In a quest to cook more in community, and educate in a hands-on format again, I’ve been leading routine cook-a-longs this summer. I’ve been cooking both with my local running group and as part of my public health nutrition role, my side gig when I’m not working one-on-one with nutrition clients.
I love cooking with both groups–but especially the cook-a-longs with my running ladies because we share similar interests and chat more as we’re making the recipes. And because I get to choose recipes that I routinely make in my everyday and know will make meals and workout recovery easier for others.
This is one such recipe that we made together last week.
It’s a cool noodle dish, served either warmish or at room temperature, but ideally not truly ‘fridge-cold’ or with raw vegetables, because that makes it extra difficult to digest. At a time (summer / hot weather) when our natural digestive ability is already weaker.
It features an Asian-inspired sauce and is kept super easy and quick by utilizing a protein and carbohydrate source in one with legume-based pasta noodles. If you don’t prefer tahini, choose almond butter instead. There are several legume-based pastas on the market. Banza is a good one. If you don’t prefer that, you can add two cups of edamame, your choice of other protein such as grilled fish, chicken, or tofu, and use a whole-grain noodle, such as brown rice noodles or whole-wheat fettuccine.
Happy cooking and summer training / adventuring / eating / digesting! :)
Ginger Turmeric Tahini Sauce: ¼ cup tahini ½-inch fresh ginger, finely grated 1 Tbs. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce ½ tsp. turmeric 2 Tbs. lime juice 1 tsp. pure maple syrup 1 Tbs. light miso
Noodle Salad: 8 oz. chickpea or legume-based noodles 3-4 large carrots (about 500 grams), sliced thin 1 bunch (240 grams) radishes, sliced 2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen ½ cup (packed) cilantro, plus more for garnish Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Make the sauce: Mix the sauce ingredients, along with 4-8 Tbs. water until completely smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed and then set aside.
For the Noodles: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and any hard vegetables (such as carrots or radishes) and cook half way through. Add the peas and any softer vegetables, and cook the remaining few minutes until the pasta is al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
In a medium-serving bowl, toss the pasta and vegetables with the sauce and cilantro. Top with some toasted sesame seeds and serve.
Notes: Change up the vegetables depending on what is in season near you! When you vary it up, choose one to two root vegetables or starchy vegetables and one or two leafy green vegetables or more pungent vegetables. Roots/Starchy Examples: Peas, fresh corn, carrots, summer squash, zucchini (spiralized to add to the noodles (not in replace of!) is what I’ve done in the photo above) Green/Pungent Examples: Broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, radishes, daikon radishes (what I’ve used in the photo), asparagus
At this point in the summer, it’s easy to start feeling a little hot, overheated, and irritable, both internally (mood and digestion), and externally (skin irritation and inflammation).
Your body takes cues from nature and often reacts to what the environment is like. When it comes to your body’s symptoms of imbalance, it all comes back to digestion. Since food, and whether you’re digesting it, literally becomes the body over the coming weeks and months.
Signals of Balance in the Summer Months Feeling cool, calm, and optimistic with ample energy Taking breaks rather than pushing through work (or play) Staying hydrated and nourished No cravings for certain foods
Signals of Imbalance in the Summer Months Feeling hot, inflamed, easily frustrated, and hot-tempered Overworking yourself and perfectionism Allergic reactions Regular headaches Rashes Acidic digestion and reflux Craving spicy, sour or salty foods Loose stool or diarrhea Low energy
Summer’s Food Remedy
What’s surprising to some is that during the height of summer, our digestive capacity is actually lower. This is why on extremely hot days, we often have a low appetite. This may be especially apparent if you’re running lots of summer mileage but feeling less hungry afterwards or know your appetite doesn’t match your energy output. And shoving more food in when you’re not hungry or digesting it well is counterproductive since your body can’t digest and assimilate well when it’s not digesting and assimilating well!
When we look at the seasonal foods that grow in the summer, many of them are cooling and juicy. Just the opposite of how you may be feeling internally or externally!
So when we look to what should go in our meals to balance the heat of summer, it’s best to eat foods that are easily digestible when you have any symptoms that fall in the imbalance category above. That means (gently) cooked foods that are chewed thoroughly. But it also means incorporating ingredients such as vegetables, herbs and spices, and fats/flavorings that are naturally cooling to balance the heat.
For cooling vegetables, fennel, zucchini and summer squash are excellent and abundant to incorporate this time of year! So too are cucumbers, cooling mint, basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill.
That’s where this dal comes in. It’s easily digestible, flavorful, cooling with fennel, dill, and a little coconut milk stirred in, and especially important, tasty!
Much of my nutrition practice is focused on individuals and athletes with digestive health issues such as leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances, chronic GI distress, malabsorption of foods and nutrients, and inflammation. If you’re tired, stressed, and not really sure what to eat to help or hurt anymore, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.
Featuring cooling summer ingredients, this is a dal to eat when the weather is hot, dry, and irritation-inducing—and when you’ve been feeling the same!
Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 40-50 minutes | Serves:4
1 ½ cups red lentils 1 tsp. turmeric 5 cups water 1 ¼ tsp. mineral salt, divided 1 Tbs. olive oil 1 tsp. cumin seeds ½ tsp. mustard seeds ½ tsp. grated fresh ginger root 1 large onion, diced 1 large fennel bulb (~500 grams), diced 1 handful fresh dill (~15 grams), minced 2 tsp. hot chili sauce, or ½ a hot chili, minced 14 oz. / 400 ml lite coconut milk (1 can) Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, to taste 1 cup dry brown rice, soaked for at least 4 hours 2 cups water Sliced crisp fresh greens, such as cabbage or romaine, to serve
Rinse the red lentils until the water runs clear; then put in a large pot with the turmeric and ½ tsp. salt, and cover with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until cooked – that is, when the lentils start to break down and merge together when stirred.
While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat and, once it’s hot, add the cumin, mustard seeds, and ½ tsp. salt. Thirty seconds later, when they pop, add the onion, fennel, and ginger, and cook, stirring every now and then, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes. You may need to add in a couple splashes of water. Cook with a lid on.
Add the chili sauce or chilies and dill. Stir and cook for a couple minutes more, then tip into the lentil pot along with the coconut milk; if the mixture looks as if it could do with being a bit looser, add a little water. Bring the mix up to a bubble, then take off the heat and stir through the lime juice.
To make the rice, drain and rinse from it’s soaking liquid. Then combine in a small pot with 2 cups of water, and the remaining ¼ tsp. Salt. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes.
Serve the rice, sliced fresh greens and dal in a serving bowl. Garnish with a couple of sprigs of dill as desired.
Notes: If you’ve been feeling especially inflamed, reduce the hot chili sauce and mustard seeds by half.
Now that it’s full on summer, let’s check in about a topic that is pertinent for all the endurance athletes, and particularly runners, with wonky guts and/or rigid beliefs about fueling during longer efforts.
I’ve heard so many variations on the following over my years as a runner: “I can’t eat anything before a run, ever.” “I can’t eat anything during a run.” “ I can’t drink anything more than a little water during a run.” “I have no appetite for hours (or days) after a run and my GI is messed up for several days.” “I’m not recovering from long runs or races as well as I used to.”
If you currently relate to any of those statements, I want you to know that the digestive system is highly adaptable. Gastric emptying as well as stomach comfort can be ‘trained’ during endurance activities.
Stored glycogen, or the amount of carbohydrates in our system already, are depleted after about 80 minutes at marathon pace, so for most athletes training for longer efforts, fueling with some sort of carbohydrate during exercise is essential. This training of the gut can improve the delivery of nutrients during exercise so during these long efforts, your system gets the fuel you need and are ingesting, and alleviates some (and perhaps all) of your negative GI symptoms.
How Can I Train my Gut?
What we currently know is that the stomach can adapt to ingesting large volumes of both solids, fluids, or combinations of the two.
Just think about those competitive eaters who can down dozens of hot dogs in a matter of minutes. Disgusting thought, I know, but they have to train their systems to do it! For endurance athletes needing fuel for the long run, we need to do our own version of gut training.
This happens both during and outside of exercise because eating a higher carbohydrate diet leads to our intestinal cells, called enterocytes, being able to absorb and utilize carbohydrates as fuel more efficiently.
To get sugar (carbohydrates) from our small intestine where absorption occurs into our blood, the sugar molecules mostly have to be transported across the membrane by glucose or fructose transporters. Think of a taxi transporting you from the airport to your destination. When we eat a diet high in carbohydrates, our body naturally increases the number of sugar taxis (glucose and fructose transporters).
You’ll notice some of these taxis are sodium-dependent, which is a super essential nutrient for endurance exercise, particularly in the summer, but a topic for another day.
We also know that increasing dietary intake of carbohydrates increases the rate of gastric emptying. This occurs rapidly with a change in diet, within just a few days. So what this means is that you can fuel with more carbohydrate before exercise, fuel with more carbohydrate during exercise, not feel like you’re running around with a giant, full, sloshy gut, and perform the training run or race better, because you were using the fuel you needed to perform adequately.
And, we also now have evidence that when you fuel with the appropriate amount of carbohydrates before, during and after an exercise bout, recovery from hard efforts is substantially improved.
When your body has all the sugar taxis it needs to get carbohydrates out of the digestive system and into the blood stream for circulation and use as fuel as quickly and efficiently as possible, and our body gets used to using carbohydrates added on the go as fuel, the chances of developing GI complaints during exercise are much smaller.
Win, win, and win, in my opinion.
How Much Carbohydrate Can and Should I Be able to Tolerate ?
How much carbohydrates you need or should consume during exercise depends on a few factors. One, how long you’re going to be out there. Two, the intensity of the effort. And three, your gender.
Exogenous carbohydrate oxidation, or the amount of carbohydrates we can use during exercise, peaks around 60 grams per hour when it comes from glucose only. When fructose is ingested in addition to glucose, carbohydrate oxidation rates are elevated above 60 grams per hour, to 90 to 120 grams per hour (when the gut has been trained). In women, however, we have evidence that carbohydrate oxidation rates appear to be maximized at about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (2). If you’re a female and looking to maximize your fueling and racing/recovering capacity, you can experiment with ingesting more than 60 grams per hour. This upper limit will likely be individual.
The current guidelines for fueling are to take in up to about 60 grams per hour of carbohydrates for exercise lasting up to two hours.
And when the effort lasts longer than 2 hours, men should experiment with increasing their intake to slightly greater amounts of carbohydrate (90g/hr), but women may feel best at sticking with 60 grams per hour. These carbohydrates should be a mix of glucose and fructose or maltodextrin and fructose. Virtually every sports nutrition product for use during exercise includes a mixture of carbohydrates these days so most people will not need to worry about getting the different sources. And most do-it-yourself whole food fuel sources will also include both fructose and glucose.
Note that sucrose, which is contained within many whole foods and is also what makes up simple table sugar, is a disaccharide, meaning it has two different sugar compounds, fructose and glucose.
Here’s another way to look at the timeline of fueling needs:
Grams of Carbohydrate Per Hour
30-60g : women Up to 70 g/hr: men (higher intensity = higher need)
30-60g : women Up to 70 g/hr: men
60 g: women (can experiment with more) Up to 90 g: men (can experiment with up to 120 g)
How Long Does Training the Gut Take?
If you’re training for a race and practicing fueling during long efforts, it doesn’t take more than a few days to a couple weeks to increase those sugar taxis in your gut. Based on animal data, an increase in dietary carbohydrate from 40 to 70% could result in a doubling of SGLT1 transporters over a period of two weeks (1).
But it’s important to practice your race nutritional strategy in training, get used to higher volumes of solid or liquid intakes, and higher carbohydrate intakes both during and outside of training.
As always with fueling for sports, it will take a little individual experimenting and tweaking to find what works for you so you’re less likely to end up looking like this during your next long run or race:
Will Training My Gut Fix all my Exercise-Related Digestive Woes?
Perhaps following the above recommendations will be a simple answer to fixing all your exercise-caused angry/sad midsection woes.
But many people with digestive systems that are more prone to upset also need to pay special attention to what you are and aren’t consuming, and how much you’re eating in all the hours outside of training. This can be very individual.