Ethiopian born Tirunesh Dibaba is one of my favorite female distance runners. If you have seen her effortlessly smooth and swift kick at the end of a long distance race, passing other ELITE competitors as if they are jogging, then you know why I admire her so much. She has won 2 olympic gold medals in the 10,000M (First woman to win back-to-back 10,000M olympic races- in 2008 then again in 2012), and a gold medal in the 5000M. She holds the women’s world record in the 5000M- 14:11.15. In 2014, she ran her first ever marathon in London, where she placed 3rd in a time of 2:20:34. How does she do it?? What super food is she eating to fuel her high level of training? While we know there is no secret diet or specific food that will transform our health and performance, it is still fun to learn about what our favorite athletes eat.
For thousands of years, a major food staple in the diets of Ethiopians has been a tiny grain that resembles a poppy seed, called Teff. The naturally gluten-free grain is a nutritional powerhouse often hailed as a superfood for it’s ample supply of minerals including Calcium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Copper, Thiamin, and key for distance runners- IRON. Just one serving of the grain (1/4 Cup dry) supplies 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 20% of the Daily Value for Iron. The grain also provides 8 of the 20 essential amino acids necessary for growth and repair within the body. Unlike other grains, Teff supplies Vitamin C, which improves Iron absorption.
In Ethiopia, Teff is ground into flour then fermented to make a sourdough flatbread called Inerja. The bread, thin like a tortilla, soft, and porous, serves as an edible platter for all dishes. Pieces of the bread are torn off and used to roll up bites of vegetables or other foods being served on it. According to an article by The Washington Post, the Whole Grains council estimates that up to 2/3 of the protein in Ethiopian diets comes from Teff. Ethiopian distance runners credit the grain with their energy and health.
Teff can be cooked on the stove like quinoa as a side dish at dinner, or it can be used as a breakfast porridge. Mix the grain into a salad for an added textural element. Teff flour, made by companies like Bob’s Red Mill, can be used to make pancakes, breads, and cookies.
I had to try Teff for myself so I experimented by concocting an original recipe of my own. I call them my Teff kitchen sink muffins because I threw in pretty much whatever I had in my pantry- miraculously, especially considering the difficulty of cooking with Gluten-free flours, the muffins were a yummy and satisfying success! Here is the recipe:
Dry ingredients: 1C oats, 1C Teff flour, 1C coconut flour, 3 tbsp freshly ground golden flax, 3 tbsp chia seeds, 1/2 tbsp ground ginger root, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking power
Mix dry ingredients then make a well to pour the pre-mixed wet ingredients into.
Wet ingredients: 2 mashed bananas, 1/3 C honey, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 C goat milk (coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid and requires more egg), 1/2 C plain kefir, 1 tbsp melted butter, 3 eggs
Stir everything together. Top with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and diced pecans. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Yields 12 muffins.