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Michelin-starred chef Adam Simmonds cooks for former British runner Katharine Merry

Olympic bronze medalist Katharine Merry discusses the importance of nutrition for Olympic athletes

Follow the recipe below to cook a delicious starter of strawberry smoothies and mackerel lunch

(CNN) —  

London 2012 organizers could argue that one of the many attractions of holding the Olympics in the British capital is the number of great restaurants on offer for visitors harboring a hunger for tasty morsels.

But gastronomy does not always entail gluttony. Eating the right food is vital to your health – especially for the thousands of athletes who will be heading to the Olympic Park for the July 27-August 12 sporting showpiece.

Team CNN’s Zain Verjee traveled to Michelin-starred Danesfield House, on the outskirts of the city, with former British 400 meters runner Katharine Merry to help prepare a nutritious three-course meal that the Sydney 2000 Olympics bronze medalist described as: “Nice and light. Like a pre-competition meal you would have the night before.”

The first course delivered a simple blend of fruit tastes from England, strawberries being the berry of choice in July. But crucially it also delivered a hit of protein from the natural yoghurt and milk and a burst of energy via the natural fructose and xylitol.

Nutritionist James Collins, an adviser for Team Great Britain during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, agreed that fruit smoothies were the perfect snack for training athletes.

“As a sprinter you need to make sure the protein intake is high enough to support muscle recovery. Things like meats and other dairy products are great for this,” the director of London company Performance Nutrition told CNN.

“Berries and other fruits are full of antioxidants. They help athletes get rid of free-radicals, helping the muscles to be less sore the next day.

“Smoothies with milk or yoghurt are also a good source of calcium. A lot of athletes have high-impact workout sessions so they need a high calcium intake to make sure their bones are strong.”

Merry, who retired in 2005 after injuries stopped her following up her medal achievement, now works as a television pundit.

“Smoothies are a good start to the day,” the 37-year-old said.

“They can be very filling. Just an extra oomph of protein powder mixed into a smoothie like this really does kickstart your day.”

Next up was a light lunch of fresh mackerel with cucumber relish and palm hearts. The raw fish and accompanying oysters were packed full of protein, essential for energy and muscle repair. Cut into bite-size pieces, the fish was both light and sustaining for Olympic athletes in training.

“I used to eat a lot of sushi because the rawer the meat is in terms of fish, the higher the nutritional value. The more you cook it, the more you’ll lose out of it,” Merry said.

“Meat is the essential part of an athlete’s diet, and power-based sports as well need the protein to build muscle maintenance.”

Collins said that eating fish helps assist muscle repair.

An athlete’s diet is the same as everyone else’s – as in eat sensibly, five fruit a day – but in larger quantities

— Katharine Merry

“Fish such as herring or mackerel have a high Omega 3 content, which helps the blood have more anti-inflammatory properties. It can really help them recover so you’re not as sore the next day,” he said.

Last on the menu was a dessert of poached black figs with apple sorbet and goat’s curd. The figs offered a sweet treat that was both low in calories and high in fiber.

Merry said that anyone can follow an athlete’s diet, which is similar to what everyone needs for a healthy life.

“Athletes must be looking out for high carbohydrates for energy to help you get through your training session and the race. They also need a good intake of protein to ensure muscle growth and maintenance,” she said.

“Basically, an athlete’s diet is the same as everyone else’s – as in eat sensibly, five fruit a day – but in larger quantities.”

To cook like an award-winning chef and eat like an athlete, follow these recipes from Danesfield House’s head chef Adam Simmonds:

Strawberry Smoothie (ingredients in fact box)

Remove the top of the strawberries.

Halve the strawberries and place into the blender, add the yoghurt and milk blend until a smooth consistency is achieved.

Add Xylitol to taste if you prefer the smoothie to be a little sweeter.

Pour into 4 large cooled glasses and garnish with a sprinkling of granola and wild strawberries.

Mackerel with Cucumber and Palm Hearts (ingredients in fact box)

For the cucumber relish:
1 ½ cucumbers
14g sugar
38g water
21g rice wine vinegar
1g white peppercorns
3g fennel seeds
100g diced cucumber
6g finely chopped shallot
4g salt

Marinade for Mackerel:
4g lemon juice
2g salt

  • 1 cucumber for the hearts

25g scurvey grass
25g rock samphire
50g of palm hearts


Combine the sugar, water, vinegar and spices and bring to the boil. Remove and allow to cool.

Dice the cucumber, minus the seeds and salt for for 1 ½ hours with the chopped shallot.

Wash excess salt and pat dry.

Pour pickling liquor over the cucumber and marinade, preferably overnight.

Cucumber Hearts:

With an apple corer, push down the center of an unpeeled cucumber several times, so that a number of cylinder shapes are achieved.

With the remaining cucumber, put through a juicer and pass through a fine sieve. Season with salt.

Place a little of the juice in a vac pac bag and compress tightly.

Reserve the remaining cucumber juice for poaching the oyster.

Assembling the dish:

Poach the oyster lightly in the remaining cucumber juice, drain and cut in half.

Thinly slice the mackerel and brush with lemon juice, seasoned with salt to start the curing process.

On a mandolin, slice the palm hearts into strips.

Drain the relish and cucumber hearts and assemble in the middle of the plate, naturally.

Place the oysters on the cucumber.

In a pan of salted water, blanch the palm hearts, scurvey grass and rock samphire, quickly, to keep the nutrients.

Scatter over the cucumber and lay the mackerel slices in and around.

Garnish with pak choi flowers.