Pasta is a traditional cycling food. The traditional thinking was to load up on pasta for slow release carbohydrates before a long ride. Traditionally, cyclists would eat pasta for dinner, and perhaps pasta for breakfast. When I started cycling I was an adherent of pasta, thinking this was the perfect food for energy reserves.
But, in the past few years, pasta has been getting a bad press. The new cycling teams eat rice, lentils, quinoa, buckwheat, yam flour of the Japanese konnyaku imotuber – anything apart from the gluten heavy pasta.
When I read Geraint Thomas’ book, one thing that struck me was the disdain felt towards the Italian teams who are stuck in the past chugging their way through big plates of pasta. It seems eating a plate of pasta, is a cardinal sin within Team Sky, who are more at home with vegetable juices, celery and any of these non-gluten superfoods.
To some extent I have also found myself doing the same. I rarely eat pasta these days, preferring rice and lentils. A packet of pasta can sit in the cupboard for several months – only on rare occasions do I take it.
It is worth noting that once professional cyclists swore by eating raw steak for breakfast. So it does show that the prevailing opinion doesn’t necessarily have a scientific backing.
What’s wrong with pasta?
The argument is that pasta is harder to digest because of the high wheat and gluten content. There is a whole industry devoted to speaking of the ills of gluten and modern forms of wheat. (The old forms of wheat were OK apparently, but the new forms are so heavily modified that they have changed the complexion of the food). Many people find it harder to digest this modern form of wheat and in recent years there has been an upsurge in gluten intolerance (either real or imagined)
According to this site, the problem with pasta includes
- Is made from processed flour
- Contains gluten
- Is difficult for many people to digest
- Creates a sticky “sludge” in your digestive tract
- Encourages the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast (microflora) in your gut
- The heavy processing of white flour has removed most nutrients and minerals.
- It is quite high calorie
Does pasta get a bad press?
- Pasta is made from a different wheat to bread. It is made from Durum which is closer to the old wild grasses than wheat used for bread.
- It depends how you take your pasta. If you have a sugar rich tomato sauce, it’s not so good. But, pasta with salad and healthy sauce is different.
- Pasta has a low glycemic index of 25-45, making it a good slow release carbohydrate. This compares to a GI for potatoes of up to 80.
- Pasta has been a staple in the diet of Mediterranean countries for many years. Obesity rates are quite low. It is only the younger generation who have shifted to more American style fast food, who have started to put on weight.
- Pasta gives feeling of being full after a relatively low number of calories, compared to other foods.
I was motivated to write this short post after 10 days in Sicily. I usually avoid pasta, but in Sicily I ended up eating for both lunch and dinner. I didn’t feel any sluggishness of heaviness in the stomach. It was helped by the fact that there was really good selection of other foods to go with the pasta, salad, tofu, e.t.c. It was half pasta, half other raw vegetables e.t.c
10 days in Sicily is a very unscientific study, and back in the UK the attraction of pasta is somewhat diminished. But, maybe pasta isn’t so bad after all.