Fuel Your Workouts Like The Pros

Cherry mojito popsicles

May 22, 2017

By Megan O. Steintrager

Spring is here, and along with warmer, longer days (woo-hoo!) comes the desire to amp up fitness. Whether you’re training for a spring or summer race or just looking to improve your well-being, food is an important part of the equation.

To help you create your best pre- and post-workout eating plans, we quizzed a dream team of experts — including world-class runner Shalane Flanagan; triathlete and chef Jared Simons of L.A.’s No Name restaurant; and cyclist and registered dietician Matthew Kadey — about their favorite energy and recovery foods. Read on to nab their secrets and some of their favorite power-packed recipes.


Flanagan, Kadey, and Simons all like to fuel up in the a.m. with an old-fashioned favorite: Oatmeal. It’s convenient, cheap, easy to cook and digest, and, as a whole-grain, complex carb, oats provide sustained energy. “I have always liked some sort of oatmeal before a ride — it seems to stick with me,” says Kadey, who talked to Clean Plates during a cycling trip in Vietnam. “My pre-workout meal is the same as my pre-race,” adds Flanagan, an Olympic medalist and co-author of Run Fast Eat Slow: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes. Her favorite way to fuel with oats is in the book, called Race Day Oatmeal, and it includes bananas, nuts or nut butter, raisins or fresh berries, cinnamon, and a milk of your choice (such as almond). 


After a workout, look to meals or snacks that provide a combo of healthy carbs to replenish your glycogen stores, high-quality protein to repair muscles, and plenty of produce to fight inflammation—in other words, eating a balanced, healthy diet will help you before, during, and after your workouts. Both Flanagan and her cookbook co-author, chef and nutrition coach Elyse Kopecky, turn to eggs after a tough workout. “My go-to post-run recovery meal is two local eggs scrambled with spinach, Parmesan, and avocado with leftover sweet potato fries or whole-grain toast with butter,” Kopecky says. Flanagan mixes it up by sometimes having a hearty grain salad with roasted vegetables and steak or chicken for lunch.


Nuts and nut butter and legumes are favorite protein sources for these pros; they all turn to whole grains and fresh and dried fruit for carbohydrates. “I am a plant-based eater, so generally speaking, I am eating many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that benefit working out,” says Simons, who is currently training for Chefs Cycle, a fundraising event for No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger. Kadey, who is also the author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure, says the perfect day of eating for him is one in which he’s enjoyed “whole foods like nut butters, whole grains, and fruit.” He loves his Cherry Mojito Popsicles (pictured above). 


After very hard workouts, it’s important to refuel quickly to help your body repair itself. If you don’t have time to cook a full meal, take a cue from the pros. “When made right, a smoothie can give you a bunch of recovery nutrients,” says Kadey. Flanagan also craves smoothies after hard sessions, and both she and Kopecky are partial to the Can’t Beet Me smoothie from their book, which combines beets, blueberries, banana, coconut water, almond butter, and ginger. “Post workouts I am generally in a hurry to get to work,” says Simons, so he whirs together a smoothie with plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, plus superfoods such as maca, chia seeds, or açaí. “If it’s a heavy training session, I will [have] some toasted [sprouted whole grain] Ezekiel bread with almond butter” on the side, he says. “The combo ensures I get some protein for recovery and carbohydrates to keep powering through the day.”


No more limiting yourself to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, egg whites and dry toast. “A balanced diet rich in good fats is essential for bone health, hormone health, heart health, brain health, and a healthy metabolism,” Kopecky explains. Some of her go-to fat sources include virgin coconut oil, nuts, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed red meat, organic dark meat chicken, canned sardines in olive oil, and whole-milk dairy, including grass-fed butter and ghee, aged cheese, and whole-milk yogurt. Flanagan points out that she starts her day with coffee with real cream, while Kopecky goes for whole milk yogurt rather than low-fat for her breakfast muesli bowl.


This is always important, but especially so if you’re juicing up your fitness routine. “If you are more hungry than normal, you may need more fuel in response to training,” advises Kadey. Adds Kopecky: “Stop counting calories. Instead, eat mindfully and get back in touch with listening to your body’s hunger signals.” Plus, the more you clean up your diet, the more “you will be able to pick up on the physical and mental changes and continue to fine tune for your needs,” adds Simons.


Don’t just lace up your sneakers, “Lace up your apron,” says Kopecky. “Outside of running more miles, the single greatest thing an athlete can do to improve their performance, and their long-term health and happiness, is to learn to cook.” Kadey agrees: “One thing I always stress is getting in the kitchen and making more of your own meals and fuel. That way you can maximize your nutrition.” And, Kopecky says, there’s no time like now to start cooking more: “Spring is the perfect time to seek out a local farmer’s market for the freshest and most nutrient dense and flavorful ingredients.”

Bio: Megan O. Steintrager holds a master’s in journalism from New York University and has been an editor and writer for Epicurious, Gourmet.com, TODAY, Food Network Magazine, and Zagat, among other outlets. 

Wild Salmon Sweet Potato Cakes

Reprinted from Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky. Copyright © 2016 by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold. Photograph by Alan Weiner.

Wild Salmon Sweet Potato Cakes

  • Serves: 4
  • Total Time:20 Minutes
  • Active Time:10 Minutes
  • PRINT Print This Recipe


  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup orange-fleshed sweet potato (or yam) puree
  • 8 ounces wild salmon, skin and pin bones removed, flesh finely chopped (ask your butcher to do this)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)
  • Avocado Cream (optional)


  1. In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottom pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  2. In a bowl with the sweet potato puree, combine the onion mixture, salmon, eggs, almond flour, parsley, lemon juice, mustard, cumin, pepper, and the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
  4. Wipe out the pan you cooked the onions in, then add the 1⁄4 cup oil and warm over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer but is not smoking, scoop 1⁄4 cup of the salmon batter and gently tap upside down on the side of the pan to slide the batter into the oil. Use a spatula to press down slightly so the cakes are about 1 inch thick. Cook until nicely browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes (if they’re browning too quickly, turn the heat down). Carefully flip each cake over and cook until the bottoms are deeply golden and cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Transfer the salmon cakes to the baking sheet. Keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining cakes. If needed, carefully wipe the skillet clean and add more oil.
  6. To serve, arrange the salmon cakes on individual plates. Garnish with the lemon wedges and top with a scoop of Avocado Cream (if using).