Cooking for fitness goals and cooking for enjoyment are two very different things. Those that have specific performance or body composition goals will, and should have more specific dietary guidelines. At this point, food is fuel, and sometimes will be hard to enjoy. It is generally understood and accepted that protein is the most important of the three macro-nutrients for body composition, maintenance and or improvement of strength, and lean muscle. However, where carbohydrates and fat (the two other macros) fall into place is a different story.
Some people believe that carbs are evil and the diet should be comprised of mostly protein and fat, with most carbs coming from non-starchy, fresh vegetables. For example, there is nothing particularly wrong with a meal that consists of a good quality piece of fish or meat and a heaping pile of fresh, seasonal vegetables tossed with a little bit of butter and fresh herbs. However, throw exercise like CrossFit, strength training, weightlifting, endurance training or pretty much any other form of activity that keeps the heart rate elevated or causes a physiological stressor; the body needs carbs.
The common American diet that’s unrelated to sports nutrition is typically higher in fat and sugar. Common foods, deserts and or snacks like granola bars, cookies, brownies, etc. taste good because of fat and sugar. However, there are ways to improve the nutritional profile of these foods, therefor turning an otherwise poor food choice into an optimal pre/post workout snack.
Quick-breads such as cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. are all the same. They contain the same basic ingredients; flour, sugar, fat, liquid/ eggs and baking soda/powder. The only difference is the percentage of dry ingredients : liquid : fat. Of course, flavoring and additional ingredients as well. These basic ingredients can be manipulated though, to improve the nutritional profile by reducing the fat and sugar while still keeping the same relative flavor and texture.
Substitutions for fat in some of these recipes, in order to increase the carbohydrate and fiber content, can be starchy fruit and or vegetables. The high starch content will give a very similar, almost indiscernible mouth feel to the final product. For instance, try reducing or replacing the fat in a cookie with white bean paste or mashed plantain. Apple sauce or apple butter can be used to not only replace fat, but also reduce the need for as much added sugar. The same goes for sweet potatoes.
For people who really need to have those “sweets” or snack/ dessert-like foods, these are ways to avoid having too much sugar or fat in your diet that will screw up your macro-nutrient intake, at the same time providing an optimal source of pre/post workout energy. At this point, having knowledge of flavor pairings and compliments such as herbs and spices would be very useful because removing fat and sugar from an already very tasty food, is sometimes hard to make up for. In future posts, I will start to provide a resource for ingredients, herbs and spices that tend to work well together, as well as recipes.