During marathon season, fellow runners ask what they should eat the night before to fuel a long training run. Most runners automatically assume the answer is pasta. While pasta is a great choice, it can cause gastrointestinal troubles for some, and it can simply get old and boring for others.
Runners with Celiac disease simply cannot eat a wheat-based pasta (regular pasta made with wheat contains gluten, a wheat protein that triggers digestive problems in Celiac disease patients). Runners suffering from non-Celiac gluten sensitivity also may find pasta to be a poor pre-race choice. Runners in neither of these categories simply may be eating too much pasta, or choosing a sauce that may cause gastrointestinal issues. Cream sauces (think penne a la vodka) are heavy in fat and digest slowly, which can cause race day stomach issues. A simple marinara sauce, while having little or no fat, may be too acidic and cause acid reflux.
Training season is the best time to test-drive your pre-race meal vs. trying something new the night before race day. Why not try some of these carbohydrate-rich alternatives to pasta the night before a long run:
· White rice: Cook up a bowl of white rice, toss with vegetables, and a tablespoon of teriyaki or soy sauce for flavor. Or, eat rice as a side dish with a lean protein like chicken or fish.
· Sweet potato: Cut sweet potato into pieces, cut up an apple, grab some golden raisins, toss them all together in a light drizzle of olive oil, season with paprika and garlic powder, and bake.
· Breakfast for dinner: What about a batch of blueberry pancakes? Cut back on sugar and use a small spread of jam on the pancakes with some peanut butter vs. traditional pancake syrup. Even a bagel with jam and peanut butter for those lazy, no-cook nights.
· Rice-based pasta: For those with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, cook up a rice-based (gluten-free) pasta. As with regular pasta, be careful of your sauce choice. Try tossing it in olive oil, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Or try a balsamic glaze with veggies mixed in.
· Healthy pizza: Buy a pre-made thick pizza crust (thick crust = more carbs). Use a thin layer of pizza sauce, and approximately ½-3/4 cup (depending on size of crust) of a low-fat shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle whatever toppings you crave: black olives, broccoli, slices of turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, or chopped grilled chicken. You may omit cheese and use only veggies and pizza sauce.
Race training is not just for logging miles, but for testing out what makes your gut happy. A big bowl of rice and veggies may be just what you need to power you through your long run, while another runner may feel best eating a large baked sweet potato and baked breaded chicken. Fine tune your pre-race fueling during training months and never try something new the night before or morning of a race.
Alison Barkman, MS, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor for nutrition undergraduates at LIU/Post in Brookville, NY. An avid runner and gym rat, she is asked questions daily about nutrition and exercise. Her love for all things sports nutrition has driven her to begin a sports nutrition practice in Garden City, NY (Long Island). She can be reached at AlisonBarkmanNutrition@gmail.com or 516-220-9320.