As staff nutritionist for the U.S. Ski Team, Allen Tran has cooked hundreds of meals for America’s best and boldest downhill and cross-country skiers. During the summer, at the team’s off-season training center in Park City, Utah, he oversees everything from breakfast to the recovery station, stocked with chocolate milk and homemade granola. In the winter, he’s tasked with cooking the athletes’ favorite recipes while traveling to some 15 events around the world.
His philosophy is simple: flavorful foods, quality ingredients. In the morning, he serves carbohydrates and a small amount of protein, like oatmeal with nuts, to fuel the skiers all day. At night, he turns to ingredients that are high in protein and iron, like lamb and garbanzo beans, to speed athletes’ recovery. “When I plan a menu,” says Tran, “I look for a lean, high-quality protein, slow-burning carbohydrates, and a green vegetable or fruit that’s high in antioxidants.”
At the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Tran will prepare standbys like flank steak fajitas and “brinner”—breakfast for dinner. Also on the menu: his popular Jamaican jerk chicken with plantains. “Our athletes love big flavors,” says Tran, “and this dish has them.”
3 green onions, chopped
1 habanero chile pepper
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons honey or dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 boneless chicken breasts
1. Combine the first ten ingredients in a food processor and blend to a coarse marinade.
2. With the machine running, add the vinegar, tamari or soy, and oil, and mix thoroughly.
3. Coat the chicken breasts in the marinade and refrigerate overnight.
4. Before cooking, bring the chicken to room temperature (about one hour).
5. Heat grill or oven to medium-high (400 degrees) and cook chicken until browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes, turning- occasionally. Serve with roasted plantains.
4 plantains, completely black and soft to the touch
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Slice the pointed ends off each unpeeled plantain.
3. Cut in half lengthwise, then lay flesh side up on a baking sheet.
4. Roast until soft and the exposed flesh is golden brown, about 20 minutes.
5. Peel and serve!
Probiotics have made a thunderclap impression on nutrition the past few years—ever since we noticed the beneficial menagerie of bacteria in our stomachs—and many have been choking down swarming mouthfuls of Kombucha to aid their digestion (among countless other functions, possibly) ever since.
Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center are mostly behind the push but warn that the little we actually know about probiotics has privileged marketers to make uncertain claims about probiotic products. So, cross your fingers and plug your nose; drink up, I guess.
Or, if you have doubt, continue on the probiotic path without making potentially dubious compromises on taste, and try out this spicy soup. (It's the Pascal's Wager of probiotics.) Chef Biju Thomas has a recipe for a classic Korean restaurant tofu jigae, low in carbs and high in protein, that's enriched with probiotics from kimchi—fermented cabbage and spices—in a decidedly culinary, non-medicinal treatment.
Sure, But Go Back to "Fermented Cabbage and Spices"
Fermented Napa cabbage comprises the most common version of kimchi, but you could also use radishes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and all sorts of seafood, says Biju. Napa cabbage provides a medium heat. If you prefer it spicier, include any type of fresh peppers or dried red chilies (or chili paste…or Sriracha). Otherwise, the stalk and tofu should mellow the heat.
What If I Don't Care About Probiotics?
You mean in relation to this recipe? Well, for approximately four servings (2 cups each), here is what else you'll get out of it:
Fat: 9.5 gm
Carbs: 10 gm
Protein: 16 gm
Cool. Let's Make It.
OK. Get these ingredients to start:
And the rest is very simple:
ABSTRACT: Rumors fly fast—and bad reputations are hard to shake. When it comes to a p.m. Turkey Day lull, we repeat what we’ve heard, and point a finger at the turkey. L-tryptophan—an essential amino acid present in protein-based foods like the traditional Thanksgiving meat—causes a bodily reaction that brings on the Sand Man, we say. Therefore, it’s not the amount of food you eat, but what you eat that makes you want to hit the hay. Right?
HYPOTHESIS: Conventional wisdom doesn’t paint the entire picture: Something besides your bird could be making you droopy eyed.
METHODS: Let’s take a more in depth look at l-tryptophan. Since your body can’t make it, you have to consume it, says Brooke Schantz, R.D., M.S., of Loyola University Medical Center. Foods like oats, milk, eggs, soybeans, and poultry are your best bets. But line these foods up and you’ll see that turkey doesn’t pack the highest numbers. In fact, the amount of l-tryptophan in turkey is similar to the amount in other poultry, says Schantz. Per gram, soybeans or cheddar cheese pack more, but they avoid the heat because they’re not the main stars of Thanksgiving.
Why do you need l-tryptophan? To make B vitamin niacin (which keeps your nervous and digestive systems, skin, and eyes healthy) and also serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. You can get it through supplements—though in 1991 the U.S. temporarily banned the sale of the supplements due to an outbreak of disabilities and deaths traced back to a Japanese manufacturer. Today, it’s available again in its original form. But the FDA still warns that clinical studies about its effectiveness in treating conditions like insomnia and even depression remain inconclusive.
So then what’s all the talk about tiredness?
RESULTS: When L-tryptophan makes serotonin, serotonin makes melatonin—the sleep hormone known to cause drowsiness and tell your body that it’s time to turn out the lights. But noshing on turkey alone isn’t enough to make you hit the sheets. Here’s why: There are three degrees of separation between the turkey that hits your taste buds and the creation of melatonin, says Schantz. Even more: The amount of l-tryptophan in the bird may not create enough melatonin to cue sleepiness, she says.
DISCUSSION: Consider the accomplices: some popular guys named carbohydrates. Some studies (like a recent one from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) find that carb-based meals high on the glycemic index—which measures how quickly blood sugar rises after eating—shorten sleep onset time. In other words, eat foods like mashed potatoes, white bread, or stuffing, and you’ll want to sleep—stat. That’s because your body digests these foods quickly. Sugar floods your bloodstream for a surge of energy, then the opposite happens: a speedy decline of energy.
Eat these foods with turkey and you’re fueling your body’s crash even more. Studies have shown that when you eat carb-packed foods, your body can absorb more l-tryptophan. See, the insulin-related response that comes from a carb load stimulates the uptake of certain amino acids into your muscles—but not l-tryptophan, says Schantz. That means there’s more l-tryptophan in your bloodstream, and more to break the blood-brain barrier fueling that serotonin to melatonin response.
CONCLUSION: The process of producing melatonin through l-tryptophan and turkey may play a role in sleepiness—especially if you’re loading your plate with the bird and carbs. But it really comes down to the carbs. Schantz draws the bottom line: “If you’re feeling sleepy on Thanksgiving, it’s because you ate too much—not because you ate too much turkey.”