February is one of the best months of collegiate swimming, for programs will compete at their end of the season conference meet. These competitions are some of the fastest swim meets in the country that take place all year, particularly in the Power 5. While there is much debate on which conference is the fastest, the Southeastern Conference is often in the conversation. The SEC Championship is one of the most exciting events in swimming, due to the impressive atmosphere and depth teams bring. Anything can happen in a race or session and a mere second can separate more than 10 swimmers in an event. 

Since today marks the first day of prelims/finals competition at SEC’s (after a very exciting night of diving & relays!), it only seems appropriate to highlight the championship and feature its host site, Knoxville, as the locale of our next best eats guide. These recommendations are not only perfect for those competing, coaching and/or spectating down south this week, but they are also great as a resource for swimmers racing in Knoxville down the road (as many big meets are hosted at the University of Tennessee). You cannot go wrong with any of these options! 

2200 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN 37916 

Sunspot is conveniently located near the Allen Jones Aquatic Center and has an array of heathy options. Year after year, the restaurant is voted Best Vegetarian, Best Vegan, Best Brunch and Best Lunch Spot in Knoxville by Metro Pulse readers, and it caters to both vegetarians and carnivores.  See our top meet week dishes below.

Sunspot Salad 

Includes nutrient dense kale, arugula, quinoa, garden radish and yellow squash. Topped with goat cheese and a roasted almond vinaigrette. If you have issues with dairy go without cheese, and best dressing practice is to ask for it on the side to add lightly. Great choice for those who have a gluten sensitivity and adding some grilled chicken or salmon will give you the protein you need to aid in recovery. 

Grilled Salmon 

This grilled salmon comes with sugar snap peas and a grit cake. While grit cakes do have a higher fat content due to the cheese, they are a great source of B vitamins and they are high in iron, which aids in keeping your immune system strong and fight inflammation. Salmon is high in protein and Omega – 3 fatty acids, essential to keep you healthy. 

Tofu Gain Bowl

A nutrient dense bowl filled with quinoa, basmati rice, farro, sliced avocado, radish, cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, miso vinaigrette and pickled carrots, topped with tofu. If you are not a tofu fan, you can swap for grilled chicken or salmon. This option has a wonderful mix of carbs, veggies, fats and protein that will contribute to optimal performance during meet week.

Panera Bread
2000 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN 37916 

A meet week staple! Panera is good for larger teams looking for delivery or pick up between sessions or at the end of finals. It is located less than a mile from the pool and there are plenty of good healthy options to choose from.  Check out our picks to keep your body healthy and going through the week.

Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken

This salad is a nice option between sessions. It is light on the stomach, allowing you to feel like food isn’t sitting in your stomach going into finals. It is topped with grilled chicken raised without antibiotics, romaine, fresh cilantro, toasted almonds, sesame seeds and wonton strips tossed in a light Asian sesame vinaigrette. Adding a baguette as a side will allow you to get appropriate carbohydrates to refuel, since the salad is low carb and calorie. 

Mediterranean Bowl with Chicken

Another delicious bowl that is packed with a variety of vitamins and ingredients that are important to consume on race day. It contains cilantro lime brown rice and quinoa, chicken raised without antibiotics, arugula, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, hummus, lemon tahini dressing, feta and Greek yogurt. Do not go heavy on the dressing and if the dairy (feta and yogurt) is going to be too much on your gut, get it without.

Tukey Sandwich 

A sandwich with a balanced ratio of carb to protein, a beneficial combo during competition. Made with oven-roasted turkey breast raised without antibiotics, emerald greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onions, mayo, spicy mustard, salt and pepper on Country Rustic Sourdough. To make your order even healthier go sans mayo, as it is high in fat and ask for wheat bread, a better option nutritionally.

Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup 

Pretty cut and dry, but chicken noodle soup is a great protein source with carbs and veggies mixed. Add it as a side to the above options if you need more calories in your meal. 

524 S Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902

A local favorite in Knoxville, this farm to table restaurant uses all fresh ingredients and serves up phenomenal Mediterranean cuisine. At the top of the list for a true foodie and perfect if you are staying on the main strip where it is located. Ko-Pita offers many vegetarian and vegan options in conjunction with delicious daily cooked meats.  

The best part of dining with KoPita is meeting Chef Chicago! He always greets his guests with a smile and treats his customers like family.

Falafel Bowl

A very cleansing mix of chickpea and herb falafel with Arabic salad (tomato, cucumber, and parsley), sauerkraut, sumac onions, and pickles. Chickpeas are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber which aid in digestion. They are also high in folate and iron, which assist in keeping energy levels up – helpful during the biggest competition of the season! A delicious tahini dressing is served on the side. Do not overdo it on the dressing, but tahini does have great health perks. It is high in thiamin (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, which are important for energy production. The more energy the better!

The Babaganoush Bowl

This eggplant-based dish has antioxidants like vitamins A and C, which help protect cells by fighting off free radicals and allow the body to appropriately process sugar. It is served with pita bread and smoked vegetables. Light tahini, olive oil and zaatar accompany these ingredients to create the finest flavors.

The Beet Salad 

Beet salad is the best salad for swimming and competing! Beets are one of the top superfoods out there for athletes. There is evidence that the nitrate in beets enhances aerobic athletic performance and increases cardiovascular health. Best consumed prior to racing and for those who swim longer distances, this vegetable is a top pick for meet week fuel. Not only does it help aerobically, but also with recovery. A no brainer! The salad is accompanied by cilantro, garlic, and olive oil. 

5200 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919

This restaurant located west and further out of town. Many hotels are in this area, so if your team stays out that way – you need to hit it up! It offers many healthy choices. Catering, as well as carry out options are available.

Autumn Salad

This colorful salad provides adequate starch and protein for athletes to fuel for prime performance. It contains roasted butternut squash, red onion, pecan, goat cheese, miso and golden raisin vinaigrette and salmon or grilled chicken can be added as the best lean meat options.

Cauliflower Quinoa Bowl

Knoxville loves their bowls! Another awesome choice for swimmers competing is this veggie filled concoction containing cauliflower, quinoa, pickled red onion, Swiss chard, almonds, golden raisins and romesco. Swiss chard is a good source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, all supporting healthy bones. It is a highly nutritious food that provides 3x the daily allowance of vitamin K, helping with blood flow and circulation. Almonds are a low-fat nut that provide protein if enjoying the dish meatless. For those who are not vegetarians or vegan, it is best to add grilled salmon or chicken as additional protein options.

Grilled Steelhead Salmon

As mentioned earlier, salmon is a fantastic meet week option for lunch or dinner. Along with providing Omega-3s, it is high in vitamin B12 which supports a healthy metabolism, immunity and nervous system function. Added in is garlic roasted cauliflower, beneficial because garlic stabilizes blood sugar, boosts immune function and decreases inflammation. Shallot, grapes, along with peanut and feta romesco lightly top the dish – one that is high in antioxidants, for sure! 

The Tomato Head
12 Market Square, Knoxville, TN 37902

The Tomato Head is located right downtown in market square, a cute and festive area of Knoxville. This is the perfect spot for lunch in walking distance from several hotels that teams typically stay at, known for its salads and sandwiches. Here are our top 3.

Harvest Salad
A nice selection of fruits and vegetables including fresh spinach, roasted carrot and squash, dried cranberries, and Asian pear. Comes with walnuts for some protein and you may add tofu, chicken or avocado for an extra nutrient boost.

Roger Roger Sandwich 

This sandwich is packed with flavor and an ideal choice during competition. It contains green and red pepper, banana peppers, green olives, fresh spinach, hummus and tofu. It comes with Monterey jack cheese and heated, though you can ask for it cold. Melted cheese isn’t always the perfect choice during a meet, as it sits heavy in the stomach and can cause digestive issues.

The Lucy

You must be a mushroom fan to enjoy this one. Roasted Portobello accompanied with fresh spinach, hummus, carrot, walnut and your choice of protein if you wish. 

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