and vegan buttercream icing, served with homemade blackberry coconut vegan ice cream) is worth a Friday post. So today I'll tell you about one of my quick, cheap, and nutrition packed weeknight dinners.

The weather's been getting cold awfully quickly up here in Boston. Just last week I was wearing my Birkenstocks and today I was forced to wear a jacket and gloves. The worst part about the impending doom of winter is the dark. One night earlier this week, I was very sad about this as I was peddling home from lab, cold and in the dark. Fortunately, I was greeted by a very welcome sight when I walked into my apartment. I had started split peas in the crock pot before I left for work that morning!

Now, before you hate on split peas, consider this...  pea protein is one of the best vegetarian sources of protein! The 9 grams of protein found in just 1/4c contain a full complement of amino acids, including significant amounts of branched chain amino acids and the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is relatively sparse in vegan protein sources. (Essential amino acids are so called because your body can not make them on its own, thus they have to be consumed.) The best part about this recipe though is that the entire pot of soup can be made for less than $1!

Green Soup with a Protein Punch (aka Split Pea Soup)

1c dried split peas ($0.50)
1 cube bullion ($0.20)
1 scallion ($0.10)
3c water
turmeric (the main component of turmeric is curcumin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory agent... there will be more on this powerhouse this later) 
pepper (spices all probably less than $0.10)
cilantro & nutritional yeast to garnish
Total: $0.90!!

1. Rinse split peas. Place in crock pot full of water on high and let is cook all day while you are at work/ school/ whatever it is you do.
2. Once the split peas are cooked and soft, drain the split peas and wash. (The fuzzy, bubbly stuff on the top is what gives you gas from beans, so make sure to wash them well!)
3, Add peas to food processor with bullion, scallion, dashes of garlic and turmeric, and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 cup water and food process until smooth.
4. Add split pea mixture to large pot. Add additional two cups of water (more or less to taste). Heat while stirring. It will bubble and make you feel like you are preparing a witch's brew!
5. Garnish with nutritional yeast and garlic. Serve warm and enjoy!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's delicious chocolate cake and blackberry ice cream post!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Flavored Omega-3s

The main course of the birthday dinner was Maple-Balsamic Salmon served over Pumpkin Risotto. I've really started to love risottos and the pumpkin really adds to the creamy texture I adore. I used the traditional fall pumpkin spice complement to tie this dish together-- maple, cloves, and ginger in the fish and cinnamon and pumpkin in the risotto. The result was a perfectly matched fall dish!

If you choose not to eat fish, the pumpkin risotto is lovely on it's own. I choose to eat fish for several key nutrients, including its heme-based iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Heme-based iron and vitamin B12 can only be found in animal-based foods and a deficiency of these can lead to anemia, which I know from experience is not pleasant! We'll discuss those more in depth later. Today, we'll focus on the omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in supporting brain function, cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, and even easing depression. EPH and DHA, two potent omega-3s only found in animal sources have been most strongly linked to cardiovascular benefits.

So now that you know why this dish is amazing for you, dig in!

Pumpkin Risotto
(If you don't eat fish, this makes a great main course by itself)

1 cup risotto/ arborio rice
1 can pumpkin puree (15.8oz)
3 to 4 cups water
1/4c Parmesan cheese or 1/4c nutritional yeast (to make the recipe vegan or for an additional protein boost)
red pepper flakes
2-3 scallions, diced (or a few slices of diced onion)
1 bullion cube (broken up)

1. Saute the scallions with a dash of garlic, cinnamon, the broken up bullion cube and a splash of water tom avoid greasing the pan.
2. Add in the risotto rice. Saute the rice for 1 minute.
3. Add 1 cup of water/ broth to the risotto. Stir until absorbed. (You don't need to stir quite constantly, but it's much more stirring than regular rice).
4. Repeat step 6 with the 2nd and 3rd cups of water.
5. After 3 cups, your risotto may be done, check the texture to see if it's to your taste. If it's still too firm, add the last 1/4 to 1 cup of water slowly in 1/4 cup increments. Stop when the risotto is firm enough for your liking.
6. Add the can of pumpkin puree and Parmesan cheese. Garnish with additional cinnamon and chili pepper.

Maple-Balsamic Glazed Salmon

1/4c maple syrup
2T balsamic vinegar
3T water
1/2t cloves
dash ginger (adding too much ginger will make this teriyaki-like)
wild caught Atlantic salmon fillets

Combine the maple, vinegar, cloves and ginger in a small bowl. As much as I love ginger, use a light hand, as adding too much will give this a teriyaki flavor rather than the fall medley we're going for. If it's too sweet or too tart for your tastes, add more vinegar or syrup (respectively) to your tastes. Once the glaze has been perfected, transfer it to a ziplock bag containing the salmon fillets. Close (removing as much air from the bag as possible) and let marinate in the fridge for a few hours. When you start the risotto, pre-heat the over to 375F. Transfer salmon to pan covered with excess aluminum foil. Curl up the edges of the aluminum foil and pour the extra marinade over the salmon. Form a "tent" over the salmon with the long edges of the aluminum foil to keep the moisture in. Cook 25 to 30 minutes until tender. Serve over the pumpkin risotto.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Buzz About Beets

This past weekend, we celebrated my fiance's birthday. This year, I decided that instead of going out to dinner, I would create a culinary masterpiece in my own kitchen! Dinner was served as a romantic setting for two on the porch. (Ok, it wasn't that romantic. We couldn't find matches, so once the sun set, we used an iPhone light app for illumination.)

In addition to fresh french bread, a beet and arugula salad with a sweet mustard dressing started off our evening.

This is a very quick and easy "fancy" salad and it is full of nutrition to boot! My favorite part of this salad is the beets. Why, you ask? Many well-controlled academic studies (such as this one) have shown that consumption of the nitrates in beets can significantly improve your athletic performance. For this reason, I'll make sure to enjoy another beet salad on Friday night before my last cycling race of the season!

Beet and Arugula Salad with Sweet Mustard Dressing

6c arugula
3 large or two small beets, peeled and sliced
1/4c chopped walnuts

1/4c spicy mustard
2T brown sugar
3T warm water

In a large salad bowl, mix arugula, beets and walnuts. In a separate small bowl, add dressing ingredients and stir until smooth, adding more sugar or mustard to your taste. Pour dressing over salad. Serve & enjoy!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Energy Neutral

I am starting this blog because I feel like there aren't very many out there that cover vegetarian nutrition from a female athlete's point of view. There are many great blogs out there from male vegetarian athletes (my favorite is No Meat Athlete) and from other awesome women (Healthy. Happy. Life. posts recipes for some of the most delicious vegan food I've ever tried) but I'm going to try to tell the story from a vegetarian female competitive athlete's point of view.

Why "energy neutral"? Well, to be energy neutral, the amount of energy you are expending in training must be matched by your caloric intake. The term energy neutral was coined and is in use by the rowing national team systems in the US, Great Britain, and Canada (among others, I'm sure). When your training is energy neutral, you aim to take in all of the calories you burn in a training session in a time period from one hour before to one hour after that training session. For athletes in sports where lower weights are advantageous, many naturally shy away from this pattern of eating, as exercise is the easiest way to achieve a caloric deficit and to balance your calories during a long workout requires eating a really significant amount of food! However, many athletes find that when they switch over to energy neutral training, they are less hungry at other times and they recover faster too.

Every endurance athlete knows what it's like to get too far into caloric debt and bonk, hit a wall, ect. At this point any returns from your training are severely minimized and all you're thinking about is your survival. If you've raced or seriously trained... you know the feeling. It's the feeling of impending doom, the one that caused me to think that my first energy gel tasted like "liquid courage" 90 minutes into my very first road race. Hence, the first part of being successful in any endurance endeavor is to be energy neutral. Similarly, I hope this blog will provide an "energy neutral" look at food, nutrition, and training!

That's all for now. A recipe post will follow soon! Thanks for reading.