Who better to suggest what marathoners and triathletes should eat than chefs who regularly participate in these events? We caught up with Executive Chef Stephen Stromberg, 37, of Sapporo restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he is known as the Triathlete Chef, and Jonathan Rollo, 33, Owner/“Commander-in-Leaf” of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, which has locations in Beverly Hills and Century City, Calif., to talk food and fitness. Stromberg is gearing up for the Scottsdale Cycling Festival, which takes place Sept. 24-Oct. 2, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in January while Rollo, a triathlete for the past decade, is preparing for the 25th annual Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sept. 17-18, the Los Angeles Triathlon on Sept. 25 and Newport Beach Triathlon on Oct. 23.
What do you eat the week leading up to an event?
JR: My breakfasts are full of protein — turkey bacon, egg whites, sliced turkey or chicken — mixed in with our breakfast burrito with roasted corn and salsa, so I get a lot of protein and a little bit of carbs. I use fresh black beans; the legume is a great source of carbs and breaks down slowly in body. My midday snack is a couple of slices of fruit or an apple. For lunch I have a whole wheat wrap, like a tuna salad wrap, or I take a signature salad and add a wrap. For dinner I have a signature salad or a couple of our side dishes put together. It’s a lot of mixed greens and fresh vegetables. I’ll try to stay away from any oil or sugar content. I’ll do one of our lighter vinaigrettes or lemon juice or lentils with sautéed spinach and chicken. It’s filling and nice and hot. It has great flavor and it doesn’t make you feel like you are in any way eating healthy.
SS: Monday through Thursday I add about 20% more carbs, so half of my intake is carbs and then I back off on the fats and proteins to 15 to 20%. On Friday night, generally two nights before, I will eat a bigger carbohydrate meal than Saturday, more balanced and less carbohydrates. You don’t want to do anything excess. Races typically start around 6 a.m., so three and a half hours before I will have a good size meal but nothing that is going to be sitting in my stomach. I like starting the race fresh. And everyone is different. For someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in racing, you can get away with eating a little bit more. I’ve been doing this for eight or nine years. I’ve been mountain bike racing since I was 14 or 15.
So no carbo-loading?
JR: There’s the traditional carb loading period two days before races where I’ll substitute some whole wheat pastas for dinners. It’s not like I’m sitting here eating 15 pounds of pasta, but I’ll have 2 ½ to 3 cups of pasta added to a meal. I’ve seen some people just gorge on pasta and pizza. I don’t load my pasta down with heavy sauces or fatty meat products, but I will throw in grilled vegetables and chicken or ground turkey to build up that source of energy. I find if people make any drastic changes right in front of the race or any big endurance contest, whether it’s a long hike or bike ride or actual competition, their body is shocked by it. It’s usually not a positive experience because their body isn’t used to it and it’s an additional strain. A modified change is what I advise to not put that additional stress on the body.
SS: As part of my normal eating plan, I try to stay away from red meat and eat lean turkey, ahi and salmon. I also eat whole grains. I don’t eat a lot of breads and don’t really do a lot of big carbohydrate loading. A lot of people will say you should load up on carbohydrates a week before. The night before it will weigh you down the day of the race.
If someone is looking to eat healthy while dining at your restaurant, what should they have?
SS: We’ve got some great noodle dishes at Sapporo. In a noodle dish like our pad Thai, rice noodles make up about 40 to 45% of those dishes. You can get almost your total required amount of carbohydrates in that dish. I like noodles and brown rice. I will incorporate some kind of noodle, brown rice or potato as one of my main components of my lunch or dinner. For breakfast, I’ll have oatmeal or granola. At lunch we have the Three Sum menu, where you can order a protein, starch and vegetable. I suggest the brown rice, sautéed snow peas and teriyaki chicken or for a pre-race dinner, the Japanese Udon noodles with chicken breast and root vegetables.
What about spicy foods?
SS: I like spicy food. But the two days before [a race] I’ll stick to clear and it’s along the same principles of not overeating the night before the race. It can do damage to your stomach or digestive system. On the morning of a race I want my stomach not empty but clear of not having anything that could make it upset. Peppers have some enzymes where you have to be super careful. You want to focus on simple, wholesome components that work together.
Stephen, I hear a lot of professional athletes frequent Sapporo.
SS: We get a lot of the Phoenix Suns players, Diamondbacks and Cardinals. For whatever reason, Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals has been in every month for the last six months and he usually brings some of his buddies from the NFL and his family. They usually do the Teppanyaki and they can definitely eat. Mike Bibby has been in a couple of times in the last month.
Why is your restaurant so popular with athletes?
SS: We have a lot of options. Obviously, sushi can be a lot healthier than pizzas or burgers or heavy stuff, so that’s part of the draw. Even if you don’t like raw fish or don’t do sushi, our kitchen menu is a little bit lighter. You can do brown rice with anything. We do a lot of fresh fish, an ahi poki during happy hour and a pad Thai taco with sea bass where we use a tapioca rice shell, so it’s a lot lighter.
Jonathan, your celebrity fans include Ron Artest, Jessica Biel and Romeo, right?
JR: We have professional athletes, dancers, amateur marathoners as well as the office warriors who are all avid Greenleaf customers. Everything on the menu has been designed in a way that fulfils the healthy lifestyle. Some things are a bit more decadent than others. We consciously have swapped out everything over time from the more oil-based breads like focaccia breads to a whole grain ciabatta bread. Our turkey bun went from a brioche roll to a whole grain — whole wheat that is a very seedy, nutty bun. It’s a great source of fiber and carbohydrate. Our croutons come from whole wheat or whole grain breads.
What’s your best advice to weekend warriors?
JR: I think the best advice I give to athletes or people aspiring for a healthier lifestyle is balance. Reduce the amount of sugar, or short-term energy sources. If you’re going to eat carbs, eat whole grain carbs. Eat all natural protein if you’re going to eat protein. Eat cleaner foods that digest easier and leave your body with as much nutritional content as possible as opposed to energy peak and then a crash that leaves you with nothing residual that your body can use in endurance sports. All of our breads are whole wheat, whole grain breads and most have additional seeds. You need that type of energy that whole grain carbs can provide. That’s a problem with a lot of those energy bars. They’re loaded with fat and sugar. Your body stores the fat as fat but it takes the carbs and uses those as the energy source and then secondarily burns the fat. That’s when you have an afternoon crash or get to the end of a race and have no energy. It’s ideal to fill your body with sources of carbs especially that you can burn for a longer period of time. And that’s why we use whole grain and whole wheat instead of bleached flour or processed flour.
Do you eat anything to reward yourself after a major race?
SS: After a big event I might treat myself to a sundae. It depends on what the event is. If I’ve really worked hard and dedicated myself to eight to 10 weeks of training, I might treat myself. If you put eight to 12 weeks into training, you should be able to treat yourself and say, “Hey, I did a great job,” and go out and have something that you normally wouldn’t eat. It’s all about balance. I always have something with a glutamine base to recover. Glutamine helps repair and prevent injury and also helps prevent your body from getting sick. A lot of triathletes have a tendency to overtrain because we’re putting our body through so much. When you’re doing that every day for five to six days a week you really tear down your body and your body can’t keep up.
JR: Absolutely. Sunday brunch — there might even be a mimosa involved. It’s hard work to do it all. We all have full time jobs and to have to train heavily for something is time consuming and energy consuming. A little bit of celebration is totally justified and you should feel great afterward. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. If it isn’t fun, don’t do it.