Photo by jules:stonesoup
Active lifestyles require powerful foods. Here, in the first installment of my LAVA series, Building a Power Foods Pantry, I want to introduce you to whole grains—a family of foods that creates power in force and strength, as well as those that help build endurance, stamina, and immunity, and help the body with repair, recovery, and prevention. Whole grains provide an important meal base: all you have to do is stop at a farmstand or market for some fresh foods, and you’ve got a nutritionally solid meal. It’s for this reason that I put whole grains at the foundation of my series on building your pantry.
There are many promises that can complete the statement ‘when you have your own home you can … ‘ The most exciting of these for me was ‘have your own pantry.’ For a lifelong foodie, that coveted space where all the quick snacks, special treats, fermented foods, and myriad of spices, sauces, pasta and grains lived was a place I often frequented. But unlike the fridge—to which I generally had full access—the pantry required permission. So, when I moved into my first abode, it was not the freedom to come home at any hour, to leave my clothes on the floor or my bed unmade that I was most looking forward to. It was the idea of building my own pantry with no restrictions of entry.
The pantry is the foundational core of my kitchen. It’s where I go for all the things I didn’t buy today, and gives me the security of knowing that if I purchase some fresh veggies at the farm stand, I’ll have whatever I need to make my meal complete. Likewise, I often hear people in their own kitchen saying, when they can’t find something, ‘check the pantry.’ As a chef, it’s my go-to place.
Although these days my pantry is nothing more than the top shelf in my kitchen, it still contains all the items I need to create a whole-foods meal on short order. As I refer to in my book, The Athlete’s Plate: Real Food for High Performance, the pantry is one of the most important parts of building a “system of eating” as opposed to a program: It enables people with busy, active lifestyles to maintain the proper nutrition to support their activities sustainably. Why? Because the more non-perishable food items you have in your culinary arsenal the less you have to think about creating a meal, and the more quickly and easily you’ll be able to prepare it. Instead of having to plan out all the elements of a given meal, all you have to do is buy fresh items at peak flavor and nutrient density, and the rest will happen at home.
The pantry, like all great collections, is not something that can be built in one stop. It needs to be built over time. It’s also not something that follows hard and fast rules. We all have foods that are meaningful, comforting, or special to us—foods that make our personal pantries unique. It could be a spice that brings you back to past travels, or a jar of grandma’s fall jam.
What I have termed as the ‘aerobic diet,’ the daily consumption of macronutrients, has a foundation that is comprised of 50% -55% carbs, 20%-25% fats, and 10%-15% protein. For some athletes the percentage of carbs can increase up to 65% of their daily intake (as seen in the diets of the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico, the Kalenjin tribe of South Africa, and others of great endurance ability). Unlike processed and refined flours, whole grains contain all of the grain’s composite parts—the bran, germ, and endosperm. These preserve all the nutrients and fiber that the grain has to offer. The fact that whole grains are able to sprout and processed grains generally aren’t is a testament to the presence, or lack thereof, of nutrients. These vitamins and minerals are important to the digestive system as well as to the overall health of the body.
Whole grains are also the main source of complex carbohydrates for endurance athletes, and are thus the main source of fuel the body uses to power its engine. These carbohydrates are turned into glucose and stored in the body’s muscles as glycogen, where they are then used to power your efforts. One’s ability to sustain long efforts of moderate to high intensity is directly related to the amount of stored carbohydrates in the body.
Having a diversity of grains in your pantry is a cornerstone in the success of your health, and your ability to prepare foods easily. Stored in a cool, dark place or refrigerator and contained in an airtight container, grains will last in your pantry for two to three months or longer. If you’ve got them on hand, you won’t have to think about constantly purchasing them. Whole grains are also very versatile in that they store well as leftovers, can be eaten hot or cold, and are excellent in everything from salads, to soups, to stews. Once you’ve got your pantry stocked, be sure to try my recipe for Quinoa Tabbouleh.
Adam Kelinson is a private chef and nutritional consultant for Organic Performance. He has competed as a triathlete since 2000, and is a three-time Ironman finisher. He knows from personal experience and years of study that the right food can make a difference in performance, recovery, and rehabilitation.