Fitness instructor from the J discusses sourcing carb energy during Passover

Cathleen Kronemer, a longtime fitness instructor and trainer at the Jewish Community Center, works with a member shortly after the J reopened in June. 

Cathleen Kronemer

For Jews who will soon observe the age-old Pesach dietary rules, eliminating leavened bread for eight days often translates to “no carbs.” This creates a challenging dilemma for the avid exerciser, as the human body utilizes carbohydrates as a primary energy source.

Shortly after consumption, carbohydrates break down into glucose molecules that get absorbed and utilized for energy. Any glucose not needed immediately gets stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, providing fuel for short, intense workouts. While engaging in periods of slower, prolonged exercise, the body draws upon glycogen to facilitate the breakdown of fat, which can then be used as energy by our muscles.

According to the Talmud, 5 kinds of grains, known as chametz, cannot grace the week-long Passover menu: wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. These grains begin to rise when they come into contact with water for 18 minutes. During the Pesach observation, Jews avoid these grains to remind us of the haste in which Israelites fled Egypt, leaving no time for bread to rise.

Matzah, the traditional unleavened “bread” consumed during Pesach, somehow doesn’t provide the same amount of satiety as its leavened counterparts. Due to an inherent lack of fiber, matzah does not fill one up quite the same as the complex carbohydrates we enjoy the rest of the year. For ideal fuel, carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and veggies serve the body better than “simple carbs,” those delicious but nutritionally empty foods such as white bread and refined sugars. 

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For many active adults, Pesach simply offers a week-long chance to shift our eating practices to include more wholesome foods. Recently the Orthodox Union, the ultimate authority on kosher foods, opted to add quinoa to its “kosher for Passover” list. In both Bolivia and Peru, quinoa grows near the tops of mountains, whereas grain grows near the bottom. With almost no chance of these two crops intermingling, this protein-rich culinary find offers many nutritional benefits…especially during the week of Pesach.

For many Jewish adults, matzah has the potential to wreak havoc with one’s lower digestive system. Quinoa can offer the perfect substitute for complex carb energy. Quinoa cooks into a delicious breakfast cereal, served either hot or cold. It can form the basis of holiday stuffing, and serve as a thickener for chicken soup. Quinoa ground into flour makes tasty and hearty Passover pancakes. When energy is the goal, quinoa offers satisfying staying power while allowing one to remain faithful to Pesach kashrut laws during the week-long holiday.

This holiday season, do not enter the gym in a state of carb depletion. If matzah leaves you unsatisfied, opt for including a variety of fresh fruits and veggies in your meals, along with the mandatory lean protein sources. From there, put on your creative culinary chef’s hat and whip up some fun quinoa recipes. You will love the renewed sense of energy and purpose in your workouts!