There comes a time in the life of a busy multi-sport athlete (and especially the longer, time-crunched, endurance athlete) when you must eat, it must be a complete meal, and it must be quick.
You see, your body can only support high volume training, proper performance, and immune system health for a limited period of time if all your quick meals consist of microwaved Lean Cuisines, gas station trail mix, and even "all-organic" food bars. You'll eventually crash. So you have to make a habit of regularly eating fast healthy meals and wholesome foods without heavy amounts of preservatives, salts, sweeteners, and synthetic chemicals, and you have to figure out how to do it without huge sacrifices of time and preparation.
On that note, I'm going to share with you my top ten meals that I rely on in a pinch. That is, when I've finished a long ride and have to be at work in 10 minutes, when I've gotten home from the gym and need to be asleep within an hour, or when I have just a few moments to make a dish to fuel a workout.
Each meal includes a complete blend of protein and carbohydrate for recovery and energy needs, and while none of these fast healthy meals are as tasty as filet mignon, lobster ravioli, or a fully-loaded chopped vegetable salad, they will fulfill the physiological needs of the busy multi-sport athlete. And since many endurance athletes must consume in excess of 5000 calories per day, here is the added bonus: these are relatively cheap eats with ingredients that are budget-friendly.
In no particular order, here are the top 10 meals that I personally make and have committed to memory as my complete fall-back nutritional options. Hell, some of them don't even have a name, so I had to make up a title on the fly while writing this article. And if you're wondering how you can ask me questions about these meals, see the snippet at the end of this article, along with a bonus Paleo meal.
10. Mediterranean Surprise: use some whole wheat noodles, quinoa noodles, orzo style pasta, rice or really, whatever. I pretty much grab whatever type of pasta is in the pantry for this one. Prepare the pasta. When it is finished, stir in a small handful of feta cheese, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a handful of raisins, a handful of almonds, and parsley/salt/pepper to taste. As a tasty bonus, you can throw some capers and garlic in. You can make a bunch of this and eat it all week, and if you're making it right after a workout, you can take your shower while the pasta cooks.
9. Turkey/Avocado Grilled Sandwich. Quick, fire up a pan drizzled with olive oil or butter. Put the bread on the pan and put the turkey on the bread. While all that grills to a nice toasty texture, slice one avocado and have it ready to slap on the sandwich and pack away or eat immediately. I also include sliced tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts on this one.
8. Soup. I call it soup. My wife calls it heated up vegetables with water on top. Whatever. Put a handful of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and spinach into a pot. For protein, also included cubed tofu (easy to find at grocery store produce section). Pour 1/2 cup water over the vegetables and tofu, and then heat for 8-10 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, a bit of chicken bullion if you desire, then eat with a spoon straight out of the pot. Or pour it in a bowl if you have time to kill.
7. Dinner Burrito. Just because everyone else calls it a breakfast burrito shall I deem this a dinner burrito. Scramble 2 eggs with 2 tablespoons yogurt or cottage cheese, 1 handful spinach and 1 chopped tomato. Salt and pepper to taste, and then shovel onto a whole wheat tortilla. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and consume.
6. Zucchini Pancakes. In a blender or food processor, blend 1 chopped zucchini, a handful of sliced red onion, a handful of whole wheat pancake mix, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 handful parmesan cheese. Pour this mixture onto a grill and make pancakes with it (duh, pour it in a pan and grill 4-5 minutes/side). Season with ketchup. Organic ketchup.
5. Tapas. Lovely little appetizers all put together make a complete meal. I slice 1 tomato and drizzle with olive oil, sea salt, and parsley. I slice one pear or apple and sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese (or any cheese, really). I cover one handful of walnuts with honey and cinnamon. I eat it all, nicely arranged on a plate, or napkin.
4. Big Chef Salad. While 1-2 eggs are boiling, mix onto a bowl or plate two handfuls mixed greens, 2 sliced vegetables of choice, 1 handful raisins, 1 handful walnuts, and a small drizzling of olive oil and vinaigrette. Slice the egg and throw it on top, then salt and pepper to taste. If you need more carbs, crumble whole grain crackers for croutons.
3. Mexican Delight. It's like the Mediterranean Surprise, but a delight is somewhat different than a surpriseŠright? Use quick 10 minute brown rice. Just as it is finishing stir in black beans, salt, pepper, and any other creative items from the fridge such as olives or leftover salsa. If I'm not showering while the rice is cooking, I throw 1 chicken breast into a pan, and sprinkle with curry or turmeric (which I guess makes it an Indian Delight) and add that as well. Yum?
2. Power Oatmeal. My favorite, bar none. To one bowl of raw oats, I add 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1 tablespoon yogurt or coconut milk, 1 sliced banana, 1 egg and 1 sprinkling of cinnamon. Also 1-2 scoops whey protein powder if it's handy. Pour boiling water on top and microwave on high for 60 seconds, or just mix everything together on the stovetop. Warning: very calorically dense and should be consumed 2 hours prior to or immediately after a workout.
1. Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. My signature dessert. Use a small half bowl of plain, fat-free yogurt or coconut milk. Add 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter and 1 tablespoon dark chocolate pieces or cocoa mix. Close your eyes and imagine you just took it out of that little orange wrapper. For added calories, add 1-2 scoops of protein powder (will make it a very "mousey" texture).
Disclaimer: your spouse and children may not share any affinity for these meals.
BONUS PALEO MEAL: If you're one of those caveman style Paleo folks, then try this in-a-pinch Paleo meal: grab any meat you can get your hands on, like a chicken breast, slab of grass-fed beef, or fillet o' fish, throw it onto a bed on spinach, and drench the whole mixture in olive oil, balsamic vinegrette, salt, pepper, and if desired, a bunch of chopped sweet potatoes or yams that you let cook while you were working out.
That's it. And how can you ask me questions about these fast, healthy meals, or any nutrition topic in general? Just head over to http://www.enduranceplanet.com, where you can leave your questions for the "This Week In Sports Nutrition" weekly release of the Endurance Planet podcast, and download a free "This Week In Sports Nutrition" episode that I do each week with Endurance Planet, along with tons of other free content, including training plans, podcasts, videos and more.