Women runners seem to have a natural aversion to the C word. For many of us, consuming the usual carbs (think pasta and potatoes) seems like a bad idea when trying to lose weight and eat better. We lose sight of the fact that they are the primary energy for working muscles, helping us to run hard and recover well. Perhaps you're blasé about carbs because you're burnt out on the old standbys. Try one or more of these alternatives for a fresh take on the usual fare.
Sprouted bread is what you should be using to make your tuna sandwiches. Made from sprouted whole grains and legumes, this bread is packed with protein--up to 8 grams per slice. Plus, the sprouting process brings out more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and great nutty flavor. Each slice has a lower glycemic index (a measure of how fast a food spikes blood sugar) than other bread varieties. This means a steadier supply of energy to power you through your day. In fact, a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that a low glycemic diet protects against diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
Make it: For a pre-run snack, slather a slice of sprouted bread with peanut butter and sliced banana.
What to try: French Meadow Bakery (frenchmeadow.com) makes a variety of sprouted breads, bagels and tortillas.
Soba are native Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour with just as much energy-boosting complex carbohydrates as pasta. Gluten free buckwheat gives the noodles a great texture. A phytochemical in buckwheat called rutin has a number of beneficial qualities such as halting the expansion of body fat cells, keeping blood cholesterol levels in check and improving blood glucose control,which may lower diabetes risk. Soba noodles often contain wheat flour, but 100 percent buckwheat versions are available for those intolerant to gluten.
Make it: Soba can be prepared like pasta and be subbed for it in almost any recipe. For a no-fuss post-run meal, mix cooked soba noodles with cubed grilled chicken breast (or tofu), cherry tomatoes, diced red pepper, olive oil and chopped cilantro.
What to try: Look for soba in Asian markets or find Eden 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles (edenfoods.com) at natural food stores.
This viscous syrup is best known for providing the robust bittersweet flavor to gingerbread and baked beans. But consider using it elsewhere as well. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association discovered that molasses has higher levels of antioxidants than maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, brown sugar and other sweeteners. Antioxidants may speed muscle recovery by shielding them from oxidative damage. They also help vanquish the free radicals that can damage DNA and initiate cancers. Molasses also harbors B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and iron. Runners, particularly women, tend to be more at risk for iron deficiency. Because iron is vital for the delivery of oxygen to working muscles, low levels can negatively impact running performance.
Make it: Add 1 tablespoon of molasses to your post-run protein shakes to give it some kick. This is the best time to take advantage of its fast-digesting carbohydrates to replenish muscle energy stores.
What to try: Wholesome Sweeteners (wholesomesweeteners.com) molasses is organic- and fair trade-certified.
Thanks to movie theaters, popcorn has a bad reputation as a high-fat snack. But homemade popcorn can be one of the smartest snack choices you can make. Recently, researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that popcorn provides more dietary fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants than any other snack food tested. Because a large volume of plain popcorn has few calories (just 31 calories in 1 cup), it can fill you up without breaking the calorie bank. And most people forget that popcorn is a whole grain. According to the USDA, at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains.