Food

Eating for a run: How a local chef preps for a marathon

Robert Sisca of Bistro du Midi and Banks Fish House shares his best recipes and nutrition tips for marathon runners.

Chef Robert Sisca on one of his runs.

The 126th Boston marathon is in a week—and chef Robert Sisca of Bistro du Midi and the Banks Fish House knows all about the anticipation that comes with running 26.2 miles.

He’s run the Boston marathon twice over the last year (virtually last spring and in-person in October), and will tackle the NYC marathon later this year with Team Joslin, running to raise funds for Joslin Diabetes Center. 

“Being a chef, it really geared my thoughts toward the nutrition aspect of [running],” said Sisca, whose Bistro du Midi on Boylston Street will serve up marathon runner-focused specials all weekend, like a saffron tagliatelle with pine nuts and pickled ramps and a whole wheat rigatoni duck bolognese. 

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These dishes, like all dishes he recommends for runners, are full of complex carbohydrates and lean protein.

“In the duck bolognese we use a lot of the breast which is a little more lean, but still full of protein,” said Sisca.

“It’s a good balance between protein and carbs for the runners,” said Sisca, although the bistro has served the duck bolognese for years, “regardless of Marathon Monday.”

Besides whole wheat pasta, other complex carbs include grains like quinoa or brown rice, beans, fruits, and veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots. And Sisca emphasized the importance of loading up on these carbs days ahead of the marathon, starting the Wednesday or Thursday prior.

“You also want to be very well hydrated,” he said.

The morning of the race, said Sisca, it’s vital for runners to put some food in their stomachs. “My choice is wheat toast and peanut butter,” he said, but added that runners should do what works best for them. After the run, it’s just as crucial to fuel up, too.

“I know when I’m done with my long runs, the last thing I want to do is eat,” said Sisca, but immediately replenishing lost carbs and protein will help runners feel better over the next few days as they recover.

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“Everyone says ‘How do you do marathons?’ and I say listen, five years ago I couldn’t even run around the block,” said Sisca, explaining how his drive to live a healthier life spurred his journey toward long-distance running. “I have kids now and I want to make sure they live a healthy lifestyle,” said Sisca.

Below are three of the chef’s favorite recipes to prep for long-distance runs—the saffron tagliatelle and the duck bolognese from Bistro du Midi’s menu, plus a quinoa salad with cucumbers, carrots, and lemon thyme yogurt.

While these dishes are full of complex carbs and protein to aid runners, they’re just as delicious to those not making the journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.

Duck Bolognese

Duck Bolognese

1 pound ground duck

½ pound Italian sausage (out of casing)

1 onion diced

1 carrot diced

3 ribs celery diced

5 garlic cloves sliced

1 teaspoon chili flakes 

1 28-ounce can San Marzano canned tomato

3 sprigs thyme

1 bunch basil

1 bay leaf

½ cup red wine

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup diced apples

½ cup feta cheese

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

1 pound whole wheat rigatoni, garganelli, or penne pasta

  1. Sear sausage in a hot pan with pork fat or canola oil. When sausage is almost cooked, add duck. Reserve fat, don’t drain. Remove meat from pan.
  2. Add fat back into pan. Cook onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until soft, then add chili flakes. Add meat back into the pan with a sachet (cheesecloth) of herbs. Deglaze pan with red wine.
  3. When red wine is cooked off, add chicken broth and reduce it by half. Add canned tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes, until the acidity is cooked out.
  4. Cook pasta. Toss with the sauce, then plate. Top with apples, feta, Parmesan cheese, and basil.

Saffron Tagliatelle

1½ cups flour

1 egg yolk

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2 ounces hot water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pinch salt

1 pinch saffron

  1. Bring water and saffron to a simmer to bloom saffron. Add flour, egg yolk, salt, and bloomed saffron to a mixer. Mix until blended. Roll out into tagliatelle shape—long, flat ribbons, similar to fettuccine.

1 ounce Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves

½ liter olive oil

3 ounces ramps (wild onion)

8 ounces basil

8 ounces parsley

1 bunch broccoli rabe, stems and tops separated

2 tablespoons butter

1 ounce pine nuts, roasted and chopped

  1. Bring water to a boil. Quickly cook ramps, basil, parsley, and broccoli stems, then shock in ice water. Add garlic to a blender and puree slightly. Add ramps, basil, parsley, and stems, half of the olive oil, Parmesan, salt, and pepper, and puree, leaving course. Add olive oil until desired consistency is reached. 
  2. Cook tagliatelle in salted water. In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of water and add butter. Emulsify water and butter, then add 2 tablespoons pesto. Add cooked pasta and toss. Add broccoli rabe tops, season, and add roasted pine nuts. Plate and top with Parmesan cheese.

Quinoa Cucumber Salad

1 cup quinoa

1¾ cups water

1 cucumber diced

1 Roma tomato diced (or heirloom when in season)

1 carrot diced

1 avocado sliced

1 watermelon radish or red radish sliced

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch chives

1 bunch basil

1 bunch mint

½ ounce chardonnay vinegar

1 ounce olive oil

1 5-ounce container of Greek yogurt

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 lime, juiced and zested

1 sprig fresh thyme

  1. Add quinoa, water, salt, and pepper to a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Then let sit covered for 15 more minutes. Remove lid and mix with a rubber spatula.
  2. Add cucumber, tomato, carrot, cilantro, chive, basil, mint, vinegar, and olive oil. Mix and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Mix yogurt, lemon, lime, salt, pepper, and thyme. Adjust seasoning.
  4. Plate yogurt and top with quinoa mixture. Top with sliced avocado, radish, and more herbs.

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