Super Foods for Runners
Part of the reason I began running was so that I could indulge my appetite without consequence. If I work hard enough on the roads and trails, I reward myself with a little something extra. It might be an extra slice of homemade lasagna, or a piece of my daughter’s pineapple upside down cake, or maybe a tulip glass full of my favorite oatmeal stout.
Now, after several years of running and two marathons to my credit, I’ve learned that nutrition is an essential part of training. Eating the right foods can help you to recover faster, reduce chance of injury, and boost muscle growth. Here are seven super foods that every runner should be eating:
Tart cherries are different from the sweet cherries that you would find topping an ice cream sundae. Montmorency (tart) cherries, are most often enjoyed as a dried fruit or in juice concentrate form. Tart cherries have received lots of attention in the running community for their unique exercise recovery benefits and for use as a natural sleep aid.
Runners in two studies who drank Montmorency tart cherry juice before and after long-distance races experienced a faster recovery of strength compared to those who drank a different beverage. Participants in these studies had two 8-ounce servings of tart cherry juice a day, which is the equivalent of nearly 100 Montmorency cherries. Soreness after a workout is caused by a combination of inflammation, muscle damage and oxidative stress – and researchers suggest the natural compounds in Montmorency tart cherries may help with all three.
Heart healthy tart cherries contain natural anti-inflammatories to help reduce muscle soreness, and have been touted by many as a natural alternative to aspirin. They also contain melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates our sleep cycle. Sleep is the single most important piece of the recovery and growth process for athletes. If you’re suffering from fitful sleep, try a glass of tart cherry juice in the evening before bed.
Try a breakfast smoothie with frozen tart cherries, banana, almond milk and Greek yogurt. Or, if you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, try these delicious Pumpkin Cherry Chocolate Cookies made with dried tart cherries.
Shalane Flanagan, America’s top marathoner knows the value of eating avocados. When asked about her nutrition plan leading up to the 2014 Boston Marathon, she said “My go-to snack is an avocado; I’ll eat a whole one straight up.” It makes sense, avocados provide more than 20 key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin E, and brain-boosting choline. They also contain copper and zinc and antioxidant pigments that fight inflammation.
The popular green fruit also helps lower levels of artery-clogging LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increase levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). Studies show that adding avocado to salad, helps with the absorption of beneficial compounds in these phytonutrient-rich foods. The avocado actually helps make the foods around it healthier! Try adding sliced avocado to your sandwiches or make your own fresh guacamole dip.
Almonds recently overtook the peanut as America’s most-eaten nut. Not surprising, since almonds protect against heart disease and diabetes, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, fight cancer, and decrease risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Evidence shows that eating nuts twice a week can prevent weight gains and help control appetite. Each serving powers muscle recovery with 6g of protein. Low salt, or no salt, almonds make great snacks. They’re especially good when combined with dried fruits like tart cherries, cranberries, or raisins.
It seems like runners can’t get enough bananas. You can find them by the thousands at almost every organized running event. This healthy source of carbohydrates is easy to digest and comes in its own convenient wrapper.
The potassium in bananas lowers blood pressure and helps prevent hypertension. The sterols (type of fat) in a banana will block absorption of dietary cholesterol and help keep blood cholesterol levels in check. And, the fiber content in bananas is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.
Studies show that one-half of a banana every 15 minutes during exercise is just as effective at keeping energy levels up as the equivalent carbohydrates and minerals provided in a sports drink. “We found that not only was performance the same whether bananas or sports drinks were consumed, there were several advantages to consuming bananas.” – Dr. David C. Nieman
Try adding sliced bananas to your oatmeal, blend one in your post-workout protein smoothie, or try these awesome Hummingbird Muffins before your next long run.
Beets may hold the secret to running faster. Research proves that beet juice allows your muscles to do the same amount of work while using less oxygen. In one study, trained divers could hold their breath almost half-a-minute longer if they drank beet juice before their dive. It’s no wonder that athletes are drink beetroot juice concentrate before races to get a leg up on the competition.
Beets help lower blood pressure, fight inflammation, and support detoxification, purifying your blood and liver. Try beet juice (with nitrates), baked beets, or mix mashed beets and potatoes in placed of regular mashed potatoes this Valentines Day.
Sweet potatoes are a favorite among ultra runners. They have a low glycemic index, which means energy is slowly released into the body and there are no disruptive sugar-spikes after eating. The bright orange sweet potato has anti-inflammatory benefits, strengthens the immune system, promotes healthy skin, and has 50% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
This superfood is linked to anti-aging benefits, cancer prevention and the maintenance of good eyesight according to the National Institutes of Health. To introduce sweet potatoes into your diet, simply substitute them for regular potatoes. I’d recommend trying sweet potato fries or this healthy Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad.
Watermelon is 92% water, which makes it an excellent post-workout snack to rehydrate. This delicious fruit is packed with vitamin A and E and plenty of heart healthy anti-oxidants. And did you know that watermelon has more of the cancer-fighting phytochemical lycopene than raw tomatoes?
Watermelon juice is quickly becoming a popular choice for endurance athletes. It contains potassium which helps reduce muscle cramping, and has natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Try raw watermelon in chunks, juiced, or blended with coconut water to make a delicious, all-natural, sports drink.
Editor’s note: Cherry Marketing Institute is a client of Jason Saltmarsh.