Recently VeloPress contacted me about checking out and doing a review of one of their new publications: The Athlete's Plate by Adam Kelinson
When they told me it was a "real food" cookbook for athletes by a chef/athlete, I was excited to check it out. Frankly, I was also jealous. The idea is very similar to what I want to do with my own cookbook. I feel like most "cookbooks" for athletes end up being way too nutrition heavy with a few recipes scattered in and ultimately very basic recipes. I was excited and hopeful that Kelinson's book would be different. I was hopeful that the librarian side of me would struggle with whether to put this book with our huge and beautiful collection of cookbooks or if it would go on the bottom backcorner shelf with the plethora of other athlete nutrition books. I value those books as refer and a one time read, but I do not consult them for recipe ideas (even the ones that have a good amount of recipes) or keep on hand. Cookbooks are a great prompt for ideas because, for the most part, they include delectable and interesting food photography that gets the ideas rolling. Even complicated cookbooks with recipes so insanely complicated you might attempt them once in a lifetime can give you great ideas about flavor and technique. But I digress.
After receiving the book in the mail, I paged through it and sighed. First glance, judging a book by its cover, this book would be delegated to that dark bottom backcorner with the other nutrition books. It was information heavy and monochromatic. The pictures that were included were much less impressive than I routinely see on even an average food blog of a nonprofessional. Not to mention the pictures were in very weird places, like halfway through the sports nutrition section. This is, as it says, full of "no-nonsense nutritional guidelines". I think it does a really great job of bringing in the real, whole food ideas like a Michael Pollan type book and combines it with some basic primers on sports nutrition. I really appreciate that this book does not get too specific or too over the top with the scientific minutia that a lot of sports nutrition books do. Most sports nutrition programs just make me more confused than when I started out and make me feel that nutrition and real food are not even related. That is not a nice feeling, nor is it helpful to athletes, most of whom are too busy to figure it out. Kelinson argues that the reason athletes can make poor food choices is because they are too busy with training, work and life, so it makes little sense to have a book that will complicate things further.
The Athlete's Plate does do that well. It does not over complicate things. He is very informative and concise without being too overly complicated in his nutrition information. As a nutritional guideline book for athlete's I liked it. I do not think it is ground breaking. It includes information for many of the lesser known whole food nutritional powerhouse foods and techniques (like seaweed and juicing, sprouting, etc). That said, these are things that are contained in books such as Thrive and are even more focused on therein. I do think Kelinson's approach is a good one. I do think the information was easy to read. I do think the information was useful and would be useful to many athletes.
The recipes, well, the recipes really left something to be desired to me. The level of cooking experience necessary was less than that needed to cook out of a publication such as Food Everyday or make something from 30 minutes with Rachel Ray. I understand that a great deal of people and athlete's possess this level of skill. However, I feel that all "athlete cookbooks" aim at this level. Athletes by nature seem to be people who like to challenge themselves. So it would be nice to include at least a few recipes that are more complicated.
I also feel like I know a lot more foodie athletes than I know foodie active people or foodie nonathletes. Kelinson argues that athletes know an endless amount about their gear but little about food and nutrition, but I think athletes, out of necessity due to their training load, are aware and consider nutrition and food much more than he gives credit for. Actually, I take that back. New athletes tend to flounder in this area, experienced athletes less so. I guess I was just hoping that this book would aim a bit more towards the middle. Better photography, a more interesting "cookbook" like layout (like the book Grub) and a handful of more challenging recipes and this cookbook would have more appeal to this Fast Foodie. I would recommend this book as a starting point for a new athlete looking for information about performance nutrition and food, as well as someone who is learning to cook. I actually have a client whom I am teaching to cook who also happens to be a triathlete. We have started at the most basic level, learning things like how to make beans and rice and guacamole, all of which are "recipes" in Kelinson's book. I am going to pass along Kelinson's book to my client so he can practice his skills until he graduates to more complicated techniques (which he is already doing, you should have seen the frittata he made!).
So basically, it comes down to this it is a worthwhile read for a beginning athlete who has some confusion about incorporating whole foods and proper nutrition into their diet.