The more I get to know Natalie Coughlin, the more I detect a kindred spirit (although she can swim a lot better than I can). As an Olympic medalist, Natalie is training almost constantly, yet she draws strength and balance from a nourishing lifestyle that includes fresh, seasonal foods (including veggies from her own garden) and smart snacks. Read on for a behind-the-scenes talk with this celebrity swimmer.
LH—We all know you as a superstar athlete, but when and how did you get interested in cooking?
NC–My interest in cooking really grew during college. I had a busy training schedule and had a year’s worth of dorm food to realize that it was time for me to start cooking! I need wholesome, nourishing foods to keep my energy up, and I wanted to eat food that tasted good, too!
LH—Do you ever cook for your fellow athletes when you’re on the road with the team?
NC–Not really. Often times we stay in traditional hotels, without a kitchen. Although I would always prefer to cook, there are many healthy options at restaurants on the road. You just need to be smart about what you order.
LH—I hear you’re a gardener. How did you get into that and what are your favorite things to grow?
NC–I’ve always loved food, so having my own garden was a dream of mine. I find it really relaxing and plus, it’s a great way to get fresh produce and herbs. As far as my favorites go, I really love how easy it is to grow salad greens (and I probably use them the most), but I also enjoy growing kale, carrots and beets. Their flavor is incomparable when they’re straight from the garden.
LH—We at Nourish Network believe that food is more than just what we eat. How does food play into your training… both in terms of feeding your body, and feeding your spirit?
NC–Food plays a huge role in my training routine—I see it as fuel for my body and rely on wholesome foods to give me the energy I need to perform my best. With that said, I really pay attention to what I’m eating and try to incorporate as many simple and seasonal foods as possible, especially lots of fruits and vegetables. I also carry nutritious snacks with me to make sure that my energy doesn’t drop while I’m training. Dried plums are one of my go-to snacks since they’re convenient, taste great and most importantly, they are a nutrient powerhouse that helps promote good heart, bone and digestive health. They also support the immune system. In terms of feeding the spirit, when you eat healthy you feel better both physically and mentally. It’s amazing when you pay attention to how you feel after a healthy meal and after a not so healthy meal. Not only do you feel better after a healthy meal, but you feel better about yourself because you’re treating your body right.
LH—Are there any special “extras” you need nutritionally as an athlete? How do you make sure you’re getting what you need?
NC–Due to drug testing, I don’t take any supplements; I focus on meeting all of my nutritional needs through the foods that I eat. I always make sure that I’m eating different fruits and vegetables, lean proteins—and plenty of whole grains—to give me all my vitamins and minerals. One easy way I do this is to include lots of superfoods like dried plums in my diet.
LH—What gets you most excited about California Dried Plums?
NC–Working with the California Dried Plum Board has really been one of the most rewarding partnerships that I’ve had over the years. I’ve been able to develop my own signature recipes that use dried plums. I’m always amazed at how they can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. I have also learned a ton about their nutritional benefits! Snacking on dried plums is a good way to increase important vitamins and minerals, and also a tasty way to way to curb appetite.
LH—How did you get involved with the California Dried Plum Board?
NC–I have been snacking on dried plums since I was a kid, so it was a natural fit to become the spokesperson for the California Dried Plum Board in 2009. Dried plums are a convenient, healthy superfruit snack, ideal for active people. I’m always recommending them to my family, friends, teammates and coaches.
LH—That Lumpia with Dried Plum Purée on your website looks fantastic. What’s another favorite recipe of yours?
NC–Moist and Fudgy Brownies with Dried Plums is my go-to recipe for a great dessert. I don’t typically have a huge sweet tooth, but I love this recipe and they’re always a big hit among my friends and family. Plus, the recipe uses dried plum purée as a way to add extra nutrition and moisture, so this is a “healthier version” of the brownie. Using the purée lets you use less fat and sugar.
LH—Can you tell us about the California Dried Plum Board’s “Super Snacking” Sweepstakes?
NC–As I said, snacking is a huge part of my daily routine and the California Dried Plum Board wanted to help others supplement their own healthy snacking habits though the sweepstakes. The “Super Snacking” sweepstakes will provide one lucky person with a $1,000 grocery gift card for a nearby grocery store. To enter, visit CaliforniaDriedPlums.org.
LH—What’s YOUR favorite California dried plum snack?
NC–I love the Dried Plum Snack Bars – I even made them over the holidays for my family!
LH—How is your training going for London 2012?
NC–It’s going really well! I’m keeping busy with my workouts and training, but in reality, athletes are training all the time. We always need to make sure that we’re eating the right foods and staying in shape. Our routine just gets more intense when the Games are coming up!
LH—Any special dishes you’re looking forward to trying while in the UK?
NC–Although this is far from healthy, I’m looking forward to some traditional bangers and mash. Everyone deserves to indulge every once and a while!
Natalie Coughlin is a paid spokesperson for the California Dried Plum Board.