When the clock ran out and the ref blew his whistle in Rachel Dawson’s final Olympic game, she was at peace. After 12 years and three attempts at Olympic gold as a part of the United States women’s field hockey team, the loss against Germany was devastating, but Rachel knew it was time to move on. And she had a plan.
I met Rachel a couple of years ago through our mutual involvement with Girls on the Run. There’s something larger-than-life about an Olympian, but what struck me immediately about Rachel was how approachable and positive she was. Given my interest in food, one of the first things I asked her was what she eats to fuel all those grueling workouts.
Over time, I learned more about Rachel than her penchant for peanut butter and coffee. Rachel was the fifth of eight children and grew up in a very sports-oriented family. She was a natural in every sport she played, and though she truly loved the sport to which she ultimately dedicated every last ounce of her energy, this upbeat, determined player said she threatened to quit every team she was ever on.
Though she was one of the best, she never felt good enough. That feeling gave her an edge, but her love and joy for the game were often clouded. Rachel’s raw passion for the sport and her team combined with the external results—major playing time, winning records, national championships, and the Olympics—provided compelling reasons to stay the course, but this success came with a cost. In Rachel’s words, “A thriving performer isn’t necessarily thriving in all aspects of life and as a total person. And they aren’t always aware of it.”
While competing at the collegiate level for the University of North Carolina and later for the national team, Rachel’s training occasionally included social, emotional, and habitual guidance that ultimately helped her to refocus and rekindle her early love for the game. Wishing that she’d received this type of coaching from an earlier age, Rachel began working with Alli Tanner, one of her North Carolina teammates, on a business aimed at teaching those developmental pieces to athletes at a much younger age.
After three years of training at Spooky Nook Sports, Rachel said she began to miss Lancaster when she traveled and decided to make it her post-Olympic home. In response to what Rachel personally experienced and sees as an obstacle for so many young athletes, she and Alli recently launched Praxis Athlete Development. Their mission is to teach critical developmental skills (which she learned piecemeal over the years) through a single integrated platform.
Part of that platform, which begins with a self-assessment and is being offered to school and club teams, focuses on habitual behaviors. Fueling falls under that umbrella. One of the questions Rachel asks young athletes is how the food they eat—their “input”—affects their output. Rachel firmly believes that there’s a direct correlation, physically and emotionally. And on some level, it applies to all of us, athlete or not.
So many of us spend a lot of time on the road, whether commuting to work, driving carpools, or traveling to and from sports practices and games. Hunger always seems to hit when we’re far from home but really near a drive-thru. To resist the temptation of processed, quick fix foods, Rachel learned to always pack some form of healthy carbohydrate, protein, and water. Her standbys: crunchy apples, juicy oranges, and protein-rich beef jerky.
Recently, Rachel and I were sharing our favorite quick meal and snack ideas with each other, and I passed along a simple recipe that I often make for my family. She loved the portability and sheer ease of the recipe. Plus it contains complex carbs, protein, and great flavor without added sweeteners. Like many of my recipes, it can also be customized according to preference through the use of various options and add-ins. While these are not the equivalent of a jumbo bakery cookie, they’re rather satisfying and can be eaten as a grab-and-go breakfast, post-workout snack, or healthy dessert. And they have an Olympian’s stamp of approval!
Servings: 8 cookies or 4 jumbo cookies (recipe doubles easily)
- 2 large (1 cup) overripe bananas (frozen and thawed is fine*)
- 1 scoop protein powder, flavor of choice** (Optionally, 3 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter, like PB2, may be used. Add a pinch of salt if your brand is salt-free.)
- 1 cup old-fashioned or quick oats (Either works—it’s really just a slight difference in texture and boils down to personal preference. Just don’t use instant oats.)
- Optional add-ins: pinch or two of kosher or sea salt; raisins, dried cranberries or dried fruit of choice; shredded coconut; sprinkle of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice; chocolate chips; chopped nuts or seeds
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly grease it).
- In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas (peel first!) with a fork until mostly smooth.
- Mix in the protein powder until it’s fully combined and not clumpy. Stir in the oats. I like to add a pinch or two of salt and about 1/4 cup of dried fruit. Sometimes I make a smiley face on the top with chocolate chips because whose day doesn’t start off better when they see that on the plate!
- Spoon mounds of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. (I use a large ice cream scoop and level it off for 8 evenly sized cookies.)
- Use the back of a spoon to shape them into nice circles if you aren’t using an ice cream scoop, and then flatten to desired thickness as the cookies will not spread during baking. Bake for approximately 12 minutes, give or take a few minutes, depending on thickness of cookie and individual oven. (Jumbo cookies take 15-16 minutes in my oven.) The cookies should be just cooked through the middle.
- Remove from the oven and cool. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for several days or refrigerate for extended freshness. These cookies freeze well, too.
- *If you find yourself with bananas that are too ripe to eat but you don’t have time to bake with them, peel and freeze them in a zip-top bag for future use. Frozen bananas thaw quickly at room temperature, but the process can be expedited by microwaving them in 10-15 second increments until the bananas are thawed just enough to thoroughly mash them with a fork.
- **You can use whey or vegan protein powder. Vanilla is a good basic flavor. For these cookies, pumpkin or chai spice is also delicious. Just make sure you have a quality powder with no unwanted extra ingredients. (Bob’s Red Mill and The Healthy Skoop offer good options that I have used often. Also, SaveMart sells a wide variety of protein powders, and I have found the employees there to be very knowledgeable and helpful with suggestions.)
Why I love:
Mixes up in one bowl
Perfect way to use overripe bananas
No added sugar
Healthy, quick and easy
Olympic stamp of approval!!