How To Carb-Unload Your Favorite Pasta Dish

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD

It’s the night before a big race. A giant bowl of pasta is just what the doctor ordered, right? No – the carb-loading ship has sailed. Use these tips to make your favorite pasta dish more metabolically efficient.  

While endurance athletes absolutely need carbs in their diet, too much of this macronutrient hinders the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. Fat is the preferred substrate for everyday fueling as well as training/racing. Think about it: your carb stores top out at two or three hours; your fat stores can carry you through up to 10 long-distance races.

Many training foods are heavy in the carb department (easily digestible simple sugars), as athletes need quick energy during training/racing. But is this the best fueling strategy for your day-to-day life? Instead fill the body with foods that stabilize blood sugar, keep energy levels consistent and improve satiety. Counteract carbohydrate blood sugar spikes by adding a fat and protein source to meals and snacks. Include carbs in your daily diet but make them the sideshow (along with fat, protein and vegetables) instead of the main act.

If you’re a pasta junkie, don’t freak out. Use the following tips to carb-unload your favorite pasta recipe and make it more metabolically efficient.

1. Swap regular pasta for quinoa or brown rice pasta.
When you do eat grains, make sure they are quality choices. Enriched flour pastas have little nutritional value and are high in calories.

2. Reduce pasta amount by half or 3/4.
You don’t need an entire box of pasta for a dish to taste great. Cut the amount and see if you even miss it.

3. Add more veggies.
Increase the ratio of vegetables to pasta. The fiber in the veggies will fill you up more than the pasta ever could.

4. Easy on the milk, butter and cheese.
Don’t eliminate these ingredients – you’d miss out on the delicious sauce and consuming fat is ok. Simply scale back a little (try cutting these ingredients in half). Again, you won’t miss it.

Bottom line: Experiment with recipes – don’t feel locked into the ingredients and amounts. This also holds true for restaurant dining. Be comfortable with the meal you select at a restaurant or prepare at home. There’s no need to eliminate favorite meals, just modify them to fit your healthy, super-fit lifestyle. Enjoy guilt-free, that’s the way it should be.

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, METS, is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. Brooke and her husband, John, own two Scottsdale, Arizona-based triathlon stores named Destination Kona. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.

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