The ABCs of Sports Nutrition: Oats, Pasta, Quinoa & Red Lentils


, by Renee McGregor

Photography by: Peter Hermes Furian

The ABCs of Sports Nutrition series brings you practical tips on how to improve your diet and fuel your training. Working our way through the alphabet, we're now down to O, P, Q and R (Oats, Pasta, Quinoa and Red Lentils). Read on to learn more about how these foods can be a staple part of your weekly nutrition.

O is for…. Oats

We’ve all been told time and time again how porridge is the best start to the day. It is low in fat, high in soluble fiber, and also a great source of complex carbohydrates. This means that it releases energy slowly throughout the day, preventing blood sugar fluctuations or energy crashes. That said, they don’t necessarily need to be eaten as porridge. You can eat them cold in the form of overnight oats or standard muesli or, if you are feeling particularly creative, why not try the oaty pancakes. 

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If you are not a morning oat person, you could have oatcakes or even make your own energy bars which are ideal as a pre- or during-training snack. Whichever way, they should be on your list as a go-to food to fuel long endurance training sessions.

Nutrition tip: try adding them to a morning smoothie for a portable breakfast option.

P is for…. Pasta

Photography by: Maria Tebriaeva

For years this has been known as the endurance fuel of choice. However, in recent years many athletes have been persuaded to go gluten-free, with no real evidence or performance rationale. Pasta, particularly white pasta, has become associated with being a processed food, something that should be avoided. However, can something that is made simply from wheat and egg be bad for us? 

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Pasta is a great source of carbohydrates; necessary for our bodies to work at a high intensity, or over a long duration. It also provides B Vitamins, folate, and thiamine, necessary for many biological processes within the body. Wholegrain varieties have the additional benefit of providing fiber, important for our gut biome. When it comes to which is best, it comes down to preference –both are nutrient-dense, especially if served with pesto-roasted vegetables and topped with a protein source of choice.

Q is for…. Quinoa

Photography by: Elena Veselova

While pasta has taken an absence from many store cupboards around the country, Quinoa seems to have taken the number one spot. It is the only grain that contains all 9 essential amino acids and so very popular with vegans and vegetarians who do not consume animal products. Additionally, it is a great source of magnesium and zinc, necessary for optimal muscle contraction and repair. 

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Quinoa is a very versatile ingredient; it can be added to curries as a bulking agent; served as a side dish to accompany a casserole or as an integral component of a salad.

Nutrition tip: Try making a large quantity of quinoa at the start of the week and then add different components every day to provide yourself with a nutrient-dense lunch option.

R is for… Red Lentils

Photography by: azerbaijan_ stockers

As a vegetarian, this has been a staple in my diet for years. However, I appreciate that for many, when faced with the challenge of what to do with them, they are at a bit of a loss. Red lentils are pretty bland in flavor and texture. To make them flavorsome, I recommend adding herbs, and spices or adding them to other dishes. One such example is replacing half the mince you would use for a Bolognese sauce with red lentils. This will improve the nutritional composition of your meal by reducing the overall intake of saturated fat; and increasing the soluble fiber content, while still maintaining the iron composition of the meal. Red lentils are a great prebiotic, essential for a healthy gut and digestive system. 

Nutrition tip: try making a sweet potato and lentil soup, flavour with chilli, coriander and a dash of coconut milk for a wholesome lunch or snack meal.

The ABCs of Sports Nutrition - the series

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