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Athletes, please, eat the pasta!
July 5th, 2011
02:46 PM ET

Athletes, please, eat the pasta!

Joe Bastianich is a restaurateur, winemaker, author and a judge on the  FOX series "MasterChef." An avid runner, Joe has competed in numerous marathons and triathlons and will be tackling his first full Ironman in Kona this October.  With that experience in these two worlds, he offers  our Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge community his thoughts on having satisfying meals while training.

Photo Credit: Greg Gayne

Whether you are already athletic and looking to up your game with a triathlon, or are just beginning your journey on the road to getting fit, what you put in your body plays a big role in the performance you’ll get out of it.

We’ve been taught to think of food – especially carbs – as our enemy, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Food is what fuels our bodies, allowing us to physically push ourselves to reach our own potential for fitness and athleticism. But when we think about a diet to match a healthy active lifestyle, too often we mistakenly buy into the old adage that getting in shape means resigning to a bland and unsatisfying diet of meager proportions. For someone who’s spent their entire life in some of the best Italian restaurants in the country, bland, meager, and unsatisfying just isn’t going to cut it.

Food and wine became a passion of mine early on- a passion I was not eager to give up when I first took up running. What I quickly and thankfully learned is that I didn’t have to- and neither do you!

Eating healthy doesn’t mean giving up satisfying and savory meals.

Pasta has always been a staple of my diet-and it is the food I reach for most often before and after working out. The more I run, the more I need. Many classic pasta dishes such as puttanesca (pasta anchovies, capers, tuna, and olives) spaghetti allo scoglio (mussels, shrimp, and scallops) and a pasta a la norma (eggplant and onion) combine workout-friendly complex carbs with the health benefits of antioxidant-chocked veggies and omega 3 rich shellfish and seafood.

Using whole wheat pasta certainly increases your fiber intake and helps to regulate blood sugar, but eating white pasta made with more refined flour is actually easier for the body to digest before any big workout or race.

In fact, carb loading is extremely important for maintaining enough endurance to power you through a big competition. One of my favorite pre-race meals is pasta primavera. This dish is the perfect fuel for your body- complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, olive oil for its anti-inflammatory effect on joints, and the antioxidant-laden veggies to help protect muscles, joints, and tissues from wear and tear that comes with pounding the pavement. And speaking of antioxidants- my all time favorite source is- you guessed it- red wine!

Now I’m certainly not advocating you down a bottle of Barolo the night before a big race, but, red wine in moderation is an excellent source of antioxidants- crucial for athletes to help repair muscles, joints, and tissues damaged by strenuous workouts. A well-deserved treat after a grueling workout!

Eat real food.

Processed foods are harder for the body to break down- this means your body has to waste energy digesting chemicals it doesn’t really know what to do with- processed cheese is one of the worst offenders. And why reach for processed cheese when the real deal is so much better? Many cheeses such as grana padano from Italy pack more protein ounce for ounce than any variety of meat or nuts- not to mention a good source of calcium.

The moral of the story is, you can feel great, look great, and still enjoy a little vino and mozzarella caprese at the end of the day.

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Filed under: 2011 Triathlon Challenge • Nutrition

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