Whether you like it long, short, black, brown or wild, rice is an excellent source of nutrients for a runner.
With its high percentage of carbohydrate, rice has for a long time been regarded as a great fuel for athletes. Low in fat, it’s a rich source of vitamins E and B (thiamine and niacin) as well as a range of minerals, including iron and potassium.
There are more than 40,000 different varieties of rice, and it is usually classified by the size of grain, the most common classifications being long-grain (long and slender, for instance, basmati), medium-grain (shorter, plumper, like paella or risotto) and short grain (sushi or pudding rice).
The earliest evidence of rice dates back 13,500 years ago to the Pearl River region of China, and now nearly half of the world’s population eats rice as part of their staple diet. The average person in the UK eats 6kg of rice a year, compared with 40-60kg in some parts of Asia. In fact, it is so ingrained in the culture of China that the Chinese word for rice is the same as the word used for food.
WHITE OR BROWN?
White rice has been refined, depleted of much of its bran, germ and goodness, so the less refined, brown varieties are far richer in nutrients.
FUEL FOR RUNNERS?
An excellent source of energy, 85% of the rice kernel is made up of low-fat, complex carbohydrate which once digested is converted into blood glucose and used for energy, or stored in the liver and muscle as glycogen. Glycogen stored in the liver is used to maintain steady blood glucose levels for the body and brain. Glycogen stored in the muscle is used to provide fuel for muscles. Although it is classed as a carbohydrate, rice, especially brown rice, contains protein.
Rice protein contains eight of the essential amino acids, the building blocks needed for strong muscles. Good for digestion, rice is a rich source of insoluble fibre, and being gluten free, is ideal for runners with a gluten intolerance.
Runners can choose their rice according to the type of energy they need. The longer the grain, the lower the Glycaemic Index, providing a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream and therefore more sustained energy. Shorter grain rice varieties will release their sugars rapidly into the bloodstream, and as part of a post run meal, they will effectively replenish glycogen stores to speed up recovery.
LONG GRAIN BASMATI RICE
Delicious, fluffy, easy to prepare and easy to digest, white or brown basmati has a medium GI of 58. It’s a great choice for the athlete’s everyday cooking.
MEDIUM GRAIN RISOTTO AND PAELLA RICE
Deliciously creamy and slightly sticky, with a medium GI, these are a great staple for runners.
SHORT GRAIN RICE
Pudding rice, or sticky sushi rice have a higher GI, so enjoy these for post longrun recovery.
Jasmine rice has a fairly high GI. It works well to soak up the juices of a Thai curry, which makes an effective post-run recovery meal.
WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE
With the bran part of the grain intact, brown rice is a much better source of B vitamins, minerals and fibre than white. It takes longer to cook, but it has a deliciously nutty flavour and is more sustaining than white rice.
Chewy in texture this unrefined rice is high in protein and fibre and is packed with thiamin, riboflavin, iron, and potassium; mix it in with other rice, such as basmati.
Revered in China as a ‘super’ food due to its amazing nutritional qualities, black rice is packed with antioxidants, and is a great source of iron and vitamins. It’s available in different forms; the most common being the glutinous, sticky rice variety, and black jasmine rice.
Sweet, soft and nutty in flavour, it contains a whopping 72 grams of slow release, sustaining carbohydrate per 100 grams, plus 7 grams of protein, fibre, and B vitamins, calcium and iron. An ideal variety to fuel your training.
The ultimate fast food for runners! Low GI, they take minutes to prepare and are a useful way to add bulk to oriental soups and curries.
For perfect fluffy basmati rice, measure the dry rice in a jug and rinse until the water runs clear to remove the excess starch before cooking. Drain and put in a saucepan with double the amount of salted water. Bring to the boil and stir once. Cover. Cook on a gentle heat for 10-15 minutes without stirring or uncovering the pan. Remove from the heat and leave, still covered, for two minutes. Remove the lid and fluff up with a fork.
First published in Running Magazine, June 2016