In the age of spiralizers, zoodles and cauliflower crust, it’s become apparent that people are looking to move away from gluten-filled carbohydrates. But are these pasta and pizza crust stand-ins an adequate source of carbohydrates for a runner?

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Most cauliflower crusts contain between nine and 12 per cent of daily carbohydrate intake, ringing in between 15 and 20 grams per serving and 45 and 60 grams for the whole pie. Traditional store-bought pizza crusts contain on average 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrate per serving, or 90 to 120 grams for the whole pie.

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In terms of zucchini in place of pasta, one medium zucchini contains only 33 calories and six grams of carbs, whereas one serving of cooked pasta, which is considered 1/2 a cup, contains 110 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrates. It’s also extremely rare for someone to sit down and only consume 1/2 a cup of pasta. A typical serving can be safely estimated at roughly 250 calories and 50 grams of carbohydrate. 

While it’s important to recognize that there would be sauces and toppings on both the zucchini noodles and cauliflower pizza that would up the carb count, the base of the dish remains significantly lower-carb than traditional pasta or pizza. This is fine for someone who subscribes to a low carb diet or is trying to lose weight, but isn’t sufficient for most distance runners. 

Kate Van Buskirk is a Canadian 5,000m athlete, who in her peak training times is running around 120K of mileage a week. When she’s training at high volume, she aims to eat around 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. For her this works out to roughly 500 grams of carbohydrate per day. If you break that into snacks and meals, she’s typically consuming around 100 grams of carbohydrates at meal times–which would be a lot of cauliflower pizza. 

All the carbs we consume are eventually broken down into smaller molecules–ultimately into glucose–which the body uses to release energy for each and every function it performs. Physical activity places a high demand for energy on various body systems, which is why carbs are considered the preferred fuel source for prolonged and sustained activity.

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In addition to being used as a fuel and energy source, excess carbs are also processed and used as an energy storage system. In humans and most animals, glycogen is the name of the energy storage molecule which is kept in the cells of muscles and the liver. Runners should be familiar with the term glycogen as it becomes the primary source of energy in longer running events such as the marathon. The purpose of carb-loading is simply to maximize the body’s glycogen stores, delaying fatigue at the end of a longer run or race.

A runner who is running low mileage or moving toward a fat-adaptive diet could consume these carbohydrate-light substitutes, but if you’re training at high volume and accustomed to consuming pasta and pizza, don’t make a vegetable like cauliflower your only source of carbohydrate. 

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