Marathon Traditions: The Pasta Dinner

This Sunday, I will be running the San Francisco Marathon. It’ll be my 9th race and like all races, I’m nervous and excited. The anticipation has got me thinking about a tradition I’ve observed since 2007 (when I first started racing), the pasta dinner.

In the most simple terms, a pasta dinner makes sense. We heap it onto our plates and consider it fuel that we will slowly burn off. The starch is stored and the muscles use the sugar glucose as a major energy source. When it comes time to run, the body will draw from the stored glucose and deplete it throughout the race.

However, pasta is Italian and marathons come from the Greeks when Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran 26 miles to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. Unfortunately, he died at the end of his race and we morbidly celebrate by eating pasta dinners and racing for sport.  Hmm. Food for thought. What kind of sick creatures are we and why aren’t we eating Greek food vs Italian? Is it because there is nothing in the Greek diet that could suit a runner for a long distance run or did the Italians create this tradition first? Or is the anticipation of this marathon making my mind wander in an attempt to distract myself from the anxiety I’m feeling?

While pasta dinner is a widely celebrated tradition, most opt for a lighter meal option. A carb-loading event like a pasta dinner can lead to constipation and then you’re stuck with the extra weight in your digestive tract while trying to run. Imagine the pain and discomfort.  The best overall practice is to maintain a balanced diet of 60-70% carbs while also focusing on staying hydrated during the week of the marathon.

Other practices and habits to avoid are:

  • Beans and other gassy foods: asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, green peppers, lentils, onions, peas, potatoes, and radishes.
  • Dairy products: also known to contribute to gas
  • Beer, diet soda, fruit juice, and wine
  • Whole grains: wheat, oat bran, flax seed, and barley
  • Mexican food or Indian food: both are spicy and use unique spices
  • Coffee – a diuretic

This list looks cumbersome and you’re probably thinking, what do I eat? One rule of thumb I’ve followed is to not over-eat anything on this list and limit my portions. If your overload on anything, it will have negative side effects for you and guess what? Despite the myth and hype about pasta dinners, I might carb-load and find myself at an Italian restaurant on Saturday night or I’ll be doing my best to avoid foods on the “do not” list and munch on a protein bar instead. Either way, find a tradition that works for you and make it your own.

Photo Courtesy of Naotakem

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