The runner’s guide to pizza

Of all the foods we runners order up to satisfy our cravings and recharge our muscles, it’s hard to top the cheese-and-tomato-topped magic of pizza. Carby, easy and versatile enough to satisfy the whims of our unique taste buds, the slice is manna from heaven for the ravenous runner. Even ultra runner Dean Karnazes has been known to call ahead, mid-run, to order an extra-large Hawaiian pizza, which he folds up and eats like a burrito after clocking his insane daily mileage.

While frozen or takeaway pizza is a go-to meal for many time-poor runners, homemade versions are fresher, tastier and pack more nutritional punch. ‘DIY-ing pizza lets you stud it with wholegrains, lean meats and vegetables that deliver the nutrients runners need,’ says sports dietitian and marathon runner Tara Gidus. The step-by-step guide on the following pages gives you a complete dough-to-plate plan for prepping your perfect pizza. So, as they say in Naples, mangia!

An upper-class crust

You can’t hit the road without a trustworthy pair of shoes; likewise, every good pizza must begin with a solid base. As a minimum, a crust needs to support all of your favourite toppings while supplying energising carbs. For runners, however, it can do so much more. A typical pizzeria crust is made with white flour, but you can health it up by going wholewheat or multigrain. Also, opting for thin crust will save you roughly 50kcal a slice compared with the deeper-pan variety. Going DIY also allows you to sneak in nutritional boosts, such as spelt flour (which is high in fibre and manganese) or wheatgerm (which is high in folic acid).

 Make it yourself

Runner and pizza chef Rob Phillip offers up a crispy thin-crust recipe for two dough balls that can be stretched into 12-14-inch pizzas. Any extra dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge for two days, or frozen for up to three months. Just make sure you bring the dough back to room temperature before rolling it out.

 Ingredients

• 300g strong white bread flour, plus a little extra for dusting

• 30g toasted wheatgerm

• 1 tsp sea salt

• ½ tsp fast-action yeast

• 240ml water at room temperature

• 1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing

• 2 tsp honey

Method

1 In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, wheatgerm and sea salt.

2 In a separate large bowl, whisk together the water, olive oil and honey.

3 Add most of the dry mixture to the wet mixture, and stir together until smooth. Then add the remaining dry mixture and stir until the dough comes away from the bowl and is slightly sticky. Some loose flour is normal – don’t panic, it’ll all come together during the kneading. 

4 Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead with floured hands until it’s smooth, elastic and soft. This should take around eight to 10 minutes.

5 Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat it in the oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it doubles in size. This should take 1.5-2.5 hours.

6 Scrape the dough out of the bowl and divide it into two equal-size pieces for two pizzas. Cover the dough piece you’re planning to use first with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 30-45 minutes before making the pizza.

ADD SAUCE

‘Cooked tomato is especially rich in lycopene, which reduces cancer risk and muscle cell damage,’ says Gidus. Other tasty sauces have different nutritional perks. Here are five key recipes.


Garlic and white bean

• 410g haricot beans, drained

• 1 garlic bulb

• 125g ricotta cheese

• 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tsp fresh thyme

• Juice of ½ lemon

• ¼ tsp salt

METHOD Heat the oven to 190°C. Slice off the top of the garlic bulb, drizzle with a tablespoon of oil, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes, let it cool, then squeeze the garlic pulp into a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.

BONUS White beans are a leading source of dietary fibre, making each slice more filling. 


Purple tapenade

• 3 anchovy fillets

• 200g pitted kalamata olives

• 55g sun-dried tomatoes

• Bunch parsley, chopped

• 2 garlic cloves, chopped

• 3 tbsp olive oil

• 2 tbsp capers, drained

• Juice of ½ lemon

• ¼ tsp black pepper

 METHOD Blend all the ingredients into a paste.

 BONUS Olives offer disease-fighting recovery-boosting phenolic antioxidants.


Red tomato sauce

• 800g chopped tomatoes    

• 3 garlic cloves, crushed

• 2 tbsp tomato puree

• 2 tbsp red-wine vinegar

• 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 tsp dried basil

• 1 tsp dried oregano

• ½ tsp salt

• ½ tsp chilli flakes

METHOD Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened – about 20 minutes.

BONUS Compounds in garlic have been shown to help lower harmful cholesterol.


Butternut sauce

• 280g butternut squash, pureed

• 40g parmesan cheese, grated

• 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 garlic cloves, crushed

• ¾ tsp paprika

• ½ tsp ground cumin

• ¼ tsp each nutmeg, salt and black pepper

METHOD After you puree the butternut squash, stir together all the ingredients in a large bowl.

BONUS Butternut squash is loaded with vitamin A, which can improve bone, immune-system and eye health.


Rocket pesto

• 2 handfuls rocket

• Handful basil

• 40g walnuts

• 3 garlic cloves, chopped

• 60ml olive oil

• 25g grated parmesan

• Juice of ½ lemon

• ¼ tsp salt

METHOD In a food processor, pulse the rocket, basil, walnuts and garlic until coarse. Add the remaining ingredients and blend.

BONUS Extra-virgin olive oil contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal.

Top it off...

Cheese is both the good news and the bad news. It provides calcium for strong bones and high-quality protein for building muscles, but it can derail your diet with huge amounts of calories and saturated fat, says sports dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. ‘A good guideline is no more than 115g of cheese for a pizza that serves four,’ says Scritchfield. The real thrill of pizza-making is choosing the rest of the toppings. Perhaps it goes without saying that there are virtually limitless tasty and vitamin-rich veggie options, and you can get creative with choices like fennel or broad beans. Sliced pears or figs add a sweet contrast to your savoury slice. Committed carnivores are well catered for, too, with healthy choices like sirloin steak and pork fillet strips packing a lean, flavourful punch.

Topping the balance

For a well balanced pizza, combine earthy ingredients (mushrooms, spinach) with sweet (peppers, onion) and salty (parmesan, olives, anchovies), while resisting those that lack nutritional punch. We’ve rated classic toppings to see which earn their spot on the top, and which you should ditch. Then we’ve suggested some options you may not associate with pizza (yet), but which deliver on flavour and health.

Dough-gooders

Mushrooms For a low-calorie cost, mushrooms deliver umami flavour and cancer-fighting compounds called beta-glucans.

Onions The bulbs are laced with quercetin, an antioxidant that may improve endurance.

Spinach Nitrates in this leaf may bolster muscle function by improving muscular contraction.

Sliced tomato Packed with the super-nutrient lycopene and with just 40kcal in 10 slices, they don’t hurt your waistline.

Olives Packed with beneficial phytonutrients, a source of iron and big salty flavour.

Oregano/basil/thyme Herbs add a punch of flavour to pizza for virtually no calories.

Pineapple A controversial choice in taste terms, perhaps, but the ‘Hawaiian’ staple is brimming with vitamin C.

Chicken Provides low-fat protein and niacin, a B vitamin needed for converting food into energy.

Ham Unlike most other meats at the pizzeria, ham is low in heart-hampering saturated fat.

Chillies Rich in vitamins C and B, plus other antioxidants. Research suggests they may also fire your metabolism.

Broccoli Loaded with cancer-fighting sulforaphane.

Aubergine A boost of fibre and health-promoting antioxidants.

Anchovies A sustainable source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Eggs Protein and the brain-boosting compound choline.

Fat chance!

Pepperoni Nitrites found in cured meats such as pepperoni have been shown to raise diabetes risk. Better protein toppings include chicken, prawn and lean steak. 

Green pepper Go with more nutrient-dense red peppers.

Sausage A fat bomb. A healthier choice is chicken sausage.

Minced beef Opt for slices of leaner steak such as sirloin or lean minced beef.

Get creative

Avocado Loaded with vitamin K, folate and vitamin C.

Broad beans For fibre and folate, a B vitamin that’s been shown to fend off hypertension.

Fennel Liquorice flavour and a hefty hit of vitamin C.

Kale For vitamin K – higher intakes may cut diabetes risk.

Nuts Almonds or pistachios add heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

Sweet piquante peppers Sweet-spicy capsaicin, which may help with weight loss.

Pork tenderloin Underrated lean meat with great texture for pizza.

Right ho, cheese!

Brie The ripening process that produces oozy cheeses boosts levels of anti-inflammatory compounds to help fend off heart trouble.

Mozzarella Scritchfield says the high water content makes these springy white balls less calorie-dense.

Goat’s cheese Rich in heart-healthy omega-3s and bone-strengthening calcium, and packs around 30 per cent less fat than cheddar.

Ricotta ‘Ricotta contains more whey than other cheeses, which is great for improving recovery and building lean body mass,’ says Scritchfield.

Pecorino Blend into sauces for a sharp-tasting, calorie-controlled flavour punch.

PUT THE PIZZAS TOGETHER

The recipes on this spread all begin with the same basic crust recipe. From there, the possibilities are endless.

Start here

Heat your oven to 260°C. If you’re using a pizza stone, place it in the oven on a rack in the upper-middle position as it heats. If you’re using a baking sheet, lightly coat it with oil. Roll your dough into a 30cm round or 30x20cm rectangle, roughly half a centimetre thick. Brush the dough with a small amount of oil, concentrating on the edges.

Pizza Margherita

• 285g pizza dough

• 240g fresh tomato sauce

• 115g mozzarella, patted dry and torn into 2cm pieces

• 6 large basil leaves, torn 

• 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

• 20g parmesan, grated

• ½ tsp cracked black pepper

METHOD Spread the tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a 2cm border uncovered. Lay the mozzarella pieces on the sauce. Place your pizza on a pizza stone or baking sheet, and bake until the crust is golden and crisp, and the cheese is bubbling. This should take about 10 minutes. Garnish with basil, olive oil, parmesan and black pepper.


Mediterranean pork pizza

 • 285g pizza dough

• 225g pork fillet, sliced

• 120g purple tapenade 

• 85g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

• 40g thinly sliced radicchio

• 90g thinly sliced fennel

• 2 tbsp pine nuts

• 6 basil leaves, torn

METHOD Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and cook the pork until browned on the outside, but still pink in the middle. Spread the purple tapenade over the dough, leaving a 2.5cm border uncovered. Top with the radicchio, goat’s cheese, pork and fennel, in that order. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and crisp. Top the cooked pizza with pine nuts and basil.


Chicken and mushroom pizza

 • 285g pizza dough

• 1 tbsp butter

• 1 medium onion

• 2 tsp brown sugar

• 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

• 240g garlic white bean sauce

• 140g sliced cooked chicken

• 90g sliced mushrooms

• 125g sliced courgette

METHOD Fry the onions in butter over a medium heat. Mix in the sugar and vinegar, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Spread the bean sauce over the dough, top with the chicken, mushrooms and courgette. Bake for 10 minutes, then finish with the caramelised onions.


Salmon pesto pizza

• 285g pizza dough

• 120g rocket pesto 

• Handful cherry tomatoes, halved

• 60g sliced roasted red pepper

• 1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced

• 115g smoked salmon, roughly chopped

• 2 tbsp chopped dill

METHOD Spread the pesto over the dough, leaving a 2.5cm border uncovered. Top with the cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers and red onion, in that order. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Spread the smoked salmon over the cooked pizza and garnish with dill.


Bacon’n’egg pizza

 • 285g pizza dough

• 240g fresh tomato sauce 

• 30g baby spinach or chopped kale

• 60g mozzarella

• 130g grated sweet potato

• 115g bacon, sliced

• 2 spring onions, sliced

• 4 large eggs

• 2 tbsp chopped chives

METHOD Spread the tomato sauce over the dough. Top with spinach, mozzarella, sweet potato, bacon and spring onions, in that order. Make four ‘nests’ in the toppings and carefully crack an egg into each. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the egg whites are set but yolks are still runny. Sprinkle with chives.

Butternut and prawn pizza

 • 285g pizza dough

• 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar

• 2 tsp brown sugar

• 240g butternut squash sauce 

• Small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

• 225g prawns, peeled and patted dry

• 1 small avocado, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes

METHOD In a pan, heat the vinegar and brown sugar over a medium heat and simmer until syrupy – about six minutes. Spread the butternut sauce over the dough and top with the parsley and prawns. Bake for 12 minutes. Finish with avocado and a drizzle of the balsamic syrup.