I first met Olympic runner Kara Goucher in 2015 when she invited me to cook for the women attending her running retreat in Breckenridge, Colo. Excited for the opportunity, I arrived a few days early to prepare. When I touched down in Boulder, where Kara and Adam Goucher (her Olympian husband) live, I called her right away. She told me her day was swamped between workouts, massage therapy and picking up her son, Colt, so I suggested that I cook the family dinner. Little did I know that my suggestion would lead to me moving in with the Gouchers!
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Cooking for two Olympians?! No pressure. We laugh about it now, but Kara had always been my running idol. Her picture was literally the screen saver on my phone. Now we were breaking bread—or should I say gluten-free, no-added-sugar banana bread—together!
I pulled out all the stops for the first dinner: Mexican-style loaded sweet potatoes, homemade barbecue glazed salmon, cauliflower mashed potatoes and kale salad. And I certainly didn’t forget about dessert. That night I whipped up a vegan, fruit-sweetened apple crisp to finish the meal. I waited nervously for the Gouchers to take their first bite—and I stood there beaming as they both looked at each other and said to me, “You need to stay!”
As the week progressed, I made dinner pretty much every night. Kara shared with me that she had never slept so well, trained so hard and felt so good as when she was eating my food. Her coaches also saw an improvement in her performance.
Planning a second stay at the Gouchers’ house was a no-brainer. If I could contribute in any way to helping her reach her training goals, I was game! As soon as I got back home to New York, Kara texted me “aisle or window?” and from there I never looked back.
While I was living with Kara, the two of us watched as she grew fitter and fitter each week. She went off to win back-to-back half marathons and surpassed even her own expectations during workouts. It was incredible to see the impact nutrition had on her energy and fitness level. She committed to not eating any added sugars, and she realized that she didn’t really miss them! I made it a point to create healthy alternatives to some of her favorite snacks.
At the Olympic Trials Marathon, Kara ran an incredible race, missing the 2016 Olympic team by just one spot. (The top three make it and Kara came in fourth.) Although she won’t be in Rio this year, she is currently training for a fall marathon, where she is gunning to lower her personal best of 2 hours, 25 minutes.
During this training cycle, Kara learned that when it comes to making the most of your food, timing is crucial. During a tough workout, your muscles are being broken down, and as soon as you finish, your body is looking for nutrients to rebuild. Having a post-workout protein-rich meal or snack is key to recovering quickly and avoiding injury. When that snack is plant-based and easy to digest, your body doesn’t have to waste energy trying to process it.
Of course, there is no perfect diet that works for everyone; it’s important to experiment and see what works for you and what makes you feel your best. Additionally, when you make the initial shift from a diet full of refined carbs and sugars to a healthier plant-based diet, you may not feel so great—almost like a withdrawal phase. But give yourself two weeks and you will see how drastically your cravings change. You crave what you eat, so if you eat sugar, you will crave sugar. Eat kale, and you will crave kale. Yes, I’m serious!