by Dietitian Ellen
I’ll admit, when I saw “quinoa” for the first time, I said, “What is ‘quinn-oh-ah’?”
Try saying “keen-wa.” You will impress a dietitian, I promise.
Although technically the seed of a plant similar to spinach, quinoa acts like a whole grain and contains twice as much protein, per serving, as most whole grains like rice, pasta, couscous, or oats. Quinoa dates back to the ancient Incas of South America, where it was used as a primary staple of the diet.
Today quinoa is widely used in appetizers, soups, salads, entrées, and even breakfast meals. You will also find quinoa being added to healthier chip options. Don’t be surprised if you see quinoa available on restaurant menus, too! Due to its high protein, fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron content, this food, with a nutty flavor and crunchy texture, is an athlete’s dream food. Quinoa can typically replace alternative grains in any recipe to boost the nutritional profile of that meal or snack. Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids, which are vital for the development of lean muscle mass.
I often suggest quinoa for athlete nutrition because it is a great source of protein and complex carbohydrate, making it perfect for preparing for long endurance workouts and for recovery after workouts. The carbohydrate is beneficial in replacing the energy stores used during the workout, and the protein is beneficial for muscle recovery.
Preparing quinoa is fairly simple and similar to preparing rice. Bring two cups water to a boil in a 2 quart sauce pan. Add 1 cup quinoa, bring back to boil, cover, cook over medium heat for 12 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all the water. Remove from heat, fluff with fork, cover, and let stand for about 15 minutes. This will make about 4 cups of quinoa.
There are several varieties of quinoa available, which can all be found in your local Hy-Vee HealthMarket throughout the Midwest, and in other stores nationwide. Bob’s Red Mill Original, Roland Black Quinoa, Roland Red Quinoa, and Roland flavored quinoa pouches are all excellent. My personal favorite is Full Circle read-to-eat quinoa bowls. These little guys are shelf stable, microwavable, and very convenient. I would suggest adding a serving of fresh steamed vegetables and a hand full of almonds to give yourself a complete (and easy and quick) meal!
Here are some of my favorite quinoa recipes:
Hy-Vee’s Pear-Quinoa Salad: This is a perfect side dish for any dinner meal. Leftovers can be taken for lunch the next day, as it stays well in the refrigerator overnight.
Hy-Vee’s Southwest Quinoa: This recipe is perfect any time of year. The combination of crunchy quinoa, sweet corn, and ripe tomatoes provides a little something for everyone!
Iowa Girl Eats Harvest Chicken Quinoa Soup: This is by far my favorite meal after a long, cold, hard run! (Can you tell I have made this a few times, specifically on hard workout days?) This is also a soup that could be made in the crockpot. Let it finish as you are doing an indoor training ride. The smell will be enough to encourage you to go harder for a delicious reward!
Iowa Girl Eats BBQ Chicken Quinoa Salad: This is a great recipe for a spring day, when it is getting warm enough to fire up the grill! Although the chicken could certainly be grilled inside, something about grilling for the first time of the season makes me excited. If you are able to grill the corn on the grill, it adds a nice touch! This recipe is ready in no time and will be sure to impress your family and friends.
Iowa Girl Eats Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Mac and Cheese: This is the perfect “healthy” comfort food recipe. It can be enjoyed as an entrée with steamed vegetables on the side, or it would also make a healthier version of buffalo chicken dip for a party or get together.
Iowa Girl Eats Mini Ham and Cheese Quinoa Cups: These little guys are the perfect motivation to get up and go to the YMCA for that early morning swim session. The best part about these is they can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. Pull a couple out after your workout and you will be treated with a delicious reward.
What are some of your favorite ways to use quinoa? Please add your comment to the discussion.
Quinoa truly is a super food for athletes. If you have not tried it yet, I definitely suggest you do! Remember, what we put in our bodies is directly related to what we get out in the form of performances!
Ellen Ries, RD, LD
Read Dietitian Ellen's introduction to this series: Super Foods for Athletes. Watch our blog every Friday for additional articles!