Shoveling down a big bowl of pasta the night before a long run can boost your performance and give you the fuel you need to complete the distance, but whether to eat wheat pasta or white pasta for carb loading is a matter of debate. Wheat-based and refined “white” pastas each have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to running. It’s important for runners to explore several factors when deciding which is best for their pre-race carb-load meal.
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Why Carb Load?
Not all runners need to carb load. The additional carbohydrates are most beneficial to those who are exercising or racing for more than 90 minutes without stopping. “The purpose of carbohydrate loading is to give you the energy to complete an endurance event with less fatigue, improving your athletic performance,” according to MayoClinic.com.
When it comes to the health benefits of pasta, traditional white pasta made with semolina is less healthy than alternatives such as wheat pasta because the refining process strips the pasta of many of its key nutrients. On the other hand, 100 percent whole-wheat pasta has more fiber than white (about 7 g per serving compared to 2 g for white) and about two more grams of protein.
Because of its high fiber content, runners should be careful about when and how much wheat pasta they eat. “While fiber is unquestionably a good thing that most of us don’t get enough of, poorly timed fiber intake can have unfortunate consequences for the endurance athlete,” says Matt Fitzgerald of Competitor. Consuming too much fiber too close to a scheduled run can cause an upset stomach, and may lead to unplanned bathroom breaks. Some runners opt for lower-fiber white pastas for carb-loading to avoid the possibility of unpleasant side effects. MayoClinic.com agrees: “You may need to avoid or limit some high-fiber foods one or two days before your event."
While all types of pastas are good sources of carbohydrates, what works best for you for pre-race carb loading may not be effective for someone else. During training, experiment with different amounts and types of carbohydrates to find something that works and plan out your meals well before the scheduled competition.