Handy, dandy food for athletes


Current concerns with heart health have triggered production of products high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat that may pay dividends for endurance athletes as well as moderately active folks.

Endurance sports like marathons, triathlons and century rides require a lot of energy from food.

Sooner or later, every endurance athlete learns that food energy for daily training is every bit as important as energy for the big event.

But who has time to cook?

Endurance athletes, like most other folks, have jobs and families and must sandwich long workouts between other obligations.

While traditional high-fat fast foods may solve scheduling problems and defuse hunger, they provide the wrong fuel for daily refilling of muscle energy stores.

Foods rich in complex carbohydrates and starch provide the most readily usable energy to help athletes recover from one day's workout and prepare for a high-energy training bout the following day.

Naturally handy energy foods include fresh, canned or dried fruit; whole wheat or multigrain breads, rolls, bagels, muffins, breadsticks, crackers and pretzels; and cold cereal with skim milk.

Other high-starch foods usually require some preparation time. Rice, noodles, potatoes, lima beans, corn, beans and pasta all have to be cooked. Fortunately, the marketplace is now overflowing with "convenience" foods that meet the needs of endurance athletes.

Check the grocery store aisles that stock canned spaghetti and packaged macaroni. Are you in for a surprise!

Several manufacturers have developed shelf-stable entrees and side dishes that are microwave-ready and tastefully seasoned, so even non-cooks can enjoy a wide variety of meals that solve scheduling, hunger and training problems simultaneously.

Read the labels. You'll find numerous high-carbohydrate, low-fat products to choose from. For every 100 calories, a product should provide a minimum of 15 grams of carbohydrates and a maximum of 3 grams of fat to qualify as "ideal."

A few products require the addition of water and optional butter or margarine before heating. Remember, each teaspoon of butter or margarine adds 5 grams of fat.

Look for chicken-flavored noodles, pasta shells and cheese, pasta garden medley, quick-cooking brown rice, glazed white meat of chicken, and spaghetti and meatballs for starters. Check the labels to be sure the brand you've chosen meets the criteria.

Increase the complex carbohydrate content of any meal by adding microwaved frozen peas, corn, limas, or sweet potatoes, a freshly "baked" potato, or heat-and-serve mashed potatoes for high-energy workouts and peak performance.

*Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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