One of life’s guiltiest pleasures comes in the form of pasta. When it comes to indulgence foods, pasta is right up there with pizza, ice cream, and Five Guys!
While pasta is an excellent food group for athletes and those looking to build muscle, the same can’t be said for those looking to lose body fat on a cut. It’s a weakness for many when cutting and cravings for a pasta dish can easily derail most diets and you might be finding it difficult to fit pasta into your meal plan.
In this article, I’ll cover the simple question of “can you eat pasta when cutting”, if it’s beneficial or an issue, and if there are any good/viable alternatives.
In general, you can fit some of your favorite meals into most cutting meal plans but there’s no denying that pasta causes issues for a number of reasons…
Can You Eat Pasta When Cutting
You can eat pasta when cutting, so long as you maintain a calorie deficit. However, white refined pasta is high in carbs and low in fiber so it’s recommended you minimize intake when cutting. You should also go for toppings that are high in satiety like vegetables and protein to reduce hunger.
What Is Pasta
Pasta is a popular food typically made from a dough of wheat and water. From its Italian origins, pasta has become a globally popular dish. It comes in various shapes and sizes, like penne, spirals, and spaghetti.
The most popular type of pasta is white, refined pasta. As it’s the most popular, it’s the one that I’ll be discussing here. Although whole-grain and alternative pasta are still relevant too and good to compare with.
Before considering the role of pasta let’s look at the nutritional information for one portion (57g/2oz) of white refined pasta:
One portion of pasta is surprisingly high in calories, high in carbs, and low in protein and fiber. This makes it a bad choice when cutting, which I’ll now explain.
At 42g carbs per 57g serving, you can see why pasta is such an ideal bulking food! Its quick absorption is great for a pre-workout meal to provide energy as well as restoring muscle glycogen during a post-workout meal.
Pasta is also a cheap carb source which not only makes it one of the best bulking foods on a budget but also a convenient option when cutting as a serving of pasta and tomato sauce easily comes in under $1.
Is Pasta Bad When Cutting
Pasta is not a good option when cutting because it’s not calorie-dense in comparison to other unprocessed carbohydrates like potatoes. This means that you could eat the same amount of these other foods but consume fewer calories. So it’s easy to overeat pasta and end up going over your daily calorie target.
Pasta is also not a good option because it is a carbohydrate. Like other carbohydrates it is quickly broken down by the body, releasing glucose into the bloodstream and causing a rise in blood sugar. Although, pasta does have a lower Glycemic Index Measure meaning that it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as much as other carbohydrates.
Nevertheless, the spike in blood sugar can lead to increased hunger and a common issue with pasta is overeating as a result. This isn’t ideal when trying to decrease hunger when cutting.
Carbs are still essential when cutting as they fuel workouts and are also required for other bodily functions but the blood sugar spike and impact on appetite makes it an unfavorable food option when cutting.
Check out this video on pasta and its role when cutting:
How To Eat Pasta and Still Lose Weight
There are a few important things to consider if you still want to eat pasta when cutting:
Types of Pasta
White, Refined Pasta
As I said, the most popular pasta is white refined pasta. When it’s refined, the wheat kernel is changed with many of the most nutritious parts removed. As a result, refined pasta is higher in calories and lower in fiber. This means it doesn’t leave you feeling full, resulting in a tendency to overeat.
Whole Grain Pasta
Whole grain pasta is a better choice when cutting because it hasn’t been through the same refinement process, so it’s usually higher in nutrients like manganese and selenium.
Compared to refined pasta, the whole grain contains fewer calories and is higher in fiber content. This fiber content is important as higher fiber foods are digested more slowly, meaning they will leave you feeling fuller for longer, which is ideal when cutting.
But something to think about is that compared with other whole grains like oats or brown rice, whole grain pasta is digested more rapidly. This is because whole grain pasta is made from ground down flour, which makes the particles smaller and faster to digest.
The bottom line is: while whole grain pasta is more filling and more beneficial when cutting compared to white pasta, it isn’t as good as other whole-grain foods for satiety.
Vegetable Pasta Alternatives
There are plenty of pasta alternatives on the market nowadays. Usually, these are made from vegetables. These include things like zucchini noodles or squash spaghetti. These vegetable alternatives are far lower in carbs and much higher in fiber. This is ideal when cutting as it will help you stay fuller for longer and reduce cravings.
Also, vegetable alternatives are often better as they’re higher in vitamin levels. So there are added benefits of pasta alternatives when cutting.
If you’re looking to stick to targets when cutting but still want to eat pasta then being careful of portion sizes is important. You should always measure portions from dry ingredients, as they will take on water when cooked.
Pasta dishes are often a bad choice when cutting because they contain high-calorie toppings like sauces and cheeses. Just think of some popular dishes like pasta Alfredo which comes packed with high-calorie ingredients like butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese.
To avoid going over your calorie intake it’s best to stick with tomato rather than cream-based sauces, which will be lower in calories and lower in fat content. Although, many store-bought tomato-based sauces can be high in added sugar. So I would recommend making your own sauce.
With other toppings like cheese, it’s important to account for these in your calorie intake. Again, cheese is often high-calorie so watching portion size here is important too.
Overall, the best toppings when cutting are the ones that are going to help you stay fuller for longer. This is best achieved with protein like meat and higher fiber food like vegetables.
As is always the case when cutting, no food is completely off-limits. Balance is important both to ensure your covering your nutrient requirements as well as having a much-needed mental break.
This is different for high-level athletes or competing bodybuilders but for someone just looking to lose body fat and get down to the 10% body fat range, there is more flexibility in food choice provided you are still in an energy deficit (calorie deficit & energy expenditure).
Therefore, you can eat pasta when cutting provided the quantity and macros align with your calorie and macro requirements – but it’s not the best food choice when cutting. If having pasta when cutting, try to keep the following points in mind:
- Consume pasta around the workout window (pre & post-exercise)
- Don’t overconsume on pasta – ensure the calories consumed are still within your daily calorie limit
- Be mindful of topping – high-calorie toppings like cheese or rich dairy sauces can quickly make an accountable pasta dish very unfavorable when cutting
- Make use of pasta alternatives – instead of white pasta, look for whole-grain pasta which is better when cutting due to the higher fiber content and vegetable-based pasta which is lower in both calories and carbs per gram