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
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.
I’ve been reflecting lately on healing and health – how some of us are ‘gifted’ with easy and good health, and easy and quick recovery from running and workouts for most of our lives…and then for some of us, health is a multi-faceted journey, a ‘getting to’ figure out what the nugget(s) of wisdom are underneath the sometimes long periods of pain, struggle, fear, disease, injury…
I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I know that finding and immersing yourself in what brings you joy, eating more foods that still look like they came from the ground/earth, and learning to set aside some of your hurry and worry helps a whole lot in the process.
I could give more details about eating colorful and anti-inflammatory foods, specific nutrients, etc. for sustainable and lasting healing.
But today, I’ll offer encouragement that is a little more abstract. Because finding what makes you feel whole and healthy long-term, what brings you joy and makes you feel like your most authentic self will always be worth pursuing.
I shared this recipe in a virtual cook-along with a few of my local Oiselle Volée running teammates this week and it was a big hit. It brought so much joy to me, and hopefully them, to share and bake it in community. Everyone loved the little pop of lemon this contains. The addition of the slight hit of acid enhances all the other flavors. This is also a great sweet dessert for individuals who are following a gut-healing dietary pattern. It contains only a little added sugar, which is highly inflammatory and problematic for gut-healing, but lots of flavor. Hope you enjoy!
Crumble Topping: 1 cup / 100 g rolled oats ⅓ cup / 37 g almond flour or ⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds, ground into a meal ¼ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon ground ginger ½ teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ¼ cup /55 g coconut oil, ghee, or butter 2-3 tablespoons / 36 g sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the berries in a 8 x 8-inch baking dish or similar, and toss with ½ tsp. vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest.
Prepare the crumble in a separate bowl. Start by mixing oats, almond or sunflower flour, salt, spices, and vanilla.
Then add the coconut oil and sugar. Use a spoon or your hands to mix until combined. With your fingers, crumble the filling evenly over the berries.
Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown.
Notes: Change up the berries depending on availability and season. Some berries might require 1-2 Tbs. of maple syrup or sugar added to the filling. If using frozen berries, thaw and drain the excess liquid before using.