The debate continues over which fuel source is best for endurance athletes—carbohydrate or fat—and this week’s recipe gives a nod to both. New research is shedding some light on the topic with a study on the effectiveness of low-carb, high fat (LCHF) diets for endurance athletes. The idea is based on the fact that our bodies store significantly more energy in the form of fat than it does carbohydrates. If the body is trained to tap into this larger fuel source (by eating a diet of mostly fat), it seems plausible that athletes could perform for much longer and avoid hitting the dreaded wall that happens when muscles run out of stored carbohydrates (glycogen).
It’s an interesting theory, but don’t trade your pre-race pasta party for sticks of butter just yet. While a LCHF diet is proven to force adaptation in favor of burning fat—a far more abundant reservoir—carbohydrates still take the cake when it comes to providing energy for a given period of time. Essentially, athletes tested on the LCHF diet require more oxygen to maintain performance, meaning efficiency suffers. And athletes on a traditional high carb diet have better high intensity performance and fewer effects of over-training.
The fat-for-fuel approach does shine in certain areas, and might be more useful for extremely prolonged exercise. Ultra-marathoners have figured this out, and many find this diet to be the best way to fuel 20 plus hours of low-intensity, steady exertion. A LCHF diet, or ketogenic diet, may also be beneficial for those looking to lose weight or improve their health in general. However, like most diets that take things to an extreme, lasting results can be hard to achieve.
The good news is that we don’t have to choose. We can eat and train in a way that improves the metabolism of both carbs and fat, which for most athletes may be the best way to go. For example, some runners avoid eating before long runs to force the body to become more efficient at burning fat. For other workouts, loading up with carbs can help the body focus on quality and high intensity training.
Whichever camp you’re in, I tend to think balance is best, and this pasta dish has something for everyone. This simple avocado sauce is high in healthy fat and fiber, and happens to be highly addictive. Combine it with a complex carb like whole grain pasta, and you’ll have lasting energy for any fitness or training need.
-2 large avocados
-1 small lemon
-2 large garlic cloves, minced
-¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
-2 Tb olive oil
-2 Tb plain greek yogurt
-½ cup vegetable broth
-1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
-1 box whole wheat spaghetti noodles
-Salt and pepper
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick spray.
-In a large bowl, toss cherry tomatoes lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then place on baking sheet and roast in oven for 10-15 minutes.
-Cook pasta according to package directions.
-While pasta and tomatoes are cooking, scoop out avocados into a blender.
-Add the juice from one lemon, garlic, basil, olive oil, yogurt, and broth, and blend on high until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
-Once noodles and tomatoes are done, combine together and add avocado sauce. Garnish with fresh basil.
Ashley Sigmund is Paste’s Recipe for Fitness columnist. She is a Denver-based RDN with ten years in the medical field helping patients and clients improve their health.