Breakfast of champs
Pre-dawn swimming team brings friendship, fitness and fine food

By JOHN CARAFOLI
CONTRIBUTING WRITER
My alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Outside, it's always dark at that hour. Sometimes it's raining, snowing or sleeting here on Cape Cod. I don't think about what's next. I just do it - roll out of bed, slip into the clothes I laid out the night before, head downstairs to the kitchen with my swim bag bouncing behind me, and blend a whey protein drink with fresh orange juice and a banana - just enough to provide a kick of energy until a post-workout breakfast later.


Food stylist and columnist John F. Carafoli of Sagamore Beach does the butterfly stroke in the Sandwich High pool.
(Staff photo by Vincent DeWitt)
I get into the car and steer in the direction of Sandwich High School - sipping my protein drink en route - where I join 15 to 20 other hardcore individuals for the hour-and-a-half masters swim workout. As we sign in, Joe Smith, our dedicated coach, is writing the day's workout on the board. Joe, who works in special education services at Sandwich High helping students with math and science, began coaching swimming in 1972. Five years ago, he came from Virginia to Sandwich, where he took over the local Adult Masters Swim program.

do each morning, how I'll muster the energy to get through the next 90 minutes. Halfway through the workout, though, the endorphins kick in. The group's energy is high, and we begin to talk back and forth, covering the gamut from sports, to how many miles someone did on their bike yesterday, to a great non-chlorinated pool someone else found recently on their European vacation. Joe calls out, ''Is this a swim workout or a word workout?'' pointing to the next set on the board.

Our swim workouts are fast-paced, consisting of 3,500 to 4,200 yards or more in a concentrated period of time. Many of the swimmers are triathletes, and have learned ways to maintain their energy and endurance during challenging events.

Eating for energy
The best pre-exercise routine, I've learned, consists of something quickly digested and easily absorbed into your system, such as the high-protein drink I prepare on my way out the door. And it's critical to replenish nutrients following strenuous exercise as well. Our bodies need fuel to perform properly at all times, especially during and after extreme exercising. Several times I have noticed some of my swimming colleagues shivering. This sometimes happens to me in the late afternoon when I don't have adequate protein in my system. A piece of leftover chicken or almond butter on a piece of whole-wheat toast with a cup of green tea works for me. I have learned a lot about maintaining a high energy level from David W. Leaf, a Plymouth-based chiropractor with whom I've worked for years, Leaf has worked with the New England Patriots, as well as AC Milan, one of the top soccer teams in Europe, and has treated many Olympic medalists.

''Make the night before your workout pasta night,'' he recently advised me. ''You want to have those long chains of starches digesting slowly and available for you as triglycerides, cholesterol, and fats (which) are burning off as you are swimming.''

Leaf added that minerals also play a key role in enabling your muscles to function. These, along with proteins before and after a workout, help turn your exercise routine into a muscle-building experience rather than simply an exercise in performance. Minerals such as magnesium and potassium, taken within 30 minutes after a workout, appear to reduce damage and delay muscle soreness. Leaf said the soccer team he works with consumes a protein drink immediately after practice.

Stacey Richmond, registered dietitian and nutritional counselor in Yarmouthport and Plymouth said, ''Eating breakfast is the best way to fuel your body and brain for the day. It boosts your metabolism, improves concentration and provides your body with adequate fuel.''

Richmond educates people on the importance of consuming a variety of foods in the morning, such as whole grain cereals or toast and lowfat dairy.

''Whole food eating is consuming food as close to the natural state as possible. Examples would be oatmeal, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, legumes, eggs and tofu. Other meatless ways of getting enough protein during the day are beans, seeds and nut butters.''

Breaking bread
A hearty, balanced meal following a strenuous workout is key.

The post-swim breakfast buffet hosted by Gail and Bruce Gilmore a few weeks ago was a good example. Gail, a mother of three, is a committed and accomplished athlete. She has competed in four Iron Man competitions, and has done several eight-mile swims in Lake Champlain. Descending on the beautiful Gilmore household, we were greeted by a colorful buffet. A huge bowl of assorted fresh fruits and a large basket of rolls and bagels was followed by a potato casserole topped with a crunchy layer of buttery cornflakes, crispy bacon and sausages, delectable French toast, and a delicious tofu pie made especially for our vegetarian friend and tri-athlete Karen Smith-Rohrberg. Karen held the world record for one of the Hawaii Iron Man competitions when she was regularly competing in Hawaii. She also has run the Boston Marathon 23 times.

Recipes for Gail's sumptuous brunch menu follow, along with a favorite muffin recipe of mine. In addition to being a good source of replenishment following a strenuous workout, these items would make a great brunch any time.

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''I made a few changes of my own. I melted the butter and sautéed the onions first before combining with rest of ingredients. I also added 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and I did not use as many crushed cornflake crumbs as the recipe called for. I put them on top and drizzled butter on top instead of mixing as suggested.'' said Gail Gilmore, of this recipe she found in the ''Tried & True Favorites'' section at the Web site, www.allrecipes.com.

Hash Brown Casserole

1 (2-pound) package frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed

1/2 cup melted butter

1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 (8 ounce) container sour cream

1/2 cup chopped onions

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups crushed cornflakes cereal

1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl, combine hash browns, 1/2 cup melted butter, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, chopped onion (saute first, if desired), cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Place mixture in a 3-quart casserole dish.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, sauté cornflakes in 1/4 cup melted butter, and sprinkle the mixture over the top of the casserole.

Bake covered in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Serves 12

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''I changed it slightly by using 12 ounces extra firm tofu and increasing the milk a little bit. I used onion powder instead of diced onions.'' Gilmore said.

Eggless Tofu Spinach Quiche

1 (8-ounce) container tofu

1/3 cup 1 percent milk

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup diced onion

2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a blender, combine tofu and milk; process until smooth, adding more milk if necessary. Blend in salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, combine spinach, garlic, onion, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese and tofu mixture. Mix well, and pour into prepared piecrust.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set and golden brown on top. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting. Serves 6

- Recipe from www.allrecipes.com

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''I used a one-pound package of raisin bread instead of French baguette. I dipped each slice in egg then tore it into pieces to make sure all of it was well coated. No raisins needed,'' Gilmore said.

Apple-Raisin French Toast Casserole

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, melted

3 apples - peeled, cored and sliced

1/2 cup raisins

1 (1-pound) loaf French baguette, cut into 1-inch slices

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, mix together brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix in melted butter. Stir in apples and raisins until evenly coated. Pour into prepared pan. Arrange bread slices in an even layer over apples.

In the bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Pour over bread, making sure every slice is fully soaked. Cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Remove dish from refrigerator while the oven is heating. Bake covered for 40 minutes. Remove cover, and bake 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serves 12

- Recipe from www.allrecipes.com

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Here is a delicious bran muffin I make that is easy to prepare, and you can use the basic recipe to create other varieties. For example instead of using a banana, I sometimes fold a cup of blueberries into the batter to make blueberry bran. Or do the same thing with chopped cranberries. When baking, all ingredients should be at room temperature. You may bake immediately or refrigerate over night and bake the next morning.

Banana Bran Muffins with Streusel Topping

1 1/4 cup all bran cereal

1/2 cup wheat germ

1 1/4 cup butter milk

1 1/2 cups flour (3/4 white whole-wheat flour and 3/4 cup white all-purpose flour)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 egg

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup maple syrup or honey

1/4 cup molasses

1 ripe banana, mashed

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Streusel Topping:

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Put all the ingredients for topping into a small bowl and work with your fingers or a fork until the ingredients are mixed and the mixture is in coarse crumbs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Measure bran cereal, wheat germ, and milk into a medium bowl; mix and let stand until bran and wheat germ have softened, about 5 to 8 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flours, baking soda, and baking powder and mix well with a whisk and set aside.

In another medium bowl, place the egg, butter, maple syrup, molasses and banana. Beat well with a whisk or an electric beater, fold this mixture into the softened bran and wheat germ mix until well combined.

With a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and continue folding the batter, making sure that all ingredients are well incorporated, then fold in the pecans.

Adjust oven rack to middle portion of oven.

Lightly grease 9 of a 12-cup muffin pan (fill the other cups with a little water). Mound a portion of the batter into each muffin cup, filling to the brim, top each muffin with the streusel topping. Bake muffin until brown about 20 to 25 minutes minutes. Test for doneness. If they are not done, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 5 about minutes longer.

Cool in pan about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 9 large muffins.

Food expert John F. Carafoli's column appears in the Cape Cod Times food pages on the first Wednesday of the month. Send him your questions about food and cooking by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by mail to Gwenn Friss, food editor, Cape Cod Times, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601.

(Published: November 2, 2005)