Coping with carbohydrates

Nutrition is one of the most important - if not the most important - aspect of an athlete’s ability to perform well, whether that be in running, cycling or swimming.

Liken it to a car engine: the training has strengthened the chassis and food and drink power the engine. If you haven’t prepared well in terms of your nutrition, the engine isn’t going to power the car and you aren’t going anywhere fast - and if you do, the tank will quickly run out of gas.

Eating the right foods at the right time is key to helping our body drive itself forward and, later on, recover from a hard session. 

Carbohydrates are key to providing energy to ensure our tanks of glycogen (carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles) are topped up to the brim. But it doesn’t have to be about pre-loading with big bowls of pasta. There are plenty other foodstuffs to eat that give you the rev to get up and go. Try these five alternatives when you are fed up with fusilli or can’t face carbonara.

Five alternatives to pasta

1. Potatoes: Where would be if Sir Walter Raleigh hadn’t returned from North America brandishing this lumpy starch vegetable? The humble potato is packed with nutrients and is incredibly versatile. It can be baked, mashed, sliced, transformed into chips and goes with almost anything. It contains Vitamin C and, with its skin left on. is a good source of fibre. Sweet potatoes are also a good alternative and are sources of potassium, fibre, Vitamin A, C, B6 and are low in sodium.


2. Rice: Low in fat, calories and price and high on carbs - rice is nice. It is low in cholesterol, sodium and is a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is essential for good health. Opt for brown rather than white because it contains more fibre and protein. The distinctive plump, stubby Italian risotto rice can open up a huge variety of fast-food-fix dishes. Arborio is the most common and can be picked up in most supermarket retailers, carnaroli is considered to produce the best risotto, and vialone nano has a short, stubby grain. Risottos are super-easy to make and can be flavoured with almost anything: vegetables, fish or meat. Once you have mastered the art of making a food base risotto , the food world is your oyster.


3. Quinoa: Pronounced ‘keen-wah’ this low GI seed is loaded with nutrients and is a great recovery food. After a long session on the road or in the pool, this helps replenish the body with a wide range of vitamins and minerals. It is a very good source of magnesium; phosphorus - which filters the kidneys and is essential in how the body stores and uses energy - and manganese, which plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, blood sugar regulation and normal brain and nerve function. It is gluten and cholesterol free and can be used as an alternative to rice in cooked dishes. It pairs well with salad, fish and can also be served as a side dish. Prepare it in the same way as you would rice.


4. Bright vegetables:  Peppers, beetroot, squashes, carrots… The list is endless. Basically, the brighter the colour, the better. These veggies are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals with virtually no calories. All athletes should be getting a daily dose of vegetables to improve their health and antioxidants which help protect and repair damage caused by free radicals, making the immune system robust and better able to ward off illness and disease. To get the best out of veg, try not to overcook by boiling them in scalding water for minutes on end: lightly steamed, raw or boiled for a couple minutes at the most will help preserve the goodness.


5. Berries: Any berry will do, from the quintessentially English strawberry to the exotic goji. These little nuggets of flavour deliver crucial nutrients and contain anthocyanidins, compounds which halt oxidative damage that occurs with aging. Studies have also suggested they may stave off muscle soreness, something most athletes suffer from after a hard training session. Versatile and tasty they can be eaten alone or sprinkled over the morning bowl of porridge or yoghurt or whizzed up in a blender with a banana as part of a protein shake.



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