If there’s one word that could best summarise how to train for rowing, it would be “volume”, as summarised quite nicely by this Olympic champion. As an aerobic, endurance sport with a vastly important technical aspect and a great need for power and strength, the volume of work required can be enormous. An as any physicist will tell you, work is just a transfer of energy. So where do we get this vast amount of energy from so that we can do our work?
This brings us to pasta. I’m sure all endurance athletes have had a very long and close relationship with it. In the past I’ve had moments when I’ve eaten so much pasta, so regularly that I could barely bring myself to look at it any more. It’s not always that bad, but pasta never seems far away. The ease and speed with which it can be cooked, combined with the obvious nutritional advantage of a huge dose of carbohydrates and a decent shot of protein (roughly 10% by dry weight) go some way to explaining its enormous popularity. These days I try not to indulge in it too much, preferring brown rice as my staple carbohydrate, but it still crops up in my diet at least once a week. I normally like to use wholemeal pasta, although I realise the photo at the top of this page includes plain pasta – I just happened to have run out of wholemeal on the night when I decided to prepare this post!
This recipe is a fairly standard meal for me when I’ve got home fairly late from training. It’s very straightforward to prepare and very satisfying. As with a lot of my meals it includes some avocado to give a bit of richness, and some red pepper to add sweetness, but the base ingredient is broccoli. Broccoli obviously has a bad reputation owing to the flavourless, over-boiled mush that’s regularly served up in canteens, but when done properly it’s delicious and another of my favourite ingredients. Nutritionally it is a gold mine, with vast amounts of vitamin C, A, and K to name but a few, and frankly it’s rather delicious too. As with many things my preferred means of cooking it is to roast it. This means using a bit more oil than, say, steaming, but roasting concentrates the flavours and unlike boiling, doesn’t drain off any of the nutrients. It’s also just super convenient to throw things in the oven and leave them while you get on with something else. In this recipe I often interchange normal broccoli and tenderstem/purple sprouting broccoli. Both work perfectly well, but I tend to find that the latter requires slightly less cooking time. Both can start to burn if you leave them in the oven for too long so you may want to be careful first time round.
An optional addition to this recipe is to crush part of a chicken stock cube (preferably one of the Kallo organic ones of Knorr at a push) into the chicken mixture before roasting. This can add a bit of richness to the whole mixture but I tend to avoid it these days.
Chicken and roasted broccoli pasta
Serves one hungry athlete or two normal people
200-250g of pasta shapes, preferably wholemeal. This recipe doesn’t work that well with spaghetti or other long pasta.
1/2 a large head of brocolli, or 1 small head, or 1/2 a pack of tenderstem broccoli, totalling about 200g (usually less for tenderstem)
1 red pepper
1 chicken breast
1/2 an avocado
A couple of sprigs of fresh basil, leaves roughly torn
A good handful of rocket
1 tablespoon of balsamic or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees (Celsius)
- Cut the broccoli into forkable chunks and the red pepper into 1-2cm squares. Toss together in a roasting tin with a splash of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt. Place the roasting tin in the preheated oven and set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Slice the chicken breast into chunks of a similar size to the broccoli. Mix in a bowl with a squirt of umami paste, a little sea salt and a small drizzle of olive oil, just to lubricate everything.
- When 10 minutes remain on the timer for the vegetables, move the vegetables to the sides of the pan and place the chicken in the middle, spreading it out so it cooks evenly, before roasting for the remaining 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Remeber to be vigilant to prevent the broccoli from burning at this stage.
- Slice the avocado into small chunks
- When the chicken and vegetables are done, remove from the oven and add the avocado, rocket, basil and vinegar to the pan, along with a little black pepper. Balsamic vinegar is used in so many things so often that I sometimes like to use red wine vinegar here to change things up a bit. I might try experimenting with other types in future.
- Finally mix the pasta into the roasting tin and serve.
Brocolli. Treat it right. Don’t boil it.
The vegetable mixture, ready for roasting.
A squirt of umami paste with a splash of olive oil and a little sea salt.
Chicken breast with its umami paste marinade.
Avocado and basil. Lovely shades of green.
The vegetable mixture after roasting, with only rocket and pasta left to add.
That’s it for today. Soon to come: a discussion of what I wish I’d known as an undergrad, a summary of an athlete cook’s store cupboard essentials/grocery shop, and the previously promised discussion of doping in professional cycling.