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Athletes eat a tonne of pasta: but why exactly?

29 October, 2018

Classed under: Well living

Whether you’re a hard core year-round athlete or more of a weekend warrior, you’ve no doubt heard that pasta is one of the best foods around when it comes to supplying energy. Is this true or just another myth?

Basically, it’s true: pasta makes an excellent meal for athletes, particularly those engaged in endurance sports. Why? Simply because pasta is rich in complex carbohydrates and these carbs are the first source of energy used by our muscles.

Obviously, your muscles’ needs aren’t the same for a 1-hour walk, a half-marathon or 7 hours of hiking in the mountains. The more the exercise we are doing is intense and prolonged, the more our muscles require energy to sustain the effort until the end. 

How do you ensure you are providing your body with what it needs, no more and no less? A simple way is to compare your carbohydrate consumption to the gasoline you put in your car: what do you do before a long trip? You tank up the night before and top up the tank as required to make sure you don’t run out of gas. On the other hand, when you’re making short trips close to home, whatever gas is in the tank is usually enough. 

The same logic applies to your eating: when you are looking at a more intense activity like a marathon or a squash tournament, it’s wise to consume more carbs than usual the night before and to have some on hand during the activity so you don’t “run out of gas”. However, when you take part in sports of medium intensity (5K run, swimming in a pool, friendly tennis game, etc.) or when you train at the gym for an hour a few times a week, you don’t need a specific dietary plan. A balanced diet in line with Canada Food Guide recommendations will provide ample carbohydrates to fulfill your needs. 

So, should you eat pasta or not?
If you like pasta, go for it! But don’t forget there are plenty of other complex carbohydrate-rich foods that are just as affordable and just as easy to prepare as pasta. Here are a few:

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous
  • Bagels
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Chick peas
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal

To sum up, what you need to remember is a balanced diet will fulfill your carbohydrate requirements except if you are preparing for an endurance event. And in all cases, always pay attention to your appetite so you feel full of energy during your workout. 

A word from Marie-Philip

My pre-game meal is really important. If I’m playing at 7, I have a meal at 3:30 and a snack an hour before the game. I like eating quinoa pasta with my mom’s homemade  tomato sauce to which I’ll add chicken and vegetables.  Sometimes I’ll have baked sweet potatoes instead of the pasta. One thing’s for sure, I always include a good-sized portion of meat so I’ll have energy throughout the game.