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Fast food for fast runners

Boost your athletic performance with these tried-and-tested recipes from runner, blogger and dietician Charlie Watson


Cheats Paella

Cheats Paella

Cook Eat Run

Cook Eat Run

Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers

Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers

Charlie Watson

Charlie Watson

Fast Fish Tacos

Fast Fish Tacos


Cheats Paella

Charlie Watson started running because of grief.

"Losing one of my best friends, Vic, to depression at the end of our university days was my first experience of loss and I took it hard."

Wanting to do something positive in his memory and to raise funds, UK-based Charlie signed up for the 2011 London Marathon. She had no real clue about how far a marathon was and it took her 4 hours, 54 minutes and 59 seconds.

"In the beginning, I would get back from a long run and immediately tuck into a packet of chocolate biscuits, usually eating the whole pack with a cup of tea. Unsurprisingly, I put on weight. I thought that running long distance would mean the pounds just dropped off. But I changed my training completely for my second marathon, completing more speed workouts, cross-training, hitting the gym, and learning more about what to eat. I lost weight during that period, simply from changing my training and eating more mindfully."

Charlie then had another reason to keeping running - her job. After four years studying dietetics at college, her first job was in the cookery department at Good Housekeeping magazine. Her job involved writing recipes and testing food products.

"I loved testing recipes for cakes and it was actually part of the reason I kept up running after my first marathon - I was eating on the job and I needed to burn some of those calories off," says Charlie, whose book is aimed at runners of all levels, even those who are struggling to call themselves runners right now.

"If you run, you're a runner, no matter your pace or distance," said Charlie, who uses the Eatwell Plate as a good guideline for portion sizes when it comes to carbohydrates, protein and fat.

"I like to look at energy balance/calorie intake over a week rather than in individual days. So, while it's important to fuel yourself appropriately for your daily exercise requirements and to fuel your recovery, I tend to eat much the same on rest days as I do on the days that I train."

With thousands of training miles under her belt, Charlie has so far completed 12 marathons and became a Six Star Finisher by completing all of the Marathon Majors in London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, Tokyo and Boston. Her times are down, too, and she is currently clocking in at 3:38.

"I'm currently training for a triathlon and swimming hunger is its own beast. Since marathon hunger, or hanger, is real, it makes sense to fuel that hunger and refuel your muscles and energy systems with predominantly natural whole foods, aka 'real food'," said Charlie.

The book has a useful section dedicated to on-the-go fuel including homemade energy gels, hydration drinks and energy bars. It contains recipes from elite runners, making it a must-read for anyone clocking up the miles.

Extracted from Cook Eat Run by Charlie Watson. Published by Quadrille. Photography by Maja Smend


Cheat's Paella

Serves  4

This is one of those dishes where you can use up whatever veg, meat or fish you have in the refrigerator or freezer and it tastes great. I think it's excellent with leftover roast chicken and king prawns (jumbo shrimp), but it also works with squid, roast pork, chorizo, white fish, or even just packed full of vegetables, as here.


1 tsp olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

2 red, orange or yellow (bell) peppers, deseeded and finely sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tsp smoked paprika

Pinch saffron

150g cherry tomatoes, halved

300g orzo pasta

750ml vegetable (or fish or chicken stock - bouillon)

100g frozen peas

Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lemon wedges, to serve


1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan (skillet) or paella pan (with a lid) over a medium heat.

2. Add the onion and peppers and gently fry for 8 minutes, until softened.

3. Add the garlic, paprika, saffron and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, then add the orzo pasta, stock (bouillon) and peas.

4. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover with the lid, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Season to taste, then stir through the parsley.

6. Serve with lemon wedges.


Fast Fish Tacos


Fast Fish Tacos

Fast Fish Tacos

Fast Fish Tacos

Serves 2

I'm obsessed with Mexican food. On a trip to Portland in America with my mum, I had the best fish tacos in a neighbourhood restaurant. While these aren't quite authentic tacos de pescado, they are pretty tasty! You can substitute the fish for breaded or grilled chicken or prawns. Vegetarians can omit the fish and mix in a can of black beans with the sweetcorn for added protein.


2 breaded cod fillets (about 350g/12½oz)

1 tbsp butter

1 x 200g (7oz) can unsalted sweetcorn (corn), drained

1 red chilli, finely chopped

30g (1oz/¼ cup) feta cheese

200g (7oz) tomatoes, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

Large handful fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lime, plus extra lime wedges to serve

¼ red cabbage, finely shredded

8-12 taco shells or tortillas

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

2. Place the breaded cod on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saucepan over a low/medium heat, add the sweetcorn (corn), and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring, until heated through. Add the black beans, if using. Season with salt and pepper, then stir through half of the chilli and all of the feta. Remove from the heat and place in a serving bowl.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the tomatoes with half of the onion and most of the coriander (cilantro), reserving a little for garnish. Mix in the olive oil and half of the lime juice.

Season to taste.

4. In a separate bowl, toss the cabbage together with the remaining onion and chilli and squeeze over the remaining lime juice.

5. Warm the tacos or tortillas in the oven for the final 2 minutes of the fish's cooking time. Remove the baked fish from the oven, cut into thin slices and place in another serving bowl.

6. Serve all the bowls and the tacos or tortillas, along with some extra lime wedges and the reserved fresh coriander, for people to help themselves. Any leftovers make a great packed lunch!


Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers


Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers

Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers

Middle-Eastern Turkey Burgers

Serves 4

Making your own burgers may sound time-consuming, but it doesn't need to be. Using a food processor means they come together in no time. You can use diced chicken in place of turkey, if you prefer. Or swap out the burger buns and wrap the patties in iceberg lettuce for a crunchy, gluten-free option. Ingredients

400g (14oz) turkey breast

1 x 400g (14oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained

Small handful fresh coriander (cilantro)

1½ tsp harissa paste

1 tsp za'atar spice mix (see tip)

1 tbsp vegetable oil

To serve:

4 wholewheat bread rolls or burger buns

1 large tomato, cut into 4 slices

Large handful salad leaves

3 tbsp tzatziki (optional)


1. In a food processor, pulse the turkey until coarsely minced (ground). Add the chickpeas (garbanzo beans), coriander (cilantro), harissa paste and za'atar and pulse until well combined. Shape the mixture into 4 equal-sized patties.

2 Heat the oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium/high heat. Add the burgers and fry for 8 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, slice the bread rolls or burger buns horizontally and lightly toast.

4. Fill each with a burger, a slice of tomato and some lettuce.

5. Serve with tzatziki and extra salad leaves, if you like.


If you don't have any za'atar spice mix, you can make your own by combining 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground sumac, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp dried thyme or oregano, and 1 tsp sesame seeds. Store in airtight container.

Irish Independent