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Get Grilling During the Triathlon Season

By Monique Ryan

Grilled food is clean food
Grilling season is here and this could be the time to expand your grilling repertoire. Traditional BBQ often conjures up images of high calorie, fatty foods dripping with butter, but lean proteins are an easy fit into your training diet. To cook healthy on the grill, all you need are a few good rubs, marinades, grilling tips and tricks, and some starter recipes. Clean grill food is not just about the main course, but appetizers and sides as well.

Shopping for grill-friendly vegetables and fruits at your local farmer’s market invites optimal freshness, and softens your carbon footprint. Vegetables are vitamin and mineral packed grill naturals, and you can even grill fruit for a sweet finish.  Each of the grill recipes is less than 450 calories, just the right amount for keeping your body energized without overdoing it.   

fuelKey grill-friendly foods
Most grill meals center around protein foods and grill season is a great time to go fishing for omega-3 fatty acids. Good-for-you fish that are lower in mercury include salmon, cod, pollack, sole, haddock, tilapia, shrimp, scallops, whitefish, and catfish.  Aim for three fish meals weekly.

Poultry is another favorite lean protein choice enhanced by grilling flavors. You can also shop smart for the leanness cuts of red meats, and even try out grass fed beef or buffalo for a palette twist.  

Grill-friendly carbohydrates include vegetables in season such as corn, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, eggplant, and mushrooms. Grill friendly fruits include peaches, pineapples, apples, apricots, and bananas. They are sweet, delicious, and nutritious when served with vanilla yogurt.   

Traditionally prepared whole grains such as quinoa salad, wild rice mix, or even a nutrient packed grilled sweet potato also extend your carbohydrate repertoire on grill meal day.

Heart healthy fats such as olive and canola oils are optimal for marinades and basting. You can even add some new flavors with sesame seed oil and avocado oil, which are ideal for cooking at high temperatures.

BBQ must dos for the fit triathlete:

  • Grill more fish and less meat. Aim for three fish meals per week to obtain the omega-3’s that your heart loves.
  • At every grill meal, include a grilled fruit and vegetable.  Choose ripe, but firm fruits as they soften on the grill.
  • Marinate meat to add flavor to food. (It helps protect you against harmful chemicals). Many marinades contain vinegar and are low in calories. Purchase or develop your own marinades or rubs which is a mixture of spices, herbs, and other seasonings massaged into protein foods.
  • Buy lean cuts of protein, particularly red meat, and trim the fat.
  •  Invest in some basic grill tools, particularly for outdoor grilling. Must have’s include tongs, a spatula, a basting brush, and a vegetable pan.
  • Use a thermometer and timer to take the guesswork out of grilling, and use different utensils for raw and cooked foods for optimal food safety.
  • Propane is clean and efficient. Cook food that takes less than 20 minutes directly over heat. Preheat the grill on high for about 10 minutes and then adjust all burners to the temperature recommended in the recipe.
  • Cook with the lid closed and lift it only to turn food or test it for doneness.

Keep grilling low risk
Where grilling is concerned, hold off on going for the burn. That’s because even clean grill food comes with a possible cost if you don’t trim, marinade, and flip your grill food. When red meat, poultry, game or fish are grilled (or even broiled), potentially hazardous chemicals that could in theory spark the beginning of cancer form. One group of compounds heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) arise in seared meats. To help prevent HCAs from forming, flip proteins quickly to accelerate cooking. Smaller meat cuts like kabobs, cook fast as well. Some research also suggests that meat marinades reduce the formation of HCAs by over 90-percent.  Another class of cancer producing compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat from meats drips onto coals or stones. These compounds are deposited back onto the cooking food by smoke and flare-ups. Trim fat on proteins to reduce drips and any related PAH containing flare-ups. Disposable grill pans catch grease and drippings.  

Grilling recipes 

Tilapia soft tacos
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Grilling Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 30 minutes

2 tilapia loins about 4 ounces each
4, 6 inch flour tortillas
1 Tomato, chopped
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ avocado, cut into ¼ inch diced
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

2 Tbsp. Olive oil
½ tsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

  1. Mix marinade ingredients and lightly brush the tilapia all over. Let sit covered  in refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes.
  2. Heat the tortillas in an oven or or over high heat for outdoor grilling.
  3. Mix the diced tomatoes, avocado, and onion.
  4. Grill directly over high heat until the tilapia begins to flake when poked with a tip of a knife, for 6 to 8 minutes, turning once.
  5. Scoop tilapia, and vegetable mix into warmed tortillas.
Calories: 469; Total fat: 20 g; Sat Fat: 3.7 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 57 mg; Sodium: 372 mg; Total Carbs: 45 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 30 g; Iron: 3.2 mg

Fish grilling tips:

  1. Preheat the grill and cook on high heat for caramelization to develop between the fish and grate for easy removal.
  2. Coat fish with a bit of olive or canola oil before cooking to prevent sticking.
  3. Keep the lid down and turn the fish only once to a clean area of the grill.
  4. Grill the first side down longer to develop a crust and eye pleasing grill marks to be served on top.

Grilled peaches (serving with frozen yogurt)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes 

4 medium firm but ripe peaches, halved and pits removed
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 cups low fat vanilla yogurt

  1. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Brush the cuts sides of the peaches with vegetable oil.
  3. Cook cut side down on grill for 3 to 4 minutes with lid closed.
  4. Turn over peaches and move to clean section of grill.
  5. Cover with tops of peaches with brown sugar and cinnamon mixture.
  6. Cook another 6 minutes covered or until sugar is melted.
  7. Serve 1 to 2 peach halves with ½ cup low fat vanilla yogurt.

Calories: 220 calories; Total Fats: 8.5 g; Saturated Fat: 1.7 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 6 mg; Sodium: 83 mg; Total Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 1.5 gm; Sugars: 30 g; Protein: 7 g; Iron: 0.4 mg; Calcium: 220 mg

Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the leading endurance sports nutritionist. Her nearly 30 years of professional experience working with Olympic (consultant to USAT and USA Cycling), elite and age-group endurance athletes and professional sports teams make her one of the most experienced and qualified sports nutritionists in the U.S. Ryan is founder of Chicago based Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC and the best-selling author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (3rd edition, VeloPress) and three other sports nutrition books. PND, LLC provides detailed nutrition plans for triathletes across North America competing in all race distances, with programs at  Ryan is a Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.