Pros’ Favorite No-Pasta Pre-Race Dinners

Skip the traditional carbo load

By Pip Taylor—While pasta parties might be a popular pre-race tradition, gorging on spaghetti is not the only (nor probably the best) option for fueling your effort. In fact, many top athletes skip pasta altogether. The following pros’ menus demonstrate two facts about pre-race meals: There is no one magic formula, and there’s success in routine.

Meredith Kessler
2012 Ironman St. George and Ironman Coeur d’Alene winner
Chicken, salad and sweet potato
I have always loved Outback Steakhouse. For me a meal there works far better than pasta, and I seem to always enjoy it more: Romaine salad with tangy tomato dressing, cucumbers, tomatoes; grilled chicken breast with barbecue sauce for dipping; sweet potato. I omit too many vegetables leading up to a race, which seems to work best. Less carnage in the belly! Once home, one or two Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

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Fraser Cartmell
2010 Ironman UK winner
Chicken and rice
I am getting too old to “eat whatever” and get away with it—even a pizza has too much red sauce for my tummy to cope with! Since the end of last season I have opted for a plate of white rice and grilled chicken with some simple roasted veggies and a sprinkling of olive oil and grated mild cheese.


Sarah Groff
2012 Olympian
Cheese-less pizza
A cheese-free pizza with pesto and prosciutto, maybe with some veggies thrown on. I find that the best approach for a pre-race dinner is to stick with foods that you normally eat and sit well with you; a simple cheese-free pizza fits into that model perfectly.

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Rasmus Henning
2012 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon winner
Fish, bread and rice
I don’t like to have red meat or poultry the night before a race, but fish seems to get through the system nicely before race morning—and it seems to make me swim like one! My (winning) pre-race meal the evening before Abu Dhabi consisted of fish, rice pilaf and Arab round flatbread.

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Mirinda Carfrae
2010 Ironman world champion
Chicken, tomato and rice
My pre-race meal is always the same: I just cook up some rice and chicken and either have it plain or with some sort of random pasta sauce from the supermarket. Very bland and boring but it does the trick.

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T.J. Tollakson
2011 Ironman Lake Placid winner
Steak, sweet potato, rice and lots of carrot cake

My Ironman pre-race meal always consists of a 12 oz filet mignon grilled rare, baked sweet potato with butter and dark brown sugar, brown rice with butter and salt, bread with butter, and a piece or two or three of carrot cake (until I am sufficiently full). If I don’t have a kitchen to cook everything, I will call ahead to a restaurant and ask for my meal ahead of time (including a whole carrot cake). If my mom is with me and we have a kitchen, I grill the steaks and she bakes thebest carrot cake—period.

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Heather Jackson
2012 Ironman Wildflower Long Course Champion
Salad, steak or chicken and sweet potato
My pre-race meal is a big salad: spinach, peppers, carrots, mushrooms, onion, sugar snap peas and tomato, with 2 tablespoons of a yogurt-based dressing. Then either a large steak or large chicken breast and a huge baked sweet potato with salt, garlic salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar. Sweet potatoes are my obsession, chock full of vitamins and minerals; I don’t eat any bread, pasta, muffins or any sort of flour-based carbs.

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Ben Hoffman
2012 Ironman St. George winner
Scrambled eggs, waffles, fruit, yogurt
One pre-race dinner option for me is “brinner,” or breakfast for dinner. For obvious reasons I skip the coffee, but buckwheat waffles with ample fresh fruit and plain, low-fat yogurt as toppings, and some scrambled eggs do the trick for me. Other possibilities for toppings: almond butter and real maple syrup.

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