If there's one food runners love, it's pasta. High in carbs, it can power you through any workout. But the noodles many runners eat are made from refined wheat, which offers few other nutrients.
A better choice? Those made from whole grains. "Whole-grain pastas provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants runners need for training," says Molly Kimball, R.D., of Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
Before protesting that you've tried whole-wheat pasta—with unhappy results—know that unlike whole-grain pastas of the past—which often turned to mush—today's are far tastier, thanks to production improvements. And there are more options than ever, including gluten-free for runners avoiding gluten.
These unique whole-grain pastas have nutrient-rich résumés worthy of a carbo-load. (Don't overdo it—learn the Right Way to Carbo-Load.)
More: The Evolving Art of Carbo-Loading
One of the earliest gluten-free options, brown-rice pasta has progressed from mealy and gritty to hearty and chewy. A two-ounce serving supplies up to four grams of fiber, "which will keep you feeling full longer," says Kimball. The pasta also provides vitamin B6. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
found that low levels of this nutrient are associated with an increase in heart-damaging inflammation.
Great Grain Firm shapes like Lundberg Farms Penne Organic Brown Rice Pasta won't turn as gummy as brown-rice spaghetti if slightly overcooked (lundberg.com).
More: Is Eating Gluten Bad For You?
A new addition to the noodle market, pasta made with einkorn—one of the oldest forms of cultivated wheat—is packed with nine grams of protein per serving. It's an unexpected source of lutein, which is found in greens and egg yolks (learn the surprising health benefits of eggs for athletes
). "Lutein is an antioxidant that protects our eyes from UV rays," says Katie Jeffrey-Lunn, R.D. Einkorn also contains phytosterols, plant compounds that lower cholesterol.
Great Grain Jovial Whole Grain Einkorn Fusilli has a firm texture that lasts even the day after cooking, so it's great for leftovers (jovialfoods.com).
More: Try Einkorn Whole-Grain Pasta
Japanese soba noodles are made with buckwheat, which is not actually wheat; however, many brands contain wheat flour, so choose one made solely with buckwheat if you're going gluten-free. Soba provide just as many carbs as traditional spaghetti, plus slightly more phosphorus. "Phosphorus is a major player in building bones," says Jeffrey-Lunn. The noodles pack eight grams of protein per serving, making them ideal for recovery.
Great Grain King Soba 100% Buckwheat Noodles are a gluten-free option (kingsoba.com).
More: The Gluten-Free Athlete
Nutty-tasting spelt is a relative of wheat and contains gluten. It's rich in iron—which runners need for endurance—immune-boosting zinc, and magnesium—vital for proper muscle and nerve functioning. "Whole-grain pastas like spelt are slower to digest," says Kimball, "which means they provide more sustained energy than refined white pastas."
Vita Whole Grain Spelt Rotini is ready in just five to six minutes, making it a faster choice than whole-wheat (natureslegacyforlife.com).
Looking for creative recipes that won't derail your diet? See how one chef went from Fat to Fit With Pasta.
More: Why Are Carbs Important?