Eat like an athlete

Gold medal swimmer and chef-in-training Garrett Weber-Gale shares his rules for feasting like a champ.

Gold-medal-winning swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale met Daniel Boulud on the Today Show before the Beijing Games in 2008. Since then, he has apprenticed at Daniel, Nomaand Troisgros; hosted dinners with Tom Colicchio, David Bouley and Daniel Humm; and turned his high blood pressure diagnosis into inspiration to start the site athleticfoodie.com, a resource for people who love food, but also want to stay fit. He took a break from the pool to share his top ten food rules.

avoid processed sugar

“For three and a half months leading up to the 2008 trials, I eliminated sugar from my diet. Why? Because desserts aren’t helping me win gold medals. When the trials came and I became the first American to go under 48 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle, I celebrated with a big dessert — but the funny thing is that it was too rich: after so long without them, I had stopped craving sweets.”

use whole-wheat flour

“The best bread I’ve ever eaten was at Noma. It had five to six different grains in it, and really captured the heartiness and environment of Scandinavia. Whole-wheat flour tastes better than white does, and it’s less-processed and so much more filling.”

stock up on sweet potatoes

"I find that these give me the most lasting energy, and keep me full for a long time. If I have a race at 7 pm, I’ll eat a sweet potato around 5 pm. I like to bake them in the oven, but even if I have to use a microwave at a meet, I think they’re so delicious.”

put down the cheese

"It should be used in moderation. When making a lasagna, for instance, don’t put cheese between each layer; instead, wait until it’s done cooking, pull out the tray, sprinkle a strongly flavored cheese — like parmigiano reggiano or pecorino — over the top, and then broil it for a few minutes. You get a crispy, cheesy effect with way less fat.”

blanch or bake, don’t sautee

“You should taste the sweetness of fresh peas or beets rather than oil or butter. I buy tiny farmers’ market beets, soak them in water to remove sediment, rinse, and cut them in half all the way up the stem to the leaf. I put them on a cookie sheet, season with black pepper, and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. They come out super sweet, with crispy, chip-like stems and leaves.”

find a salt substitute

“I use Ocean's Flavor, the only salt substitute that doesn’t have a horrible aftertaste, but I also make my own spice blends. My Cajun one has paprika, cayenne, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, dried rosemary and red-pepper flakes. “

eat fruit, then protein post-workout

“Immediately after a workout, I replenish glycogen with something high in sugar: dried mango, pineapple, honeydew melon, a banana, an apple or a pear. A half-hour or so later, I have protein to help my body recover. I like making a bean dip: I simmer kidney and black beans with onions, garlic powder and veggie stock until it’s cooked down, then mash the beans and add some tahini, cayenne or black pepper. “

add acid

“When cooking, always reach for something acidic — vinegar, lime or lemon juice — before you think of salt. Vinegars and citruses have stronger flavor without the cholesterol. When I’m making steak, for instance, I’ll cook in a pan, then deglaze the pan and use it to make a sauce with beef stock, fig-balsamic vinegar, a little red wine and some water.”

go beyond olive oil

“Olive oil loses nutritional benefits when heated, but coconut and avocado oils don’t — they’re good for baking vegetables. When I cook fish in a pan, I use grapeseed oil because it has a really high smoke point, so it gets really hot and gives you a nice crust.”


“Give yourself a certain amount of ‘cheat meals’ per week, when you let yourself eat pizza, have dessert, or go out to dinner. I have two cheats a week, but if you eat a lot of junk now, you could start out with six to seven and take away one per month. Guaranteed you’ll eat healthier than you did before!”