Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pre-race meals

As I mentioned in my previous post about my little flat tire incident that restored my faith in humanity, I have a triathlon coming up this Sunday in Washington DC and I've tried to be very conscientious about my diet leading up to the big event.

Back in my swimming days, the only diet mantra ever I followed was "eat 'till it hurts." Sick, but true. I have always been on the scrawny side (my nickname as a child was "Jangle Bones" and to this day my dad still calls me "J Bones") and the sheer volume of training us swimmers undertake by the age of 13 certainly did not help matters. I would eat steak and cheese sandwiches with bacon, washed down with Carnation Instant Breakfast shakes and barely crack 100lbs (sadly, this is no longer the case). The thought of this today just makes me nauseous, but maintaining your calorie count and protein intake is important for recovery and performance no matter what your age or sport.

Today, it goes without saying that I no longer need those instant shakes, and bacon, steak & cheese sandwiches are reserved only for hangovers. Yet I still try to tailor my diet to ensure proper recovery, carb and protein levels, especially leading into a race. The standard practice prior to an athletic event is carb-loading the night before. I am sure many of you remember those "pasta dinners" with your team back in high school, and I had a friend who swore by a baked potato before a meet. I personally think baked is the worst way to serve a potato--give me mashed, Provençal style, or even au gratin any day. Different strokes for different folks though, and my friend was fast as hell so perhaps she was onto something.

I do not believe that pre-sports food must be simple and bland just to ensure the proper nutrients are there, but should they be overly exotic or adventurous either. The night before a marathon is probably not the best occasion to try out that new curry powder you bought at the street market last weekend. I find that my mother's spaghetti sauce is my preferred pre-event meal: I know it won't upset my stomach, it's got all those nice carbs from the spaghetti, vegetables and all sorts of other healthy bits from the home made tomato sauce, plus a bit of meat for protein, but not so much that it sits heavy in my stomach.

Alas, I can't make this myself as you might remember from my inaugural blog post, and while I will be able to eat her sauce prior to this particular triathlon since it is in my hometown, there are a few things like to I make on my own the night before races or even prior to long runs/rides that anyone can cook easily, my favorite being:
Home-made Fried Rice

First, you will need day-old rice that you will have made in your rice cooker for some other delicious meal. Fresh rice will do in a pinch, but actually doesn't work as well because you want the rice to be a bit dried out, not lovely and fluffy like it will be right out of the cooker, which is delicious, but not right for our purposes.

You will also need an onion, some celery, green peas, olive oil, soy sauce, and a chicken breast or tofu (extra firm) if you are vegetarian.

Slice half the onion and as much celery as you desire into medium-sized slivers. Run peas, if frozen, under warm water in a strainer to defrost and cook and set aside. These won't be tossed in until the very end.

Slice raw chicken breast (or tofu) into strips (or cubes). Toss in olive oil and soy sauce to coat.

Take chicken/tofu and onions and put into hot skillet. Drizzle a bit more olive oil and soy sauce as you stir to keep moist. When chicken is about half cooked and onions starting to turn clear, put in celery.

Sautee for a few more minutes (chicken and onions should be 3/4's done by now), remove from pan and set aside.

Re-coat pan with olive oil and put in rice. Drizzle rice with more oil and start to stir in pan. In a few minutes, the rice should start to crackle and plump up from the olive oil. It should NOT be dry. Drizzle soy sauce over rice and stir to coat rice until it is really crackling and brown from the soy. Put chicken/onions/celery back into the pan with the rice and stir around until chicken is cooked and concoction is thoroughly mixed. Toss in peas and stir again until evenly distributed.

Yummy for the tummy.

I like this meal because it has everything you need--some protein, veggies, and carbs. Plus, the rice will help settle your stomach if you have any preemptive jitters. And, it is awesome as a leftover the next day when you are too damn tired from said race to cook anything new.

In the morning, I like a banana, juice, two slices of wheat toast with a bit of butter, and a lot of water. A small cup of coffee just to get the ol' heart rate up is becoming increasingly necessary in my old age.

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