We know— it’s hard to pass up the breadbasket, especially if you know you're going to burn off all those empty calories. And while athletes need carbs—and have a bit more leeway in the unhealthy foods department—it's prudent not to make white bread a regular staple in your diet, says Stella Volpe, PhD, RD, chair of nutrition sciences at Drexel University and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"Whole grains are a smarter choice because they provide more nutrients, fiber and protein than white bread," says Volpe. On top of that, a recent Spanish study found that people who ate white bread rather than the whole-grain variety (and had two or more portions of it a day) were 40 percent more likely to become overweight or obese than those who ate less than one serving a week.
"That does not mean you have to remove white bread from your diet," Volpe adds. "Just try to make whole grains a higher percentage of your diet to reap [their] benefits." To be sure you're really getting a whole-grain product and not some cleverly marketed white bread or pasta "made with whole grains," look for whole wheat flour—or another whole grain, like quinoa, amaranth, brown or black rice, oats, or buckwheat—as the first ingredient.
Bottom line: Aim for the 80/20 rule, says Volpe: Whole grains 80 percent of the time, and white bread or pasta as an occasional treat or pre-race ritual. "Athletes still need to choose wisely in how they eat, because their food choices can affect their performance, positively or negatively," she says. "Incorporating white bread and white pasta in the diet is fine, just as long as they are not the main parts of the diet. A good Italian white bread or sourdough can hit the spot!"