Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin was competing in French Polynesia when she was served traditional Polynesian poke.
“Every single place we went — French swimmers, European swimmers, local swimmers and us — they gave us Polynesian poke,” Coughlin said. “It was so good… One of the last days I was there, someone showed me how to make it.”
That recipe is one of many in her first cookbook “Cook to Thrive: Recipes to Fuel Body and Soul,” released earlier this year. She describes it as “a little bit of everything.”
RECIPE: Polynesian Coconut Poke
Tips from Olympian Natalie Coughlin
Meal prepping: “I’m a big believer in meal prepping one of two days a week. Cook up a big bowl of grains or oatmeal to save time.”
Staying cool: “A slow cooker is a fantastic tool in the summer. You don’t have to turn on the oven to make yourself a meal.”
Get outside: “Using a barbecue pit outside is always nice, even through we don’t get the Texas heat like you guys.”
“I wanted to tell the story of that trip and share the recipe, which couldn’t be more simple,” Coughlin said. “With a cookbook, I can share that love of food and share some stories from my career. Yes, I’m an Olympic athlete, but I like to indulge from time to time, which is the whole point of the cookbook: balance.”
The 36-year-old is one of the most prolific U.S. athletes, with 12 Olympic medals and 20 World Championship medals in swimming. Coughlin is tied for most decorated Olympian woman with fellow swimmers Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres with 12 medals. In her active career, she broke 14 world records, many in the backstroke and butterfly.
She also really loves to cook. And she’s been busy since her last official competition in 2016. In October, she gave birth to her first child, Zennie, with her husband, Ethan, near her childhood home in California. She is the cofounder of Gaderian Wines, a small-batch winery in the Napa Valley, which she markets and operates.
RECIPE: Watermelon Slushie
In the cookbook, Coughlin draws from her experience as a swimmer and provides healthy, hearty recipes to fuel the body. But she also delves into her family’s Filipino traditions.
“I’m really lucky that my grandmother is still alive, and she helped me quite a bit. Some of her recipes she didn’t write down, so I would need to go back and forth with her,” she said. “My mom’s side of the family is from the Philippines, so the recipes celebrate that.”
Her favorite dessert, the traditional Filipino Halo Halo, is perfect for hot and humid Houston summers, she said.
Halo Halo means “mix mix” in Tagalog, and the recipe consists of shaved ice and condensed milk, mixed with fruits such as young coconut, jackfruit and canned or jarred azuki beans.
“It’s really fatty, but it’s really good and refreshing,” she said, laughing. “It’s the most unhealthy recipe in my cookbook.”
RECIPE: Chicken Adobo
In cooking, and in life, Coughlin prefers to focus on the positive things that nourish the body.
“Balance is important, and not depriving yourself is also important — that’s the psychology of my eating and how I always approach nutrition and food,” she said. “It’s always about focusing on the things I need to get, like good proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, vegetables. But then I can just let go and let myself enjoy.”
Julie Garcia is a features reporter focusing on health, fitness and outdoors. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter, and send her tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up with the latest health news and tips from Houston’s newest source for healthy living by subscribing to our ReNew Houston newsletter.