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Seasons Change - So Should Your Eating Habits

By Ryan Hutmacher and Sara Haas

produceSpring is just around the corner. Those who've braved the seasonal elements and concentrated on staying strong over the winter look to showcase their commitment in the hopes of new PRs.  On the other hand, the rest of us will reluctantly step onto that scale for the first time, only to cringe at what's been undone during the offseason.  In either case, as the seasons change, our eating habits should too.

This is the time of year to let go of those heavy, stick-to-your-ribs types of foods and replace them with light, yet filling foods that help energize and fuel you for your workouts.  Believe it or not, among all of the variables that effect optimal performance, nutition is the one we have the most control over.     

When looking into a nutritional plan, remember, keep it simple. Incorporating changes to your eating habits can be overwhelming.  Just as you benefit from a regimented training schedule with your coach or training group, the same can be equated from seeking out nutritional support. A registered dietitian can evaluate your individual needs and create a customized plan. Having that accountability from a nutritional perspective will give you more defined benchmarks to map your progress. Aside from benefiting from the physical changes, the mental clarity can be even more profound as your confidence levels will propel you past mental walls.

If you decide to plan your own nutritional regimen, here are some key tips for eating right this spring:

1)     Eat plenty of fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, herring, lake trout, sardines, mackerel and albacore tuna, all of which are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids. This type of unsaturated fat benefits heart health and has anti-inflammation properties. Fish is a great source of lean protein, making it a good choice to include in your recovery meal after a long workout.

2)     Go to the farmers market! Choose fresh vegetables and fruits from a wide variety of colors.  Different colors have different nutritional benefits. The richer the color, the more likely the presence of antioxidants. Antioxidants are the compounds that not only help fight against cancer-causing free radicals, but also provide aid in muscle recovery. Also, eating so many colorful foods prevents boredom.  What makes eating healthfully even more enjoyable is partaking in the harvest of seasonal and regional bounties.  Take pride in your own health by asking the farmer questions.  When you understand the relationship that food has beyond filling your stomach, you'll embrace the passion that went into those ingredients accessible to your plate.

3)     Eat those whole grains that everyone's been talking about. This is especially important for athletes.  Avoid processed foods like white bread, pasta and rice. Instead, choose 100 percent whole wheat bread, brown or wild rice and whole wheat pasta.  These types of foods are loaded with heart-healthy fiber as well as naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals that are lost during the refining process. Many of these vitamins and minerals play a key role in both energy metabolism and recovery after exercise. Also, for variety, give other whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, kamut and millet a try.

Understanding what to eat is only half of the equation.  Actually preparing these ingredients is where it counts!  The more you can eat at home, the more control you have over what goes into your body.  So now that you know what to eat, you're going to need to know how to cook it!

Check out these recipes:

Yucatan-Style Pickled Onion


  • 5 oz red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp whole allspice
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • salt to taste


Place the onions in a saucepan and cover in cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain, rinse briefly under cold water and place the onions in a nonreactive bowl or glass jar. Add all remaining ingredients, stir to distribute ingredients evenly, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

The pickled onions will keep, covered tightly in the refrigerator, for a few weeks.

Servings: 16

Black Bean and Charred Corn Quinoa Sauté


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly

Tomatillo Salsa

  • 1/2 lb tomatillos, rinsed, husked and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded, sliced
  • 1/2 small white onion, medium dice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 2 fluid ounce water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red onions, diced small
  • 1/4 cup red bell peppers, diced small
  • 1/4 cup green bell peppers, diced small
  • 1/2 cup fresh corn on the cob, grilled and sliced off the cob
  • 1/2 (28oz) can black beans, rinsed or 14 oz rinsed home-cooked black beans
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, minced


Combine quinoa and water in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

To Make the Tomatillo Salsa:  Sauté the onion and peppers over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, then deglaze with water, scraping the pan clean.  Remove from the heat.  Sauté the tomatillos separately until they are softened but not excessively browned, approximately 5 - 8 minutes.

Place the cooked tomatillos, jalapeno, onion and garlic, fresh cilantro and salt in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely pureed. Add the water as needed, without making too runny (you may not use all the water or you may use more). Add enough sugar to balance the tartness and additional salt to taste.

Pre-heat a non-stick pan over high heat, add the oil and sauté the onions and peppers.  Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent and soft.   Turn the heat down to medium-low.  Fold in the quinoa, corn and black beans.  Take off the heat and finish with the fresh cilantro.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss with the tomatillo salsa.

Servings: 6

Tequila-Glazed Halibut Tacos


Tequila Glaze

  • 1 jalapeno (with seeds), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Avocado Salsa

  • 1 medium avocado
  • 2 tbsp red onion, fine dice
  • 1/2 cup quartered grape tomatoes (red or yellow)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, fine dice
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin, powder
  • salt, kosher, to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 1/2 lb halibut
  • 12 corn tortillas


To make the glaze: combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until glaze has reduced by half.  Remove from heat and let cool.

To make the salsa:  combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the fish:  heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium and add the oil.  Season the halibut with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Cook for about 5-8 minutes on the first side or until golden brown.  Turn the fish over and cook on the other side for 2-4 minutes, or until cooked through.  Baste with the glaze during the last few minutes of cooking.

Wrap the corn tortillas in a damp kitchen towel and microwave until warm and pliable, 30 - 45 seconds.  Layer the tortillas with fish and salsa.

Servings: 6

For info on how you can find a registered dietitian in your area go the American Dietetic Association website at For more recipes and techniques that will help you apply your expanding knowledge of functional ingredients, go to As an athlete, there's no better time than now to explore your individual nutrition.

Chef Ryan Hutmacher is owner of Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago, IL.  Centered Chef is a wellness focused culinary consulting and educational firm that fuses nutrition with culinary arts.  With a focus on natural ingredients, Ryan celebrates the idea reinventing "health food", proving that nutritious and delicious are equally attainable.  His expertise is notable within the marathon and triathlon community in Chicago, as well as within the corporate sector.  Partnerships in culinary wellness programming include athlete runner programs like Team determiNation/ACS, Team CF, TEAM to End Aids, Fleet Feet Sports, Chicago Area Runners Association, Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago TriMonster, and Fitness Formula Clubs.  Other notable partners include American Nutrition Association, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Northwestern Hospital, Rush Hospital, Energy BBDO, Leo Burnett, IBM and Sara Lee Corp. 

Along with his staff dietitian and co-writer, Chef Sara Haas (RD/LDN), Ryan appears both locally and nationally on television stations like WGN Superstation, where they give practical solutions to preparing food both easily and healthfully.

Chef Ryan's Culinary Wellness Initiative: