How (and what) to eat in Cuba as an active traveller

August 16, 2017

So you’re jet-setting to the Caribbean nation of Cuba armed with an itinerary jam-packed with fitness activities. This tropical country can get a bit of a bad reputation among foodies — unfairly so. If you're headed to Cuba as an active, thrill-seeking traveller, you'll want to know just how many Cuban classics contain performance-enhancing or recovery-aiding ingredients. Knowing the nutritional value of the island’s standard fare can give you a leg up before hiking Pico Turquino, or to repair battered muscles following an exhausting cross-country cycle tour. Here are some Cuban eats you’re going to want to load up on during your trip:

Beans and rice: This side dish is a staple on many a Latin American dinner plate and if you’re planning a sunrise run alongside the ocean, go for that extra scoop. In the evening hours, before an endurance activity, the body is seeking to bank extra carbohydrates (its go-to fuel source), and rice is the perfect option. As for the beans, your muscles crave protein before they get set to work.

Snapper: Looking forward to a morning of hiking? Lean meats are your wisest evening-before protein source, and there’s perhaps no better pick than white fish. Luckily, the snapper population swims aplenty in Cuban waters. When ordering in the cabana bar, opt for grilled versus fried if you can.

Embarking on an active trip through Cuba is made easier by knowing which local foods provide the best fuel.

Embarking on an active trip through Cuba is made easier by knowing which local foods provide the best fuel.

Plantains: Awake to a cotton-candy sunrise and tuck in to breakfast. Plantains grace brunch plates across this heavenly island, which is great news for the active traveller. This cousin to the banana is rich in simple carbohydrates but low in fibre, so it won't upset the tummy while in motion. Tostones — fried plantain — are a popular side, but be careful: overloading on grease right before exercise is a dangerous game.

Café Cubano: Grab a second serving of black Cuban coffee, and not just because the local plantations score bragging points for this Latin American island. Caffeine is a natural performance booster; if you suspected that slurping down an extra teeny cup of rich black brew from the local café added power to your pedal, you weren’t mistaken. On an hours-long ride, mid-day swigs are a go, too. (Just be sure to drink plenty of water, as well, as caffeine can dehydrate.)

Cycling through Cuba is a great way to see the country.

Cycling through Cuba is a great way to see the country.

Yucca: Don’t let the eyes skim past this one when you see it on the brunch menu. A yucca is a root vegetable in the potato or yam family, and some forkfuls of these will provide the body with long-lasting fuel for, say, a lengthy jaunt exploring Old Havana, or hours spent rambling through the grounds of El Rosario. If you’re going to be on your feet all day, fast-burn foods are a no-go — but a potassium-filled, carby yucca dish will carry you for the long haul.

Cubano/Medianoche: We don’t dare write a menu guide for this tropical island and not mention its famous sandwiches. Typically, the Cubano one comes with pork slices, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles sandwiched between slices of Cuban bread (which stands out from other loaves as its binding fat source is lard). After an action-packed day, worn muscles are pleading for protein to repair the mini fissures that have occurred. Pork is a smart eat in this case, as it’s a high-quality protein laced with essential amino acids. Oh, and as for the pickle, companies in the performance-enhancing game have caught on to pickle juice for a reason: the high sodium content replaces what gets lost during a heavy sweat session. Note: if you spot “medianoche” on the list, know it as the Cubano’s sweeter little sister.

Black bean soup: This staple dish is ubiquitous on Cuban restaurant menus. If you were out all day participating in physically taxing tourism, your aching muscles will be crying for protein A.S.A.P. Order a side of black bean soup and gulp it back to kick-start recovery after that leg-busting ride, hike, or run.

Pork shoulder or roast: Whatever the activity on the day's itinerary, your body will likely be depleted of sodium. If learning to salsa or cycling for kilometres on end left you and your buds sopping and sticky, the time is now to load up on salty favourites. Speaking of which, if you ventured to this corner of the Caribbean, experiencing a pork roast is basically a must. Since pork and ham (and the sauces they’re prepared in) are the answer to those salty cravings, there’s no time like after a workout to indulge in this staple in Cuban culture.

Getting there

Ready to take on an Active trip to Cuba? G Adventures can get you there. We offer a number of trips to the Central American country, including our eight-day Biking Cuba trip. Check out our full slate of small group tours to Cuba here.

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