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Carb-Loading Alternatives to Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce

You’ve trained your rear end off, and suffered through the agony of tapering. You’ve heard it, and you’ve read it, so it must be true: carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for your body, and they provide continued fuel for you throughout prolonged or high-intensity exercise.

Stored as glycogen in your liver and to some extent in muscle fibers, carb storage is finite; simply eating a carbohydrate-laden dinner the night before a race or climb or 14-mile hike won’t give you the extended energy you’re expecting. However, with a bit of planning and deliberate eating, you can maximize your energy storage and therefore staying power, on the hike, bike, or run.

Just like you fill your gas tank before a road trip, you can ensure your body has a full fuel tank by increasing the amount of carbohydrates consumed, starting no later than three days before the big event. Studies suggest that consuming 4.5 to 5.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight enables optimal glycogen storage in your muscles so you’ll hit the starting line ready for the long haul. For a 150-pound runner, this translates into 675-825 grams of carbs per day, or roughly 2700-3300 calories should come from carbs. In order to eat enough carbs without overloading on calories, you’ll want to reduce fat and protein consumption correspondingly.

Putting thousands of calories worth of carbs in your mouth is an all-day effort. This piece provides two dishes that work well as dinner entrees or side dishes, or breakfast if you’re my mother, as well as some snack suggestions, just in case your fallback carb-cramming snack is a bag of kettle chips. Tested by my CEO (Chief Eating Officer) who is also my MRB (Main Running Buddy), these recipes will serve you well as you count down the days to the starting line.

Main Dishes:

One-Dish Pasta With Veg and Ricotta

  • 1 lb pasta (bow-tie or cavatappi or gemelli)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1-2 lb asparagus (or snow/snap peas or any green veg of your choosing)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino romano
  • 5 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Red pepper flakes, optional
  • Salt
  • Olive oil (no measuring devices required)

Fill large pot with water, liberally salt the water, and bring to boil. While waiting, clean veggies and cut into 1/2-1 inch segments.  Add pasta, stir, and cook for 4 minutes less than suggested time.*  Add asparagus, and cook for 3 minutes.  Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid, and drain pasta and veggies.  Return pot to burner, reduce heat to medium, and add a generous glug of olive oil.  Add red pepper flakes (to taste) and garlic, and cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn.  Return pasta and veggies to the pot, add another splash of olive oil, 1/2 cup of cooking liquid, and the grated cheese.  Stir constantly, and add more of the cooking liquid if pasta seems dry.  Turn off heat and remove pot.  Place ricotta in the bottom of a serving bowl, and pour hot pasta over ricotta.  If you like finding hunks of ricotta, drizzle lemon juice over pasta and don’t toss!  If you want the ricotta more evenly distributed, drizzle lemon juice over pasta and toss away.  Serve immediately with extra grated cheese on the side and a fresh baguette.

*Any green veggie works well in this dish.  However, peas tend to cook faster than broccoli or asparagus, so adjust the time accordingly; cook pasta for 2 minutes less than suggested, add peas, cook 1 minute, and then drain.

(Grilled) Potato Salad With Feta and Mint

Note #1 – I put grilled in parentheses because if you don’t have a grill or don’t want to deal with the grill, boiling the spuds works beautifully!

Note #2 – Brown and white rice actually contains more carbohydrates than potatoes (45g/cup vs. 29 g/cup), and are outstanding alternates for potatoes in this recipe.  The CEO prefers spuds to rice – nuf said.

Note #3 – If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh corn on the cob, cut the kernels off 2-3 cobs, and toss them in the salad.  Wow.

  • 3 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed clean
  • 1 lb grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2-1 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1/4 cup scallions, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2-1 red onion, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1 cup crumbled feta (I prefer sheep, but it all tastes good)
  • Fresh mint leaves, washed and chiffonaded (rolled, then cut into long thin strips)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Olive oil
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper

Cook potatoes until they’re tender** and you can pierce them easily with a fork. Let cool, then cube. In large bowl, combine potatoes, tomatoes, olives, and red onion slivers.  In a separate bowl, combine equal amounts of lemon juice, olive oil, and water (I’d start with 4 Tbsp each, and adjust for your taste buds.) Once combined, add a medium pinch of oregano and pepper, and stir to distribute spices. Pour dressing over potato salad, and gently toss. If the salad seems dry, slowly add olive oil. Add salt to taste, being sure to toss the salad each time you add more salt. Finally, sprinkle the scallions, feta, and mint over the top.  You may either serve it as such, or toss it all one more time, and then dig in. (If you’re craving protein, this potato salad complements nearly anything you throw on the grill, whether it’s a bison burger, veggie burger, or a piece of salmon.)

** Potatoes are versatile and cook well using a number of methods.  However, I’m only addressing cooking spuds on the grill here. You can grill potatoes whole, sliced, wedges, or in chunks. Pierce whole potatoes several times with fork and wrap with tin foil. Place foil-wrapped spuds directly in coals (charcoal) or directly over medium-high flame (gas). Turn taters every 15 minutes until you feel a slight give under mild pressure. Wedges or slices – toss spuds with a little olive oil and your preferred seasoning (garlic, salt and paprika is delicious). Grill over medium-high heat, 6-10 minutes on each side. Chunks o’ spuds require skewers. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch chunks, load the chunks on metal skewers (or wood skewers that have soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes in warm water), season appropriately, and cook over direct medium-high heat, rotating 6-8 minutes.

Snack Options:

Elvis Is In the Building (2.5 ways)

  • Whole grain bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Organic honey (yes, it really does taste better)
  • Organic bananas (yes, they really do taste better)
  • Bitter-sweet chocolate chips, optional

1. Toast bread. Smear liberally with peanut butter. Slice bananas atop the peanut butter. Drizzle with honey. Grab a napkin and shut the door, so you don’t have to share with your CEO/MRB.

2. Preheat panini maker. Liberally coat one slice of bread with peanut butter. Slice bananas atop the peanut butter. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips amongst the banana slices. Lightly coat another piece of bread with peanut butter, and place it on the bananas (peanut butter on bananas). Cook according to panini-maker directions – mine takes about 4 minutes. Cut in half, and drizzle with honey. Again, grab napkins and privacy so sharing isn’t an issue.

2.5. If you don’t have electricity or access to fancy appliances, cut up bananas into wedges or slices, top with peanut butter, drizzle with honey and stuff your face.  This method is best served with a fork and bib.

Unholy Toasted Oats on Yogurt

  • Old-fashioned oatmeal
  • Sweetened dried coconut
  • Peanuts
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Dried fruit (raisins, sour cherries, blueberries, banana chips)
  • Chocolate chips, bitter or semi-sweet
  • Low-fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine 4 parts oatmeal with 2 parts peanuts and 1 part coconut in a big bowl. Drizzle with honey and toss until lightly coated—if you end up with thick clumps of oats, you’ve used too much honey. (It’s always easier to add a little more than take some away.)  Spread into a medium-thin layer on a baking sheet, and toast for 7-10 minutes, mixing occasionally, or until the coconut begins to brown (but not burn). Remove from oven, sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt, toss again while on the sheet, and allow to cool. Once cool to the touch, add fixings at free will, although a little restraint with the chocolate isn’t a bad thing. Eat by the handfuls, or for an extra punch of carbs (25-30 grams more), sprinkle the unholy oats over low-fat yogurt.

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