You don't have to be a Masterchef to fuel your body for a marathon
FORTY thousand runners, joggers and walkers are expected to take part in the Flora Women's Mini Marathon in Dublin on June 3, but according to 'Masterchef' finalist Nicha Maguire, adjusting your diet in preparation for a marathon doesn't have to mean a marathon effort.
"It's only small changes, and I've done them myself," says Nicha, who plans to walk the 10k race this Summer. After reaching the final of 'Masterchef' late last year, Thailand-born Meath native Nicha has teamed up with Mini Marathon sponsors Flora to create a cookbook for busy mums like herself, but with one crucial difference: she wants to include the treasured recipes of fellow marathon participants.
Entrants are invited to submit their tried-and-trusted recipes online at www.facebook.com/ FloraWomensMiniMarathon, where Nicha, along with dietician Harriette Lynch, will apply subtle changes to boost their nutritional content. Plus, if your recipe gets published, you'll get ¿250 for your trouble.
"We can't wait to get our hands on the recipes, it's great to get new ideas," says Nicha, adding that home chefs can sometimes be the most inspiring. "I try to cook for the family from scratch every day, if I get time. I don't like to get a takeaway or anything like that, because you don't know what's in it."
Nicha's recipe makeovers will aim to reduce the fat, calories, and sodium of the dishes, making them more valuable to the racers, active mums, and the whole family.
"You don't have to cook chef style," she warns, "and you don't have to dramatically change your diet. I think a little change at a time is better, so your body doesn't feel overwhelmed.
"We've done it with my recipes already," she adds. "One of the recipes is a fish pie, but instead of the cream, we changed it to béchamel made from Flora and flour, which is healthier, and I swapped the creamy mashed potato for an herb crust. I think you tend to use less salt when you use a lot of herbs."
Along with Nicha's fish pie, the cookbook already contains a lightened-up version of one of her signature dishes, an almond and raspberry cake with passion fruit drizzle.
"I made it this morning with Flora butter and no one can tell the difference actually," she beams.
"It's really good, and I'm quite fussy with my food! You can't smell the creaminess of the butter, but the texture is nice. It's still light and fluffy, and your conscience is clear! Normally, when I bake cakes I don't eat them. I feel bad, but this one I can eat guilt-free!"
Another of Nicha's tips for adding nutritional value at mealtimes is to incorporate metabolism-boosting spices.
"We grow up with spicy food in Thailand so I always eat spicy. Chili helps to speed up your metabolism, and turmeric and spices like that are also really good for you. In a cold country like Ireland, I think it helps you to keep warm as well!"
Meanwhile, her advice for marathon runners is simple: start every day with a good breakfast.
"You don't need it first thing at 7am in the morning," she says, "but if you eat breakfast, you'll find that your energy level is more stable through the day. I struggle with weight, so I have to watch my diet, I have to watch what I'm eating, and I have to exercise regularly, otherwise I'll balloon up, so I try to eat small meals, but often. A lot of people have probably heard of that, but it works!"
As the new cookbook will be written by mums, for mums, Nicha will be taking care to ensure that recipes use widely available, affordable ingredients and don't require hours of preparation.
"What we're trying to do is come up with something that's easy to make," she stresses, "because we know mums are busy with kids, so they're not going to have much time. We want to pick recipes that aren't too hard to prepare, but at the same time we want them to be healthy, so you get your five a day and everything in. The cookbook will have recipes that are freezable, you can make it in one big batch, divide it, and use it for another day, something to make life easier."
Nicha won't need Michelin-style skills and techniques to put these recipes to the test, but she admits that her time on 'Masterchef' has changed the way she cooks for her family.
"I learned so much from 'Masterchef,'" she says, "I'm thinking about going into a chef career now. I know it's hard work, but it's something that I love to do, and I think when you do something that you like or love, you do it better."
Exclusively for 'Health & Living', Nicha has devised her own menu that won't interfere with your training plan, and not only that, these balanced recipes are healthy and packed with energy to actually keep you going on a 10k walk.
Flora Women's Mini Marathon participants can submit their recipes online at www.facebook/ FloraWomensMiniMarathon or by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.