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Marathon Monday Approaches! Whole Grains to Power Your Run

April 16, 2010

Monday is the 114th running of the Boston Marathon, and here at Whole Grains Council HQ in Boston, we’re getting excited! Marathon Monday is always a great day in the city, with runners pouring in from all over to run in the world’s oldest marathon, and Bostonites scoping out their favorite patch of sidewalk to watch all the action.  Whether you’re camped out on a rooftop over Boylston Street, standing on Heartbreak Hill in Newton with the Boston College crowd, or listening to the cheers from inside your office in Framingham, the excitement is palpable.

All the anticipation leading up to the race got me thinking about the best things to eat before, during, and after a long run, whether it’s a full marathon or something significantly shorter.  Protein is important, but carbohydrates – particularly whole grains – are some of the best things to fuel a run.

Most people are aware of the “carbo-loading” concept; a lot of big races, including the Boston Marathon, hold a huge pasta dinner for runners the night before. But there are major differences in the benefits between whole grains and refined grains, and each should be consumed at different times in relation to the run to reap the full benefits of both.

Because whole grains are just that – the entire grain – they contain more nutrients, and have much more fiber than refined grains, which means they burn through the body more slowly. This slow burn makes whole grains ideal for eating before a race – a whole grain meal will move slowly through a runner’s system, providing strong and sustained energy. Mid-run, when a runner needs a quick boost, refined grains are a smarter choice. They provide an almost immediate energy spike to help push through the “wall” that can come during a long race – especially on those Newton hills! Once the race is over, a combination of refined and whole grains is best; start with some fast-burning refined grains for a quick fix, and add in some slow-burning whole grains for long-term recovery.

The night before a big run, try one or more of the following with dinner:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Whole grain barley

For the morning of a run, here are some breakfast-y whole grain options:

  • Whole grain bagel
  • Granola
  • Oatmeal

Or try this recipe for whole grain pancakes, from Runner’s World:

  • 1 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar substitute
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. In a medium bowl, combine oats and milk. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in other ingredients until evenly blended. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Pour the batter by 1/4 cup into the pan and cook for three to four minutes. Flip and cook for one to two minutes longer. Makes a total of 12 pancakes, each with 90 calories, two grams of fat, 1/2 gram of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrate, and one gram of fiber.

Happy running!

– Molli

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