When my mileage increases, so does my appetite. At the same time, my desire to spend a long time preparing a meal decreases. I want meals that are quick to cook, nutritious to fuel my running, and satisfying in terms of taste and volume. Pasta fits the bill for a quick meal – and a dish like this chicken and kale pasta provides the nutrition needed to fuel training.
I’m not talking about the marathon pasta dinner, where you eat endless bowls of white pasta with very little protein or vegetables (but hey, if that works for you before the marathon, keep eating it!). Too many low-quality carbohydrates and too little protein aren’t exactly the most nutritious meal and may leave you feeling sluggish on your run the next morning.
But not all pasta is created equal – not all carbs are created equal. As Matt Fitzgerald explains in The Endurance Diet, “A carbohydrate-centered diet in itself is neither healthy nor unhealthy. What determines whether such a diet is healthy or unhealthy is whether the carbs come from primarily high-quality or low-quality sources.” An Olive Garden sized portion of white pasta with a heavy cream sauce may not be the healthiest option, but that doesn’t mean all pasta is automatically unhealthy.
Whole grain pastas can be a nutritious and satiating meal, especially when served with lean protein and a generous portion of vegetables. My favorite pasta is an ancient grains (teff, quinoa, etc.) blend. You can use any whole grain pasta you wish: whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, and the like.
Pasta may seem like a carbohydrate bomb, but for endurance athletes, you need a lot of carbohydrates to keep running (literally and figuratively). This is especially true for female endurance athletes; as Stacy Sims points out, women need more carbohydrates than our male counterparts, at least 120-130 grams per day before factoring in exercise. Without carbs, we are more likely to overtrain and actually gain more body fat due to spikes in cortisol.
So choose good carbs – like this chicken and kale pasta. The whole grain pasta provides slow-digesting carbohydrates with a powerhouse of nutrients; the marinara sauce adds more vitamin-rich carbohydrates; the kale provides vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron; and the chicken is an ample source of protein and B-vitamins. A little bit of olive oil helps with vitamin absorption and flavor.
For the marinara sauce in this recipe, I used the Simple Marinara Sauce from Run Fast, Eat Slow. The recipe makes the equivalent of two jars of marinara sauce, only far superior in taste and nutrition (it’s all vegetables with no added sugars).
Especially if you made the sauce and cooked the chicken in advance, this meal is quick and easy to prepare – perfect for a meal after a long run or dinner on a week night.
- 8 oz. of chicken (breast or thigh, skin removed), cooked and shredded
- 1/2 cup marinara sauce
- 4 oz. (2 servings) whole grain thin spaghetti
- 2 cups kale
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1. Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
- 2. Meanwhile, wash the kale and tear it into small pieces. Sprinkle with salt and the olive oil, and then massage until the kale noticeably softens.
- 3. Heat the marinara sauce and chicken together in a pan. Once the pasta is cooked, add the kale and spaghetti to the pan and gently toss to combine.
- 4. Serve immediately or store in the fridge and reheat later.
- You can easily reduce this recipe for a single serving or double to serve four.
What’s your favorite type of pasta dish?
When you are hungry and want a quick dinner, what do you make?