The Kitchen Secrets of Pro Athletes (Surprise: It’s Not Kale or Quinoa)

We all assume that the kitchens of professional athletes would look like the Whole Foods salad bar.

The usual suspects—oatmeal, quinoa, green juice and sugarless coffee—would always be on deck, and a whole head of kale stashed nearby for convenient snacking between meals. But throughout the history of professional athletics, elites and world champions list staples in their diet that most fitness junkies would only permit on “cheat days.”

Sure, there is a time and place for leafy greens and ancient grains. However, are some of the more unconventional fuel sources really so bad? From pros eating cake before competition to justifying excessive consumption of Sour Patch Kids with “new research that gelatin aids in tendon repair,” the best athletes in the world have daily indulgences that stray from what’s considered conventional health food.

Here are a few professional athletes, their unlikely go-to foods, and why it works according to nutrition expert and owner of Real Athlete Diets (RAD), a catering service which crafts meals formulated specifically for the needs of athletes, Kelly Newlon.

The “Oklahoma Southern Diet”

Camille Herron, American long-distance runner representing Nike, has dozens of marathons wins under her belt, holds the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon in a superhero costume, and is the first female American winner of the historic Comrades Marathon. From her lean frame and race results, you’d never guess that vegetables are a rare occurrence on her dinner plate.

“I’ve always eaten intuitively and what I’m craving at the moment, which growing up in Oklahoma means a Southern diet with lots of beef and fat! I eat a lot of meat, potatoes, butter on everything.”

Why It Works: According to Newlon, the macronutrients found in Herron’s Oklahoma diet is unmatched.

“The protein, carbs, and fats, sodium as well as fatty acids are present. Meaning it is loaded with macronutrients. They are all whole foods with nothing gimmicky or highly processed added to replace proteins, etc. Big fan of this.”

Newlon is quick to point out that this diet does in fact, lack micronutrients and urges all lovers of Southern-indulgences to add a veggie or two to their plate.

Toast With Molasses

Nicole Deboom, now retired from professional athletics, has multiple Ironman Championships to her name, qualified for the Olympics Trails in 1988 as a 16-year-old, is a strong advocate for women in sports and founded a small business, Skirt Sports. On top of all of that, she’s a mom, a wife and still an active member of the athletic community. She’s Superwoman. As Deboom transitioned from pro athlete to motherhood, her diet changed with her lifestyle. However, her favorite go-to food remained constant: toast with molasses.

“Molasses is my go-to toast topper with almond butter. You may not love molasses the first time you have it, but it grows on you, and then it’s addicting. I also crave it when I’m sick.”

Why it works: A big fan of toast and molasses, Newlon say’s that Deboom’s go-to food is a perfect source of carbs and vehicle for vitamins.

“It’s a great snack before heading out the door for a workout. It provides carbs, fiber and starch. I’m a huge fan of molasses in moderation. It is lower on the fructose scale and offers iron, copper, calcium, and manganese to your diet.”

Cold Cereal

Nathanael Coleman, 20-year-old professional rock climber representing Petzl has already established himself as one of the best climbers in the United States. Having claimed his first major win at nine years old, he has since taken home gold medals in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016 as well as multiple bouldering championships. As a young up and comer in the climbing world, convenience is as important as taste or health.

“Cereal is fast, delicious and cheap. It’s an acceptable and easily digested breakfast, I can have it as a quick snack between meals and an easy way to get in some last minute calories late at night.”

Why it works: Newlon gives the green light to Coleman’s meal of choice, especially because of the increasingly healthy choices found in the cereal aisle these days.

” Keep a few choices around, so you don’t get bored and switch up the milk for added protein. Find some that have seeds and seeds. So few athletes we work with ingest cow’s milk, most reach for almond, cashew, coconut, or other alternatives. These add great flavor, the benefit of extra protein and vitamins that may be hard to get otherwise. Throw a few banana or apple slices on there, and you’re gold!”

Cashew Butter Vegan Cake

Meredith June Edwards is a 31-year-old professional ski-mountaineer, mountain runner, and climber for La Sportiva. She’s a rare multi-discipline athlete who brings home major international titles in three different sports. Hailing from Jackson, WY, her training regimen extends through all four seasons, and she hardly gets a break from competition. To reward herself for the countless hours spent climbing mountains, Edwards indulges in cake.

“My go-to is chocolate cake from this organics restaurant in Jackson. It’s vegan, so it’s made out of cashew butter and vanilla buttercream icing. I’ve been consuming this for years, and I get it several times a week. For me, it’s a reward for all the hard training but also high in healthy fats.”

Why it works: Newlon is so excited about Edward’s food of choice, that she was inspired to find some of her own.

“Cake made from nut butter is a little handheld with pretty much everything you need, wrapped up into one little package. Non-vegan folks balk at the mention of vegan baked goods but, it’s 2017, not 1999. You can find some pretty great recipes out there these days, and they are not heavy as a doorstop or dry as dust. My favorite thing about vegan and gluten-free baking is that the items substituted often contain more protein and healthier fats from nuts, seeds, and oils. So you are getting a product that tastes great and is better for you.”

Sour Patch Gummies

Nicole Mericle made a splash in the NBC Spartan Race Series and is a favorite for the upcoming OCR World Championship. Although she is new on the obstacle racing scene, her background in running and rock climbing plays heavily in her new found success. She ran for Rice University where she hit an impressive 4:45 mile PR. After college, Mericle then turned to start rock climbing in which she conquered some challenging 5.12c and V7 routes.

As she ramps up for her the OCR World Champs her appetite follows suit, and she can’t shy away from her sweet tooth.

“A big staple in my diet would have to be sour gummies. I’ve tried to deny my sweet tooth on and off and finally came to accept it. I try to save my candy intake for right after runs when it could actually be useful. Sour patch watermelon are my favorite. Now with new research about gelatin helping tendon repair, I feel even more justified.”

Why it works: Although Newlon isn’t a fan of sour gummies, she preaches moderation and is all too familiar with the quick carbs gummies provide and athletes crave.

“All things in moderation right? After comparing three different brands of chews from legit companies to the branded Sour Patch Kids, there is not much of a difference. I am not a huge fan of this, in fact, I cringe when I hear folks assuming that pros eat this as a staple. Because they don’t. They eat sensibly daily throughout training and reach for the candy when racing. “

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