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Whole Grains for Triathletes

By Monique Ryan

grainsTriathletes have survived more than a decade of carbohydrate bashing with their muscle glycogen stores intact. Perhaps even the diet crazy, carbo-phobic public is catching up. U.S. Dietary Guidelines calling for a minimum of three, one-ounce servings of whole grains daily. Besides supplying premium muscle fuel, quality carbohydrates are filled with health promoting vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber.

A recent study found that consuming three to four servings of whole grains daily, while limiting refined grains to one serving or less is associated with lower amounts of that troublesome deep abdominal fat — the fat linked to hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Consuming these grain kernels in their whole state (with seeds intact), not only protects us from many chronic diseases, but brings a variety of flavors and textures to our diet that go beyond the familiar brown rice and whole-wheat pasta choices.

Whole grain hunting is easier with many less traditional varieties now more widely available. Let’s take a look at a few choices which you can add to your diet or perhaps even add for the first time. Preparation of all these warm and comforting grains just takes a little kitchen know-how, and some hot water mixed with the right amount of seasoning and cooking time. Several servings can be prepared at one time when you have a busy training week on your schedule.

Whole Oats — The best breakfast grain around and backed by hundred of studies. Whole oats are a great source of the soluble fiber beta-glucans, which support control of blood pressure, appetite, and cholesterol, while improving insulin sensitivity and boosting the immune system. Trade in the sugar containing cereals lower in fiber.

Quinoa — Possible lipid lowering effects, promotes fullness. It is protein rich and high in the antioxidant quercetin, and potassium, magnesium, zinc, and fiber. Trade in the instant couscous for quinoa which cooks in 15 to 20 minutes.

Buckwheat — The ultimate versatile player. Improves circulation and prevent bad cholesterol from blocking blood vessels. Buckwheat is also a powerhouse source of the antioxidant rutin, and the minerals magnesium and manganese. Trade in any wheat product for buckwheat (it is gluten free too!) and make pancakes, crepes and quick breads.

Amaranth — Besides posessing anti-hypertensive and lipid lowering effects, it has possible cancer preventive and anti-inflammatory properties. Known to the ancient Aztecs as a superfood, it is high in protein, and contains three times the fiber of wheat, and supplies phytosterols, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Black Rice — A recent study shows black rice is higher in the powerful anthocyanin antioxidant than blueberries, and supplies more vitamin E., fiber and iron. Trade in instant rice, white rice, and even brown rice for a new taste and color experience.

Spicy and Sweet Quinoa Salad
High protein quinoa was an Aztec staple thousands of years ago. Rinse quiona before cooking to prevent a bitter taste.

  • Quinoa (rinsed), 1 cup
  • Water, 2.5 cups
  • Dried apricots, chopped, 6
  • Raisins, 2 Tablespoons
  • Scallions, 3 small, sliced
  • Celery, 2 stalks


  • Lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons
  • One-half teaspoon paprika
  • One-fourth teaspoon cumin
  • One-fourth teaspoon coriander

Add quinoa to boiling water and stir. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Drain quinoa and put into a mixing bowl. Add apricots, raisins, scallions and celery, and toss. Pour dressing over still-warm quinoa. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 servings.

Irish Breakfast

  • Water, 2 cups
  • Steel-cut oats, 1 cup

Bring water to a boil and stir in oats. Cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with skim dairy or soy milk. Add brown sugar, raisins, and fresh fruit as desired. Makes 4 servings.

Barley Pilaf

  • Pearl Barley (rinsed), 1 cup
  • Onion, chopped, ¼ cup
  • Olive oil, 2 Tbsp.
  • Mushroom, chopped, ½ cup
  • Broth, chicken or vegetable, 2 cups

Saute onion and mushroom in olive oil until tender. Stir in barley and heat. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 40-45 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Tomato Bulgar Chick

  • Water, 2.5 cups
  • Bulgur, 1 cup
  • Fresh parsley, 3 Tbsp.
  • Cherry tomatoes, 1 cup
  • Chickpeas, drained, 2 cups
  • Carrots, grated or chopped, 1 cup
  • Olive oil, 2 tbsp.
  • Pepper to taste

Add bulgur to water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients. Serve hot or cold. Serves six.

Amaranth Pilaf

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup amaranth
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. dreid thyme
  • 1 Tsp. olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper

Combine water, amaranth, salt, and thyme in saucepan. Bring to boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered over low heat for 20-25 minutes or until water is absorbed. Stir in olive oil and pepper. Makes six servings.

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Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the leading endurance sports nutritionist. Her nearly 30 years of professional experience working with Olympic (consultant to USAT and USA Cycling), elite and age group endurance athletes and professional sports teams make her one of the most experienced and qualified sports nutritionists in the U.S. Ryan is founder of Chicago-based Personal Nutrition Designs and the best-selling author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (3rd edition, VeloPress) and three other sports nutrition books. PND provides detailed nutrition plans for triathletes across North America competing in all race distances, with programs at  Ryan is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.