After a day that includes numerous hours logged on a run, bike or swim, it seems like a girl could eat whatever she wanted. While I have heard pro triathlete Natasha van der Merwe hint at these 5,000 calorie days, I know firsthand that she’s not scarfing down gut-busting pizza and McFlurrys during her typical training block – these treats are reserved for much-deserved, post-race rewards. The day-to-day menu of the “South African born but Texas trained” transplant is much more practical, drawing on foods “with a purpose” to either fuel her for the next workout or help her recover from the most recent.
As much as she can, Natasha likes to stick to “real” unprocessed foods and a gluten-free diet. During long training rides she’s made the switch from energy bars and gels for mid-ride fuel to homemade sweet potato cookies — or even sometimes just the whole baked sweet potato! Believe it or not, a challenge for Natasha is taking in enough quality calories to stay “topped off” for Ironman training, a commitment that often has her busy working out 2 or 3 times per day. Oh, and did I also mention that she fills her downtime with coaching and taking care of the day-to-day details of Tri Team Transport, a triathlon bike and gear transport business she owns with her husband.
Because of this hectic schedule, Natasha tells me that she relies on quick and easy meals that can be thrown on the grill. Lean steak, a sweet potato and some veggies has long been her go-to selection. A perfect choice for the athlete and I’m not the only one saying so! According to experts, a 3.5 ounce serving of lean beef supplies about 40 percent of the daily requirements for zinc, a mineral needed to keep the immune system strong. Also supplied in this modest-sized serving of beef are 2 milligrams of iron (athletes need extra to rebuild red blood cells broken down by taxing training sessions) and a boost of B vitamins which help convert carbs (like a nutrient-dense sweet potato)into usable fuel for exercise.
It sure looks like beef is working for Natasha; this year she’s had some solid breakthroughs in her sport including a 37 minute 10k (off the bike, mind you!), a sub 30 minute swim in the half-Ironman and top ten finishes in too many 70.3 distances to count. Plus, she also recently finished her first full Ironman 140.6 distance (something she said she’d “never” do) at Ironman Mont Tremblant and now has her mind set on Ironman Florida and Ironman Arizona. Probably her only “beef” about beef is being in a rut about how to prepare it day in and day out– and that’s where I come in!
Knowing Natasha’s livelihood relies on simple, satisfying and nutritionally-sound suppers, I went to my source for no-fail beef recipes — the Texas Beef Council. The perfect “spiced-up” dinner suggestion for my triathlete friend that contains both lean beef and sweet potatoes is (drumroll) Jamaican Beef Kabobs. You should try it for dinner tonight, if you know what’s good for you!