With January comes the inevitable and exhausting wave of diets.
It’s hard to keep up. Some are legitimate, healthily and sustainable – others fall firmly in the ‘fad’ category.
We’ve been looking in depth at the keto diet, we’ve talked a lot about going vegan, we’ve debunked the frankly ludicrous milk diet.
But not everyone subscribes to the idea that in order to lose weight and be healthy you have to completely overhaul how you eat.
Rugby star James Haskell is keen to spread the message that uncomplicated, healthy, home-cooked food is the best way to stay healthy this January – rather than drastic changes, or cutting out an entire food group.
Using his vast experience in elite fitness and nutrition, and with the help of a world-class chef, he’s created a new cook book to help you fuel your body in a healthy, sustainable way.
Cooking For Fitness is the brainchild of the England rugby star and top performance chef Omar Meziane.
With 79 recipes designed specifically for male and female fitness enthusiasts, the book aims to help you build muscle, strip fat, increase resistance, improve performance time, aid recovery or simply fuel your training.
‘What I want everyone to realise is that nutrition is a vital part of being fit and healthy – it shouldn’t be an afterthought, or something that you choose to focus on instead of keeping fit. The two go hand-in-hand,’ James tells Metro.co.uk.
‘What I wanted to do with this book is to create a range of recipes that are simple, easy-to-follow and completely healthy through and through. No fads, no gimmicks, no unicorns – just simple, healthy food that will fuel your body.’
Lamb chops with roasted veg and salsa verde
4 lamb chops
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 garlic cloves
1 head of fennel, sliced into 6 wedges
1 red pepper, chopped
1 red onion, chopped into 6 wedges
2 courgettes, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
10 mint leaves
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1. Preheat your oven to 200°C.
2. Place the lamb chops in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon zest and juice over them. Finely chop 4 of the garlic cloves, mix them with the lamb chops and leave to marinate for 10 minutes.
3. Place the fennel, red pepper, onion and courgettes on a roasting tray. Finely chop the remaining garlic clove and mix together with the vegetables. Drizzle over the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
4. Place all the ingredients for the salsa verde in a food processor and blend until everything is combined. You still want the salsa slightly chunky.
5. Place the lamb chops on a roasting tray and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Once the chops are cooked allow them to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
6. To serve, divide the roasted vegetables between 2 serving plates and top with the lamb chops. Spoon over the salsa verde.
Cooking For Fitness
James says that 75% of any successful exercise plan is about eating the right diet. And that means not following any quick-fix plans to lose weight in the shortest time possible.
If you exercise and want to steadily improve your performance, there aren’t any shortcuts.
‘Most diets, particularly at this time of year, have some kind of gimmick or angle that makes them unique, but ultimately, gimmicks don’t last, and won’t give you the results you want,’ explains James.
‘It would be great if I could come up with some niche, marketable diet plan that promises all sorts, but that’s not what I want to do – and this well-rounded approach is always the best option.’
James isn’t exactly a natural chef, and his elite training schedule doesn’t leave much time for experimenting in the kitchen. That’s why simplicity was such a an important factor in creating the book. He wants the recipes to be accessible for even the most novice chef.
‘I can’t really cook, that has been something I wanted to change – and developing these recipes with Omar has been so enlightening and enjoyable,’ says James.
‘We were basically able to combine my knowledge of fitness and nutrition, with his culinary skills – and we think the results are pretty amazing.’
The recipes are split into low-carb and high-carb meals, to reflect different training days, but James is keen to stress that cutting out an entire food group is not a healthy or effective way to lose weight.
The book does contain vegetarian and vegan recipes, but James isn’t exactly sold on veganism as a weight-loss tool.
‘Veganism is obviously a growing trend, and if you want to cut out animal products to save the planet or because of the animals, then that’s absolutely fair enough – but I don’t believe in it as a tactic to lose weight,’ James tells us.
‘I think cutting out any food group, or alcohol, and then seeing weight loss is basically a false economy. You don’t have to cut anything out in order to lose weight and be healthier – you just have to eat better.
Sweet potato, kale and chickpea soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut
into 2cm dice
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1.5 litres hot water
1 vegetable stock cube
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cumin
4 large kale leaves, chopped
1. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a high heat. Place the garlic and half of the sweet potato in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes without colouring. Add half of the chickpeas and continue to cook for 1 minute.
2. Boil the kettle and pour 1.5 litres of hot water into a jug, then dissolve the stock cube in the water. Pour the stock into the pan of sweet potato and add the cinnamon and cumin. Bring the soup to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until the sweet potato is cooked through. Allow the soup to cool a little before placing in a food processor and blending until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and pour back into the saucepan.
3. While the soup is cooking, place the remaining potato chunks on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.
4. Place the saucepan of soup over a low-medium heat and add the remaining chickpeas and the kale. Now add the baked sweet potato chunks into the soup. Serve as soon as the soup is nice and hot.
Cooking For Fitness
‘If you stop drinking alcohol and then notice that you lose loads of weight – it isn’t alcohol that was causing the excess weight, it was the fact that you were over-indulging. And it’s this kind of thinking that needs to change.
‘I hate the idea of all these fad diets, of people cutting out carbs, or only drinking these ridiculous detox teas – of course you’re going to lose weight if you cut out something you were eating a lot of. But is it healthy? Is it sustainable? No.
‘And for people who train and exercise, this is even more important, you need carbs to fuel your body – to give you the energise to work out or to play sport effectively.
‘My main problem with veganism is that vegans tend to be really militant with their beliefs – and I just think there’s no need for it. I’ve never come across a militant meat-eater – I don’t think they actually exist, so for vegans to push their beliefs on other people – I don’t think that’s fair or helpful.
‘It’s all too easy to get drawn in to fad diets at this time of year. People want to lose weight quickly, and I understand that, but it’s got to be sustainable, balanced and enjoyable – that’s where cooking comes in.’
Ultimately, the book aims to be the perfect companion for fitness lovers.
Fitness isn’t enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and neither is diet – but the two of them together are a magic combination.
The idea of eating to fuel your fitness is much more attractive than a crash-diet that promises speedy weight-loss, but will make you feel miserable.
Listen to your body, exercise and eat wholesome meals when you’re hungry. That’s really all it takes.