We are thrilled to ask Kirsty Coventry, one of the world’s highest achieving female swimmers and one of Africa’s most successful athletes, about her day-to-day eating and shopping routines, her favorite foods, and who she’d invite over for dinner if she could. Kirsty hails from and swims for Zimbabwe and lives and trains in North Carolina.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I have to kick-start my day to get the most out of my training. My first swim training session starts about 7:30am and each of my practices takes about 2 hours which translates into distances of 3 miles for a lighter session and 4 miles for a tougher session. I’m not a morning person so I need something easy to make, but it has to have sustainable energy, so I go with oats. I keep large jars filled with pecans, cashews, almonds and for some natural sweetness raisins and a little bottle of agave. This means my stomach gets used to digesting the same food but incorporating the above nuts on different days keeps the taste different and interesting.
What’s your favorite thing to eat as a midnight snack?
I seldom snack at night because my body needs to rest but I will have a little dark chocolate about 30 to 60 minutes after dinner, maybe with some peppermint tea or my childhood favorite: Hot English tea (with lots of milk and some sugar). This is my personal stress reliever because it brings me back to a time when my mum would bring me tea when I was young — that time when we had no responsibilities and nothing to worry about.
What’s your favorite celebration food?
A turkey burger and shoestring fries finished with a chocolate mousse or crème brûlée. I have to indulge my sweet tooth every now and then.
What was your favorite food growing up?
The kitchen has always played an important role in my life as this is where we got to spend most of our time with our parents. They cook every meal (unheard of these days) and it’s still a place where we spend most of our time. I also met my husband in a kitchen and he later proposed to me, in a kitchen. My favorite meal is an African dish that my father cooks: Sadza and Ox Tail. Sadza (Ugali, Sima, Phuthu) is a corn meal dish similar to a smoother but firm grits. It’s not nutritious but is inexpensive. It’s eaten using hands, dipped into relishes and stews. Ox tail is slow cooked in a stew for 4 to 8 hours and literally falls off the bone which is then sucked on to get the last remaining drops out of it. Simple pleasures.
What 6 things are most often in your grocery cart?
Pecans, cashews, almonds
Whole milk and coconut milk
Leafy greens (lettuce, kale)
Fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples)
What’s your favorite cookbook?
My mum’s family recipes. I grew up eating fresh home-cooked and simple meals which contain the best nutrition without the added complications of sugars and processed foods.
What’s the one thing your (partner/best friend/family) won’t eat?
I won’t eat bell peppers which I think is normal, but my husband is a bit of a weirdo…he eats hamburgers and pizzas with a knife and fork, won’t eat pies and seldom eats sandwiches – he hates crumbs!
What’s your weirdest family dish?
My parents absolutely love liver and kidneys. I cannot handle the texture or the taste.
What’s your favorite food tradition?
Storytelling. A story is a gift that is shared from one person to another. It creates emotions that bring us together and experiences that can make us better. Turn off the TV, sit together and begin to learn, love and laugh again.
What’s your most memorable meal?
My most memorable meal would be 10 August 2013. My husband and I got married in a wildlife sanctuary. It was a black-tie cocktail event in the middle of the bush surrounded by roaring lions, playful cheetah and frolicking antelope. Following our vows and throughout the night we had an endless supply of freshly created hors d'oeuvres followed by a midnight serving of roast beef rolls.
What’s the one food rule you always break?
I often have breakfast for dinner. I love scrambled eggs on toast at night, or a fluffy white omelet filled with mushrooms, avocado, cheese and bacon.
What’s the one food rule you never break?
Sriracha or no?/Cilantro or no?
No to Sriracha but a definite yes to cilantro!
What’s the one kitchen gadget you can’t live without?
Coffee grinder. The only thing that smells better than a cup of coffee in the morning is freshly ground coffee beans.
If you could cook dinner for any two people, living or dead, who would you choose?
My dad’s brother because he passed away before I got to meet him, and Nelson Mandela, so I could tap into some of his light and hear his laughter.
What inspires you daily?
I am self-motivated and I think my inspiration comes from my competitiveness. It’s this competitiveness and my curiosity that drives me to constantly push myself to see how well I can do.
What advice would you give to a kid who wants to do what you do?
African women generally do not have the same opportunities the men do and we certainly are not a swimming nation. If I can become a top individual female swimmer and I come from a landlocked country in Africa, then you can be whoever you want to become. Persevere, sacrifice, self-belief.