Want to carbo-load before a race or a long run? Try this gluten free vegetarian sweet potato brown rice bowl! Full of low glycemic carbs to fuel you without weighing you down, this meal is comforting, simple, savory, and healthy.
Happy Friday, everyone!
Remember last week how I mentioned that I was researching carbohydrates, gluten, and marathon nutrition? Well, between that and writing some upcoming posts, carbohydrates have been a focal point of my thoughts. All day long I think about carbs.
Oh, wait, that’s because I’m currently running nearly 50 miles a week in marathon training.
Fueling our bodies with healthy carbohydrates and sufficient calories is essential for running. While some runners can survive on a low-carb diet, I would probably last five minutes before I fainted, started eating cereal by the handful, or threw a temper tantrum that would put a five year old to shame. Carbohydrates not only provide our muscles with the glycogen they need to power our running; carbs also provide us with essential daily energy and are important for healthy brain function.
That said, not all carbs are created equal. Most of us already know that sugar and refined carbohydrates offer less nutrition than complex carbs from natural, whole foods. A milkshake may have plenty of carbs, but it’s only going to give us a sugar crash rather than nourish our bodies and fuel our training.
Additionally, not all carbs are equal in how our bodies respond to them. For some people, gluten has this effect. It can wreck their stomachs and cause inflammation. Even in people without celiac or IBD, high levels of gluten in their diets can be inflammatory, although not to a noticeable degree unless stress, high training volume, and other facts have already increased the body’s levels of inflammation. The emphasis here is on high levels that could possibly cause inflammation, so there’s no need to give up your whole wheat bread completely. I’m certainly not. There is, however, a bigger issue: nutritional variety.
Some of the comments from my post last week on marathon nutrition made me think about how under-emphasized nutrients are in the commonplace discussion on carbo-loading. The tendency before a long run or a big race is to eat simple carbohydrates and not much else.
Before my last half marathon, I ate pancakes (not whole grain) for breakfast, pretzels and fruit as a snack, a grilled cheese from Panera for lunch, and a homemade bagel with a couple eggs for dinner. Lots and lots of refined flour there, and not a lot of nutrients or variety. Look at this also in contrast between my normal diet, where I eat sweet potatoes, red potatoes, fruits, vegetables, oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread or tortillas for my carbs. All of those provide me with minerals such as potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium (aka those important electrolytes!) and vitamins including vitamin C and B-6, not to mention plenty of fiber and some plant-based protein. Don’t I want those nutrients in my body before I push myself to my absolute limit for 26.2 miles?
So perhaps the big plate of pasta, large pizza, or (my personal favorite) giant bagels are not the best meal for the night before a long run or a race. Those are probably best left for after a race, when we can indulge all we want with no fear of heavy stomach or the runner’s trots. What, then, are we runners to eat?
Enter in this vegetarian sweet potato brown rice bowl. It’s a gluten free and healthier option that still will fuel you with approximately 70 grams of carbohydrates. That’s right, 70 grams! Not to mention that the sweet potatoes and brown rice provide you with potassium, magnesium, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, vitamin A, phosphorus, manganese, and iron, while the hard boiled egg offers a complete source of protein and some healthy fats.
Sweet potatoes and brown rice both have a low glycemic index, which means that they do not cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels. Rather, they provide a steady stream of energy over several hours.
That makes this sweet potato and brown rice bowl an excellent choice for dinner before a hard workout or a race. It will fill you up, fuel your muscles, but not leave you ravenous the next morning. It’s also a great meal for refueling after a hard workout, since the carb to protein ratio is approximately the ideal 4:1 ratio for after a run.
To further boost the nutritional profile, I seasoned the potatoes with ginger and cinnamon. Ginger and cinnamon are both anti-inflammatory spices; research shows that consumption of ginger can reduce post-exercise soreness by up to 25%. Ginger also helps soothe anxious or upset stomachs, so it will help calm those race-day nerves. Cinnamon regulates blood sugar levels, and stable blood sugar levels will prevent you from feeling hungry and tired during your long run or bonking at mile 20 of your marathon.
For all its nutritional benefits, this vegetarian sweet potato brown rice bowl does not skimp on taste. It’s warming and comforting with savory and nutty flavors. I used short grain rice because its chewiness provides a desirable contrast to the soft texture of the roasted potato and hard boiled egg. You can use regular long grain brown rice, or even white rice if you want to minimize your intake of fiber before a race.
Best of all: this is a relatively hands-off dish! You can prepare everything in the oven, even the rice and the hard boiled egg.
Vegetarian Sweet Potato Brown Rice Bowl
For the rice
- 3/4 cup short grain brown rice
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tablespoon butter or olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the sweet potatoes
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or oil of choice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Salt to taste
- Ground black pepper to taste
For the egg
- 2 large eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the rice
- Preheat the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, bring the water to a gentle boil over the stove. Once it boils, remove, add the butter and salt, and pour over the rice in a small baking or casserole dish.
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45-50 minutes.* Remove the rice from the oven, remove the cover, and fluff with a fork. Replace the cover to keep warm while you prepare the potatoes and eggs.
For the sweet potatoes
- Increase the oven temperature to 425 degree Fahrenheit.
- Chop the sweet potatoes into cubes. Toss with the oil, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and spread the potatoes on the sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring at least once for even cooking.
For the eggs
- With 15 minutes left to go on the cooking time for the sweet potato, add the eggs into the oven. Use a muffin tin or simply rest them on the slots of the cooking racks in the oven. Once they are cooked, remove from oven and immediately run under cold water. The shells should easily remove.
- Add the rice, sweet potatoes, and de-shelled eggs to a bowl and serve immediately.
- You can also store the rice, sweet potatoes, and eggs separately in the fridge for up to four days and reheat for a quick and easy meal.
*If using regular brown rice, increase cooking time to 55-60 minutes.
Questions of the Day:
What foods are your favorite sources of carbs?
What would you like to learn about marathon and running nutrition? —>I’m really enjoying learning about this and want to do several more posts on it!