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The Best Cookbooks to Give the Athlete in Your Life

Give the ultimate holiday present: new ideas for healthy and delicious meals

Cookbooks for every athlete (or foodie, or both) in your life. (Lucy Lambriex/Getty Images)
Photo: Lucy Lambriex/Getty Images

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Give the ultimate holiday present: new ideas for healthy and delicious meals

Still struggling to find the perfect gift for the outdoorsperson who has it all? These cookbooks can provide a constant source of kitchen inspiration and healthy dish ideas for anyone in a culinary rut. Here’s a selection of this year’s most giftable cookbooks, whether your loved one’s skill level is Top Chef or Kitchen Nightmares.

‘Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow’ by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

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(Courtesy Rodale)

This cookbook was written by runners for runners. New York Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan and her coauthor, Elyse Kopecky, incorporate meal planning and training tips with recipes for prerun smoothies and recovery dinners. The approachable dishes are great for a beginner cook and athlete looking to take their training and nutrition up a notch. There’s a whole section on bowls, including a savory coconut curry and a cashew-quinoa bowl. The authors also include straight-talk chapters about eating disorders among athletes and why they personally don’t count calories. 

‘The Campout Cookbook’ by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson

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(Courtesy Artisan)

Hardcore backpackers might roll their eyes at some of the recipes and suggestions in this book, including a Bloody Mary with a pine-cone skewer. But the cute cookbook is good for first-time car campers, families, urbanites (there’s even a stargazing-for-city-slickers guide), and backcountry regulars looking for a break from freeze-dried meals. The suggested breakfast spreads—one calling for three different pastries, two jams, butter, a baguette, yogurt, fresh fruit, and café au lait—are a bit ridiculous but definitely droolworthy.

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‘Saladish’ by Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb

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(Courtesy Artisan)

Yes, it’s a book about salads. But if you can’t stomach one more kale Caesar, this is a refreshing look at everything you can do with greens and grains. It includes interesting and healthy takes on salads, like a recipe for cucumbers with black sesame seeds and sweet-lime vinegar. Many cooking how-tos are scattered throughout, like a step-by-step guide to supreming citrus fruits and breaking down a cauliflower head.

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‘The Noma Guide to Fermentation’ by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber

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(Courtesy Workman Publishing)

For the foodie who’s ready to make their own fermented goodies, such as kombucha, vinegar, and miso, this book breaks down the exact chemical processes that turn tea into probiotic gold. There’s a massive primer on the main players, like bacteria, fungi, and enzymes (which might give you flashbacks to high school biology), and an in-depth explanation of what separates fermentation from rot. A word to the wise: many of these recipes require some dedication—enough to trick out a cooler or a rack for an in-house “fermentation chamber”—but your hard work will result in a pantry stocked with unique vinegar, sweet fermented veggies, and seven different kinds of kombucha.

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‘Healthyish’ by Lindsay Maitland Hunt

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(Courtesy Abrams)

Promising “good-for-you (but not too good-for-you) recipes,” this cookbook is a solid choice for athletes looking to spice up their diet without compromising nutrition. Each recipe was tested and tweaked by home cooks to help minimize time, ingredients, and the after-cooking mess. This is a great choice for quick, healthy weekend dinners (like turkey and chickpea burgers with dill Havarti) and travel-friendly lunches (banh mi rice bowls with spicy pork). It also offers eight different variations on the ever reliable morning grain bowl.

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‘Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables’ by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg

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(Courtesy Artisan)

If you’ve ever come home from the farmers’ market wondering what to do with kohlrabi—or what kohlrabi even isthis is your book. It’s divided into six chapters based on the time of year and provides primers and recipes for a smorgasbord of seasonal veggies and legumes. Plus, there’s a good roundup of recipes for staples like croutons, salsa verde, vinaigrette, and eight different kinds of butter. Best of all, the recipes are easy to follow and packed with insider tips from Chef McFadden, whether you’re making a braised celery and radicchio salad or a Swiss chard crostata

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‘Chloe Flavor’ by Chloe Coscarelli

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(Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House)

Even meat eaters can use this vegan cookbook to find plant-based takes on classics like goldfish crackers, matzo brei, and any kind of pasta dish you can think of. Coscarelli creatively uses tofu, beans, beets, and nuts—so many nuts—to add protein, heft, and creaminess to veggie dishes, with a promise that “carnivores won’t miss the meat one bit.” Plus, many of the recipes can easily be made gluten free.

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‘Jerky: The Fatted Calf’s Guide’ by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller

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(Courtesy Ten Speed Press)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is this keto-approved celebration of dried meat. Many of the recipes call for an at-home dehydrator, though there’s a guide to other, less equipment-intensive drying methods as well. The intro includes nifty tips like proper cutting techniques and the pros and cons of various cuts and types of meat. Recipes for jerky and the many dishes that can be made with it come from all over the globe, including a tamarind and lime-spiced Indonesian dendeng balado and a Brazilian feijoada.

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The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook’ by Coco Morante

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(Courtesy Ten Speed Press)

This book tells you everything you need to know about cooking with this year’s favorite kitchen appliance. With recipes for yogurt, hummus, broths, pasta sauce, jelly, applesauce, and more, it’s a great pick for athletes looking to fill their pantry with grocery-store staples without additives or extra sugar. Morante also includes recipes for mindless meat cooking and large-batch meal prep. Pro tip: despite the use of “instant” in the title, you might run into trouble if you’re looking to whip up something in 30 minutes or less. Be sure to add an extra 20 minutes to any recipe for the pot to pressurize and depressurize.

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‘Eat A Little Better’ by Sam Kass

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(Courtesy Clarkson Potter/Publish)

Kass, the former senior food-policy adviser to former president Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, starts his book with advice on how to reevaluate your diet from the farm up. He explains how to read nutrition labels, walks through strategies to reduce food waste, and details what, exactly, the term natural means. Kass encourages a stripped-down, commonsense approach to eating with a sustainable bent: eat lots of vegetables, grains, seafood, and chicken, and limit your intake of beef and pork. Try grilled clams with shishito peppers or one of the many vegetable side dishes, like balsamic-roasted eggplant with basil.

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Filed To: Recipes / Nutrition / Diet / Athletes / Holiday