Top Ten Carb Alternatives

By Rick Morris

You already know you need to consume lots of carbs to fuel your running, especially your long runs.  Most runners need a diet composed of about 60 percent carbohydrates. The most commonly consumed high carbohydrate food is pasta.  Heaping plates of pasta, smothered in tasty marinara sauce. Just makes your mouth water! Pasta is great. It’s delicious and it provides you with enough carbs to top off your pre race or training run gas tank. But after a while pasta can get a bit boring. Not only can the typical pasta carbo loading meal get old but it may not be the most nutritious way to consume carbohydrates.  One cup of spaghetti contains around 34 grams of carbohydrates Are there more interesting and nutritious food choices that will match the carbohydrate power of pasta? You bet there is. Here are our top ten carb alternatives.

Sweet Potato

One of my personal favorites of the many carb alternatives is the colorful sweet potato. The sweet potato is a surprise number one choice for carbo loading. Not only does a medium size sweet potato have about 32 grams of carbohydrates but it also contains loads of fiber, vitamins and minerals. In fact the sweet potato was ranked number one in nutrition of all vegetables by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Brown Rice

Rice in general is a good high carbohydrate alternative. One cup of rice provides you with around 45 grams of carbohydrates. Why choose brown rice? Brown rice still has the bran shell attached which gives you more fiber and nutrients. Brown rice gives you about 3.5 grams of fiber and 4.5 grams of protein per one cup serving.


You want to talk about your carbohydrate power house – raisins have a whopping 130 grams of carbohydrates in a one cup serving. They are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. The bad news? They are high in simple sugars making it great for carbohydrate replenishment but they can cause some blood sugar fluctuation as a pre race meal.

Rolled Oats

Your mother told you to eat your rolled oats, didn’t she? She was right. Rolled oats have around 54 grams of carbohydrates in a one cup serving to go along with 8 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein. These are mostly complex carbs that are good for pre run eating.


Yum – a summer time favorite. What picnic lunch is complete without corn on the cob. One cup of corn will supply you with 30 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. It’s also high in magnesium, thiamin, phosphorus and vitamin C. To top things off it is cholesterol free and really tasty.

Cooked Dry Beans

A favorite of vegetarian runners, cooked dry beans have 45 grams of carbohydrates per one cup serving. A one cup serving of beans also contain a whopping 15 grams of fiber, 15 grams of protein and are very low in saturated fat. So even you carnivores out there should be eating your beans.


There’s a reason bananas are the most commonly consumed food before, during and after long races and training runs. Bananas will supply you with 51 grams of carbohydrates in a one cup serving. Bananas are also very high in vitamin B6 and are high in potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Bananas are especially good during your run because they go down easy and have 27 grams of sugar per cup to quickly replenish your dwindling stores of glycogen.


Bananas are great. They are tasty, easy to eat and high in carbohydrates, but they have a distant cousin that is even better. Plantains have a similar amount of carbohydrates – 47 grams per cup – but are higher in vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium. They are harder to find but worth the effort.

Spelt Breads and Cereals

Spelt is a grain that is similar to whole wheat. It has around 25 grams of carbohydrates in 1/3 cup. The big benefit to spelt?- It has 30% more protein than whole wheat breads and cereals.

Chocolate Milk

OK – this isn’t technically a food, but you probably consider your favorite carbohydrate replacement drink a good source of carbs, don’t you? Guess what – chocolate milk blows your carbohydrate drink away. One 8 fluid ounce serving of chocolate milk contains around 27 grams of carbohydrates compared to the average of 14 grams in most sports drinks. Add in the 8 grams of protein in chocolate milk and you have a great, tasty carbohydrate alternative.