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It's all in the diet

It's all in the diet

Cooking with nutritionist Martina Baldauf and Nordic Combined athlete, David Pommer

Text: Simon Leitner, Picture: Flo Taibon Photography

The right diet plays a pivotal role in the Nordic Combined. It is possible to prepare not only nutritious, but also tasty dishes with relatively little effort. Nutritionist Martina Baldauf and Nordic Combined athlete David Pommer, recently proved this while cooking together. was there.

If you take a peek in David Pomer's fridge, you will see, besides various preserving jars and other storage containers, one thing more than any other: vegetables. The vegetable compartment is full with peppers, leeks, kohlrabi, broccoli and much more.  "My fridge almost always looks like this," says the Nordic Combined athlete. "Most of it is full of vegetables that I prepare during the week. If there's any left over at the weekend, it's time for recycling." In such cases, Pommer likes to make spring rolls or vegetable stews.

For today's cooking session, however, there are other dishes on the menu: Cod is cooked on a vegetable bed with filled lasagne rolls as the main course, while Chia berry pudding with avocado cream and banana kidney bean bread are planned for dessert. What the recipes have in common is that they perfectly meet the needs of Nordic Combined athletes.

Key component

Pommer normally cooks alone, but today Martina Baldauf is helping him prepare his meals. The nutritionist, who in addition to being self-employed, works at Olympiazentrum Innsbruck, advises athletes on every aspect of their nutrition and provides them with comprehensive support. Pommer also meets up regularly with the expert, because she knows exactly what is required for athletes to perform their respective sport.

Great fun was had during their shared cooking session: Nordic Combined athlete David Pommer and nutritionist Martina Baldauf

Baldauf is convinced that athletes can benefit from an appropriate diet and thus significantly improve their performance. She explains: "Nutrition is an important component in athletes’ performances and can exert a great deal of influence. Be it through carbohydrate intake during exercise - which is still the most power-enhancing element in endurance sports - or using the right components for regeneration thereafter, in order to be able to start the next session as quickly and well nurtured as possible.”

Sufficient fluid intake also plays a decisive role, as fluid loss of around two percent of body weight can adversely affect performance by four to eight percent in endurance sports, as Baldauf explains. "Especially in winter, it is important for athletes to never forget fluid intake," says the expert. "Due to cold ambient temperatures, you generally feel less thirsty; in addition, cold and lower oxygen levels at high mountain altitudes increase urine excretion. Many layers of clothing also mean that sweating is often not as noticeable. The consequence of all this is that people usually drink far too little in winter".

Chia berry pudding contains only healthy ingredients.

Special requirements

The Nordic Combined is, from a nutritional point of view, a special case: in addition to the stresses already mentioned under cold ambient temperatures, it is also important to reconcile the sometimes very different demands of the two disciplines of cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Nordic Combined athletes have to be as light as possible for ski jumping on the one hand, but have enough strength to perform well on the cross-country ski run on the other. This can be a challenge, not only in terms of training, but also in terms of nutrition.

"In general, the same applies to combined athletes as to all other athletes, i.e. to pay attention to a healthy diet that is as performance-oriented as possible," says Baldauf.  "In addition, weight plays a decisive role because of the special demands placed by the Nordic Combined discipline. Athletes have to keep the body fat percentage as low as possible and at the same time be fully efficient - that means they have to get the maximum benefit out of their weight.” Due to the relatively low energy intake, Nordic Combined athletes must pay even more attention to ensuring the body receives everything it needs in addition to the energy it requires. This means in turn for athletes that they have to pay special attention to their diet.

David Pommer, however, has no problems with this. He always pays attention to what he eats - and not only because he is a professional athlete. “Even while shopping, I think about what carbohydrate, protein and fat sources I'll need. This gives me more leeway when cooking," explains the Inzing-born man, who is not only very conscious about his sport but also about his diet. It is important for him to know where his food comes from: if possible, he uses ingredients from his own garden; otherwise, he tries to source them from regional suppliers.

The fact that David Pommer likes to cook healthily can also be seen in his kitchen.

Pommer thinks about what to eat while in training during each session. “I always ask myself: What am I training, and for how long? How long will the break be until my next training session? And when do I have the time to cook or eat? Then planning is no problem,” says the Combined athlete. During training itself, depending on the extent and intensity, he sometimes eats spelt rolls with a little butter and honey or protein or carbohydrate shakes, which he drinks immediately after exercise - but only after very intensive sessions. "Right after training it is also important for me to have a warm meal as soon as possible, in order to be able to regenerate quickly," he explains.

Vegetables are a mainstay in Pommer's diet, which form the basis of optimum sports nutrition for him. Even though he also likes meat if it is of high quality, he usually only eats it about twice a week.  He prefers to work with fish and in particular, carrots, broccoli and Co. "You can simply make a lot out of them," explains the athlete: “Vegetables are awesome!” Pommer even followed a vegan diet for a while, but more out of curiosity, as he himself says: "It was a sort of experiment. I ate strictly vegan for about three months, and was amazed at how many possibilities and alternatives there are in this sector. It taught me a lot."

By the way, the recipes for the dishes cooked today are Pommer’s own. And no later than when he talks about their characteristics, it becomes clear how important his diet is to him and how well he knows his food: "Cod is a fish with one of the lowest fat contents, but is also high in protein. Combined with vegetables and the lasagne rolls, you end up with a well-rounded meal. The avocado cream provides healthy fat". Pommer knows exactly how to prepare the individual ingredients, what characteristics they have and how to use them correctly to create a balanced meal.

The athlete is interested in nutrition, and also enjoys cooking. Pommer works skilfully, but also with pleasure, be it cutting the vegetables or finishing the lasagne rolls, which he fills together with Baldauf. Cooking has always been fun for me. Even as a child I always wanted to help my mother," he says. "I like it when you can see the result of your work immediately. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm a sportsman."

"I also enjoy traditional Kaiserschmarren (sweet pancake) - but not very often."  David Pommer, Nordic Combined athlete.

The sportsman draws his ideas for recipes from cookbooks and magazines. Even during his short time as a vegan, he received a lot of inspiration, as he says himself. Pommer likes to experiment in the kitchen, but also thinks you should never go completely without something you really enjoy: “For me that is Kaiserschmarren - I just don’t eat it that often. If I really fancy it, however, then why not?”

Martina Baldauf agrees: "I agree with the philosophy that there should be no “no-go's” in nutrition," says the expert. "The more you forbid yourself, the more you think about what you can’t have and the stronger your desire for it becomes. From a nutritional-psychological point of view, it therefore makes little sense to ban certain foods completely from one's diet. As with all foods, the most important factors for dishes that tend to be unhealthy or unfavourable are quantity, frequency and timing. Every now and then, a small piece of chocolate won’t harm an athlete, says Baldauf. "Two chocolate croissants every day for breakfast, or just before an intensive workout, will quickly become noticeable, however - be it in performance, weight or other health aspects.”

The right combination

In contrast to sports nutrition, which is primarily about fast and immediate energy intake through easily digestible carbohydrates, Nordic Combined athletes have to consider several and completely different aspects during their preparation phase. In everyday training, it is especially important to work on body weight, to support various physical adaptations to the respective training stimuli and to generally promote the health of the body as much as possible.

One key element in this process is a high-volume, micronutrient-rich and high-fibre diet that is filling and, despite relatively low energy intake, provides all the essential nutrients, explains Baldauf. "In concrete terms, this means: lots of fresh and natural foods, legumes, wholemeal products, fruit and vegetables as well as fresh herbs, sprouts, nuts and seeds. However, foods such as sugar or white flour, which provide only calories but only little or no micronutrients, must be avoided.

In this respect, the dishes cooked today by Baldauf and Pommer are perfectly suited for Nordic Combined athletes. The main course, for example, is characterised by a rich and high-quality protein content (fish, ricotta, curd cheese, chickpeas, mushrooms), lots of dietary fibre (chickpeas, nuts, mushrooms, vegetables), vitamin-conserving preparation (steaming in a broth, raw vegetables) and a balanced distribution of nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats). It is not only filling, but also quick to prepare and very light. The same applies to chia berry pudding with avocado cream, which, unlike many classic desserts, does not contain any empty calories such as sugar, butter or cream and consists exclusively of healthy, valuable ingredients.

Enjoy! After all their work, David Pommer and Martina Baldauf had the more pleasant part of the day ahead of them.

The fact that the dishes are not only nutritious, but also tasty was apparent during cooking - as Pommer in particular liked to sample their flavour every now and then. "That's just part of it," he smiles, but it is also the reason why he could never work as a cook despite his passion for cooking. "I would just eat the food all the time, and that would be no good, would it?”

Martina Baldauf (28) studied biology at Leopold Franzens University in Innsbruck and Applied Nutrition Science at UMIT in Hall. She has been working as a nutrition scientist at the Campus Sport Tirol Innsbruck - Olympiazentrum and as a lecturer at the Institute for Sports Sciences since 2016. She has also started her own sports food business, offers advice, lectures and workshops, runs a nutrition blog and writes for various media outlets.

David Pommer (25) was three years old when he first started cross-country skiing and has been a Nordic Combined skier since 2004. His greatest successes include the team title at the 2010 Junior World Championships in Erzurum (TUR) and eighth place on the large hill at the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti (FIN). In addition to his sporting career, the Inzing-born athlete is currently completing in training at the Police Academy.

Recipe 1: Cod on a bed of vegetables

approx. 170 g cod per person
3-4 carrots
1 leek 
1 fennel bulb
1/2 celeriac
2 cloves of garlic
min. 50 g shitake or porcini mushrooms (dried)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 lemons to drizzle on the fish and vegetables

Soften mushrooms in water with rosemary sprig and chopped garlic cloves as well as salt and pepper or vegetable stock - the longer, the better, but at least two hours.  Remove the mushrooms and sauté briefly. Finely chop the vegetables, sauté briefly in a pan and sprinkle with lemon juice. Bake the vegetables with the mushrooms in a glass baking tray. Place fish fillets over the bed of vegetables and sprinkle with lemon juice. Pour the mushroom water over the top. Bake at 180 degrees in the preheated oven for approx. 15 to 20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets). This recipe also works very well, of course, with other fish fillets.

Side dish:  lasagne rolls

Ingredients (for approx. 4 people):
baby spinach/rocket - buy plenty, serve the rest as salad
I packet ricotta  
I packet quark (low fat)
smoked salmon 
I packet “Recheis” spinach lasagne sheets 
bunch each of rosemary, basil or chives (fresh)  
chopped walnuts 
1 lemon
leek (use the rest for the fish with vegetables)

Boil the lasagne sheets and then rinse in cold water. Season ricotta and quark with salt, pepper and lemon peel. Finely chop herbs, mix ricotta with curd cheese and add herbs and chopped spinach or rocket. Fill the lasagna rolls with the mixture and use leek strips to bind them together.  To do this, peel off the outermost layer of the leek and cut narrow strips.

Recipe 2: Chia berry pudding with avocado cream

Chia berry pudding

The recipe can also be found on Martina Baldauf's blog.

Avocado cream

Ingredients (for approx. 4 people):
2 large or 3 small avocados  
2-3 tbsp cocoa powder  
Xylitol and dates (Medjool dates are best)
a little milk or milk substitute (for those who like it more liquid)

Remove stones/seeds from the avocados and dates and puree in a food processor. Gradually sprinkle with cocoa powder. Finish mixing with coconut milk and cool in small bowls for some time at zero-degrees or the freezer compartment. Can be served with fruit (banana or fig is best), cocoa nibs, unsweetened coconut chips, granola or just on its own. 

Extra: Banana kidney bean bread

Banana kidney bean bread is characterised not only by its taste, but also by its juicy consistency

400 g kidney beans
2 bananas
1 tsp tartaric baking powder
3-4 heaped tbsps pumpkin puree
approx. 5 dates (soak for approx. 1 hour beforehand) or some xylitol
1 level tsp salt
cardamom (for those that like it)
1 tsp nut puree (cashew or almond)
1 tablespoon psyllium seed shells  
3 tbsp cocoa (or as you like, depending on how chocolaty you want it to be)
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon

Wash the kidney beans well, then puree them together with a banana in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients (except the second banana) and mix well.
Put half of the dough into a lightly greased baking tin. “Fillet” the second banana lengthwise into thin strips and place on the spread out dough. Spread the rest of the dough over the top. Place the remaining banana strips on top of the dough and press lightly.
Bake at 170°C top/bottom heat for approx. 35 minutes on the middle shelf. After 25 minutes, test a piece, you can also finish baking the bread at 180 degrees for the last ten minutes if you prefer it to be a little browner.
The bread has a very juicy consistency and, if you want to make a larger batch, it is well suited for making brownies on a whole baking tray. When covered, it stays fresh in the fridge for c. four to five days.

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