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Heart Healthy Pre-Race Meal

by Lauren Larson MS, RDN June 03, 2015

Heart Healthy Pre-Race Meal

The “pre-race meal” often consists of a giant plate of pasta with sauce, breadsticks, and maybe some salad at the typical “carbo load” dinner. While a moderate portion of this high-glycemic, low-fiber meal can be appropriate for topping off glycogen stores the night before a race, it’s easy to go overboard. 

Additionally, that huge plate of pasta can actually harm performance by causing stiffness and leaving you feeling bloated, as all that pasta pulls water into your gut. With continued training and racing, consuming this type of meal on a regular basis may actually have a negative impact on heart health.

Instead of overloading your body with simple carbohydrates the night before a race or training session, focus on regularly eating a diet that includes variety of complex carbohydrates from foods like sweet potatoes, squash, berries, and whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa) as tolerated. Then, when a race or heavy training session comes up, simply focus on getting some carbohydrates with the meal the night before. 

Luckily there are so many great alternatives to white pasta and bread sticks out there. From pasta made with bean flour to spiralized vegetables, there are other ways to top off your glycogen stores without such a high glycemic load. Consider the amounts of calories, carbohydrates, fiber, and estimated glycemic load for the following foods. 

Food Amount Calories Carbohydrates Fiber Estimated Glycemic Load
Spaghetii, cooked 1 cup (140 g) 221 43 3 23
Sweet Potato, cooked 1 med (151 g) 115 27 4 11
Spaghetti Squash, cooked 1 cup (155 g) 42 10 2 2
Zucchini, cooked 1 cup (180 g) 29 7 3 2

Combining the complex carbohydrates in vegetables, like the ones listed, with other ingredients, such as tomato sauce, can provide you with enough energy to train or compete without the high glycemic load and heaviness that the big plate of pasta would have. In addition, substituting pasta with vegetables provides additional vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help promote overall health and recovery.

Everyone is different, so it is important to experiment with what works for you before a big race.

Give this Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore a try over zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, spiralized sweet potato, or whole wheat, brown rice, or quinoa pasta the night before a couple of your long training days to see which one helps you feel your best.

Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

Serves 4 | Recipe by Lauren Larson, MS, RDN

2 teaspoons cooking oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 (4-ounce) can sliced black olives, drained

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, add to skillet. Cook on both sides until brown, but not cooked through, working in batches as necessary; 3-4 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft; about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  3. Pour tomatoes over chicken and vegetables and sprinkle with oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper. Add bay leaf and cover. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. 
  4. Remove bay leaf, stir in black olives, and season to taste with more salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper.
  5. Serve over spiralized sweet potato or zucchini, spaghetti squash (see note), or whole wheat, brown rice, or quinoa pasta.

Note: To cook

  • Spiralized Sweet Potato: spiralize then boil for 3-4 minutes
  • Zucchini Noodes: spiralize or peel off thin slice with a vegetable peeler and sauté in a skillet for 2-3 minutes
  • Spaghetti Squash: trim ends, slice in half, remove seeds, place cut side down in a microwave safe dish, add enough water to cover the bottom, and microwave for 10-12 minutes until pierced easily with a fork. Release spaghetti strands by dragging fork down the long edge sides of the squash.


Rosenbloom, Christine A., E. J. (2012). Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals(5 ed.). Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

SELF Nutrition Data.

Lauren Larson MS, RDN
Lauren Larson MS, RDN

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