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Where Chicago Marathon runners (and foodies) can fuel up

The Penne ArrabiatGioco Restaurant Chicago Ill. Wednesday September 26 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

The Penne Arrabiata at Gioco Restaurant in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 6, 2012 6:06AM

Many of the city’s restaurants are welcoming Bank of America Chicago Marathon runners with appropriate foods as they wind up their training before Sunday’s big race.

It’s widely known that carbohydrate loading is recommended because it provides energy to sustain runners for a long time. Runners should be getting between 60 and 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, said dietitian Joy Dubost, a Washington, D.C.-based spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who specializes in sports nutrition.

In addition to pasta, carbohydrates are contained in other grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Each meal and snack should include some protein to keep runners feeling full longer, Dubost said.

“Carbs should be evenly distributed throughout the day with some protein,” she said, instead of being consumed less often in larger portions. Runners would be wise to avoid trying unfamiliar foods in case they cause digestive issues.

Many restaurants located near the marathon route and major hotels are promoting foods suited to runners before and after the race. Others have such foods on their menus regularly. So if you’re running on Sunday, or if you would just like to try some tasty carb-heavy offerings at your leisure in the coming weeks, there are plenty of options including:

Quartino Ristorante (626 N. State, 312-698-5000, is one of the city’s many Italian restaurants offering pasta specials this weekend. Some of the signature housemade pastas created by John Coletta, partner and executive chef, are fettuccini with organic tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil; pappardelle al sugo di manzo (Tuscan pasta ribbons with braised beef) and gnocchi with green beans, potatoes, arugula pesto and pork stock.

Quartino’s small-plate portions serve between four-and-five ounces of pasta, which Coletta says is about the right amount for one sitting when pasta is not the entire meal. He recommends an appetizer portion of protein before the pasta, such as beef carpaccio or shrimp.

Among the other Italian restaurants offering special pastas for dinner Friday and Saturday and lunch Friday is Gioco (1312 S. Wabash, 312-939-3870, with dishes including prosciutto pizza with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, arugula, parmigiano and extra virgin olive oil and orecchiette pasta with Italian sausage, rapini, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and pecorino.

All of the Phil Stefani Restaurants have marathon specials, including Tuscany on Taylor Street (1014 W. Taylor, 312-829-1990, Specials there Friday and Saturday for both lunch and dinner include mezzaluna with chicken and pesto sauce, linguine primavera with oil and garlic and macaroni cipriani with shrimp.

Italian restaurants aren’t the only ones that offer healthy carbohydrates. Noodle dishes abound at Asian restaurants all over town, especially in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Uptown’s Argyle Street. When eaten in the traditional manner, the proportion of carbohydrates outweighs the amount of protein, unlike the typical Western diet.

Restaurants like Pho 888 (1137 W. Argyle, 773-907-8838) offer dozens of variations of noodle and rice soups and stir-fries with choices of chicken, beef, pork, seafood or duck and vegetables. Any runners who are tired of Italian-style pastas may want to try Asian dishes for a change of pace.

Breakfast is an all-important meal for everyone and can focus on carbohydrate-rich foods such as pancakes, waffles, bagels and whole-grain toast with accents of lean sausage or eggs. Bananas are a good source of carbs and electrolytes, Dubost said.

Known for its pancakes and house-baked breads for more than 40 years, Oak Tree (Bloomingdale’s Mall, 900 N. Michigan, 312-751-1988,, has six kinds of pancakes, including buttermilk with sauteed bananas and mascarpone. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, Oak Tree can send its breads and accompaniments home with runners to eat the morning of the race.

Runners staying at some hotels may have early morning on-premise options. Hotel Palomar (505 N. State, 312-755-9703, is offering a one-day-only marathon continental breakfast Sunday from 5 to 7 a.m. with grab-and-go items like granola bars, bottled water, juice and pastries.

Well-heeled runners may want to indulge in marathon specials at the luxurious Trump International Hotel & Tower (401 N. Wabash, 312-588-8000, Starting Saturday, Sixteen Restaurant, open to non-guests as well as hotel guests, is featuring dishes packed with protein and carbohydrates, such as steel-cut oatmeal with soy, skim or 2 percent milk, as well as whey protein fruit smoothies for breakfast; white chili with chicken, kidney beans, tomato and yogurt sauce for lunch and a vegetable stir fry with soba noodles, Chinese broccoli, bamboo shoots, carrots and peas for dinner.

Trump Hotel guests will find an “Endurance Station” in the lobby Sunday morning stocked with Gatorade and snacks such as granola bars and bananas. Runners can take hotel transportation to Grant Park between 5 and 9 a.m.

After the race, runners can relax and refuel without paying as much attention to specific foods. “They should be sure to hydrate and eat shortly afterwards to replenish glycogen stores. Don’t overconsume or eat something real different from what you have been eating,” Dubost advised. However, a special treat like a six-ounce filet mignon is fine, she said.

Among restaurants offering specials to runners after the race is Mercat a la Planxa (638 S. Michigan, 312-765-0524, Runners who come in before 3 p.m. Sunday may indulge in a three-course unlimited brunch for $25.

Carolyn Walkup is a local free-lance writer.

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