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Eat Like an Athlete: A Colorado Food Business That Fuels Performance

This business makes food with athletes in mind.

It’s a recipe for disaster, but amateur athletes often make the mistake of emulating the training schedules and workouts of professionals. If the latest Ironman champ does a tempo run on Tuesdays and a long bike ride on Wednesdays, we figure we’ll just modify the paces and distances to fit our abilities and apply the pro’s plan to ourselves.

This logic almost never works—with a notable exception. Ordinary athletes and genetic lottery winners share the same basic nutritional needs, and both benefit from having access to high quality foods that are enjoyable to eat. Sure, the quantity of calories needed to support an eight-hour training week will vary from what’s required to fuel a 25-hour weekly training schedule. But the quality of calories consumed directly affects the performances, health and well-being of athletes at all levels.

In Boulder, Colo., professional chef Kelly Bailey Newlon has founded a food preparation and meal-planning business called Real Athlete Diets (RAD), based on the idea that both professional and amateurs would be excited to have access to tasty meals created with creativity and skill. A lifelong runner herself, Bailey Newlon decided to launch the RAD business with her cyclist husband Morgan Newlon, who also comes from the food and restaurant world. The year-old start-up business offers both a menu of healthy meals and snacks that can be picked up or delivered and a catering service that can create custom meals for individuals or small or large groups.

The idea for the business occurred to Bailey Newlon while she was teaching at Boulder’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, she knew she had chops in kitchen, and if an athletic foodie audience existed, this would probably be a good place to find it. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to cook for athletes in Boulder. I’m a runner, and I’m a chef. There has to be a business in there somewhere,’” says Bailey Newlon.

It seems to be working—RAD has a growing client base that ranges from top-shelf pro athletes to dedicated age-groupers and newbies. In some cases, they even share the same household. That’s the case with Timothy Olson, a top ultrarunner who owns the course record for the Western States 100 (14:46:44) and his wife Krista, who runs on a casual level. Both maintain a gluten-free diet, with Tim preferring a Paleo-inspired regime (although he’s experimenting with non-wheat grains). Krista’s dietary restrictions preclude eggs and almonds.

RAD makes healthy cuisine for the runners who attend the Olson’s Run Mindful Retreats held in Boulder.

“After working with Kelly and the RAD team, I definitely consider their service more of a necessity than a luxury,” Tim says. It’s not that the Olson clan can’t prepare their own meals—they enjoy time in the kitchen together when schedules allow—but finding enough time to source, prepare and enjoy family meals together is a serious obstacle.

“Some days I’ll come home from a five-hour run in the mountains and at that point there’s just no way I’m going to put together the kind of meal that we can purchase from RAD’s prepared menus,” he says. “Beyond the cooking part, they do an amazing job sourcing everything from local farms—it’s the way we want to eat. They work around our food sensitivities and come up with meal options that a home cook doesn’t have the experience to match.”

RELATED: Why You Should Attend a Holistic Running Renewal Camp

For chef Bailey Newlon, the Olsons embody the food-savvy athletes she hoped to attract to her business. “We have very few clients, especially among the higher-end athletes, that are not gluten free, and often they have other restrictions as well,” she says. But the RAD menus go well beyond avoiding allergens. “I’m knowledgeable about nutrition, but first and foremost I’m a chef,” says Bailey Newlon. “I actually don’t think they can be separated. You have to eat food you enjoy to stick to a nutrition plan—it really doesn’t work without the food being good.”

Another aspect of the RAD food philosophy is to empower athletes to prepare their own meals—including cooking classes. Bailey Newlon’s work experience at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts includes working with recovering young adults, teaching them life skills by planning and preparing food. Her instruction now extends to the athletic scene—a recent evening session at Food Lab Culinary School in Boulder attracted a mix of professional runners and cyclists, as well as home chefs.

PHOTOS: Eat Like an Athlete Healthy Cooking Class at Food Lab

“Pick your battles in the kitchen,” Baily Newlon advised the group, wielding a gleaming 8-inch chef’s knife. “If you don’t have time for a homemade broth, pick a good one from the store and go with it. Don’t let that stop you from preparing the rest of the meal just how you’d like it.”

Recent RAD menu items have included radicchio salad with bacon jam vinaigrette ($10), coconut curry soup with gluten-free noodles and seasonal vegetables ($10), chai pudding with gluten free waffles, fresh berries and quinoa granola ($10), as well as dessert delicacies like dark chocolate hibiscus truffles ($6) and dark chocolate espresso brownies ($2.50).

RAD recently unveiled Big Kid Spaghettios ($10), a healthy version of the pre-teen dining staple made with gluten-free pasta, roasted bell peppers and tomatoes, garlic, onion, sea salt, ground turkey, basil, turmeric and house-made chicken stock. Oh, and you can add a single strip of thick cut, locally produced bacon to just about anything for a buck.

With the confidence of a seasoned professional, Baily Newlon applied the chef’s knife to an onion while bringing the group up to speed on techniques for minces and dices. (Only a modest amount of bloodletting followed in the ensuing group cooking session—nothing that would keep anyone off the trails or out of the pool.) The group struggled to keep up at times, and the resulting dishes probably didn’t quite match the professionally prepared examples—but that’s OK. As with training, what works for a pro may not apply exactly to an amateur. But there was plenty of knowledge gained and it was a fun and entertaining evening that concluded with an amazing meal.

Real Athlete Diet’s Easy Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chipolte Chicken and Cilantro Pesto Topping

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • ¼ red onion, chopped
  • Dried herbs of your choice
  • 1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs. ghee OR butter OR olive oil
  • 1-2 organic chicken thighs OR 1 cup cooked white beans
  • ½ cup canned tomatoes
  • 1 poblano chile
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 tbs. chili powder

Bake sweet potatoes in oven for 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove, cool, halve and scoop interior into a bowl while leaving the skins intact. Rub shells with ghee, butter or olive oil and return to oven to crisp for 10-15 minutes.

While skins are crisping, heat another 1 tbs. ghee, butter or olive oil in a sauté pan. Add chicken thighs or white beans and cook, making sure chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with chili powder during the final stages of cooking.

As chicken or beans are finishing, heat another 1 tbs. ghee, butter or olive oil in a sauté pan. Add red onion and cook until soft. Season with salt and add vinegar. Cook for five more minutes and add sweet potato meat. Continue cooking and stir until the mixture is well combined. Season and remove from heat.

Remove crisped sweet potato shells from oven. Stuff with sweet potato meat and onion mixture. Top with chicken or beans.

Spoon cilantro pesto sauce on top of the sweet potatoes and chicken or beans. Briefly reheat or hold in the oven. Serve while hot.

Cilantro Pesto Topping

  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers
  • ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ½ cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tbs. agave liquid sweetener
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Sea salt to taste

Use a blender or a food processer to chop the garlic. Add the rest of the ingredients one at a time and blend.