Carb Loading

Fed up with pasta? Bored with bread? Lawrence Brackstone shows how carbs can be infinitely more varied, nutritious and packed with energy


The media has plenty to say about carbohydrates. Mr Atkins’ fat-heavy diet provided several column inches a few years ago, while women’s magazines just love the subject, offering countless ways to shed the pounds by simply banishing any hint of a carbohydrate from your diet. But for us triathletes, carbs are our friends, and as such we need to be aware of the perils of avoiding them, in particular complex carbs.


Pasta has long been seen as the carb of choice for the athlete, providing the staple for many a pre-race party. And while it is, and always will be, a great supply of fuel, we all need variety, especially in food. But what else can we eat if we want a change from one of Italy’s biggest exports? Well, this month I’ve developed three natural, carb-rich recipes that will give you the power you need to propel your limbs towards a new PB, as well as providing variety to your all-important carb intake. They’re all quick to cook and lip-smackingly delicious – even if I do say so myself! Enjoy.

Sweet potato and butternut squash curry (serves 2)

A vegetarian dish of great taste. Providing equally great carbs and protein, its appeal is universal.

Preparation time 5mins
Cooking time 15mins


2tbsp sunflower oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into small cubes
½ butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
20g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
½ small red chilli, chopped – more if you like a kick
2tbsp of your choice of curry powder*
100g aubergine
140g soya beans
70ml coconut milk
110ml passata
150ml water
A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped
*Madras if you like hot; korma if you prefer mild


1 In a large pan, heat the oil and add the onions, cooking for 5mins on a low heat.
2 Add the chopped garlic and ginger, stirring for 30secs before adding the curry powder and chilli.
3 Keep the heat low and add the sweet potato and squash. Stir for 1min.
4 Add the coconut milk, passata and water, bring to a slow simmer and cook for 5mins.
5 Add the aubergine and cook for a further 5mins – more water can be added at this stage if needed.
6 Finally, check the squash and sweet potato are cooked by inserting a small knife through them. Now add the soy beans, return to a simmer and finish with the chopped 
coriander. Eat immediately.


King prawns with spiced potato wedges and peppered yoghurt dip (serves 2)

This is a real fun one and perfect for sharing. Potatoes, although a very familiar carb, also provide an excellent source of vitamin C.

Preparation time 5mins
Cooking time 15mins


1tsp olive or rapeseed oil
180g pre-cooked, frozen king prawns 
400g medium-size new potatoes
1 large tomato, cut into eight
2 organic or free range eggs
50g watercress, washed
1tsp paprika
A dash of white wine vinegar for poaching the eggs

The dip
70ml natural or probiotic yoghurt
Black pepper to taste


1 Defrost and drain the prawns, and preheat the oven to 200°C.
2 Cut the potatoes length ways into four, for a ‘wedge’ shape. Bring them to the boil and cook until just soft enough to pierce with a knife.
3 Drain and cool for 3mins to slightly dry the surface. ‘Tumble’ the potatoes in the oil and paprika, and bake for 12-15mins until golden brown and 
fully cooked.
4 Meanwhile, prep the dip by mixing the cracked pepper with the yoghurt, and put into a small dish for dipping.
5 Poach the eggs in a pan of simmering water (add half a cap of vinegar to help shape the egg) for 2mins.
6 Plate the watercress with the tomato, prawns and poached egg on top. Add the potato wedges and dip away.


Seeded chicken breast with wild rice and mustard dressing (serves 2)

This is an eye-catching feast of flavour and texture. It’s packed with energy, fibre and nutrients thanks to the seeds, leeks and purple sprouting. 
It also contains three varieties of carbohydrates – brown rice, wild rice and chickpeas. 

Preparation time 10mins
Cooking time 15mins


2 chicken breasts, skinless
1tsp olive/rapeseed oil
2tbsp mixed seeds – such as sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, linseed (these sometimes come as a mix which is easier to manage)
100g brown rice, organic is best
30g wild rice, pre soaked for 30mins 
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
100g chickpeas, drained, optional
4 stems purple sprouting broccoli, cut into small pieces
Half a small leek, cut into strips

The dressing
3tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2tbsp wholegrain mustard
50ml passata
A small handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and pepper to taste


1 Preheat the oven to 200°C and boil two pans of water, one large.
2 Rub a little oil onto the chicken breasts, and sprinkle with the seeds to give a good, even coating. Lightly press them onto the chicken.
3 Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cook for 10-12mins until fully cooked.
4 Meanwhile, add the brown rice to the large pan and the wild rice to the smaller pan. The wild rice will take about 15mins; brown 10mins.
5 Steam the leeks and purple sprouting broccoli above the boiling rice, in a colander, for 1min.
6 Drain the cooked rice.
7 In a large bowl, add the dressing ingredients, all the rice, tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli.
8 Stir well, season if necessary and plate up with the chicken on top.


Simple carbs
These are carbs from processed foods, essentially where humans have adjusted nature. Commonly found in carbonated drinks, sweets and white flour products (white pasta, rice, bread…). The resulting fuel provides a shorter burst of energy and is not a good base for endurance. Sports drinks and energy gels use simple carbs to ‘top us up’ on the move, but they can’t be relied upon for all our fuel for training and racing, as the power they provide quickly burns off.

Complex carbs
These are what a triathlete should be adding to their diet. They’re nature’s answer to raw fuel and, to best understand them, the less processed they are the better they are for you. Found in fruits, starchy veg and whole grains, they provide sustainable, high-quality fuel that will last over a longer period of time.

So, in short, use complex carbs as your main energy source, and simple carbs for racing and training to ‘top up’ the base you’ve laid down.