Most runners will say that what they decide to eat while training can be just as important as the training itself. Making proper food choices is an essential component of any type of athletic training. Recent studies have shown that certain foods that have a wider range of nutrients called “superfoods” can aid in faster muscle recovery, contain anti-inflammatory properties, and help improve strength. Many who hear the word superfood think of exotic ingredients only found in remote locations around the world. The truth is, superfoods can be easily found at the local grocery store, and can add nutritional density to a runner’s diet.
Chia seeds contain more iron than spinach and roughly 6g of protein per 2 tablespoons. Don’t know how to eat them? Throw them in your pre-run protein shake, allow them to sit overnight in some almond milk to make pudding, or use chia seeds as a topping to your salad to give it a little crunch. Chia also has a high absorbency property, so the carbohydrates are converted to sugar at a much slower rate leaving the stomach fuller, longer.
Next to carbohydrates, protein is the second most important macronutrient for runners. Eggs contain about 6g of protein each, and help promote faster muscle recovery after a long run. Running can break down muscle proteins, and can damage muscle fibers, making protein essential for runners. Eggs are inexpensive, easy to prepare, and help develop a strong immune system. Some athletes are concerned with yolks and their high levels of cholesterol. However, we now know that the cholesterol in the yolk is mostly made up of monounsaturated fats. A good rule of thumb to use is one yolk for every four whites.
Steel Cut Oats
Like chia seeds, steel cut oats pack a powerful nutritional punch especially as a pre-run meal. Because steel cut oats are made from the whole grain, it takes the body longer to digest, and allows for a more sustained release of energy into the bloodstream. Its low glycemic index helps keep blood sugars stable. Steel cut oats are also high in B vitamins and soluble fiber, which aids in lowering cholesterol, and keeping the digestive tract working properly.
As one of the richest sources of Vitamin K, kale has become a staple for runners. Vitamin K is essential in building and maintaining strong bone health, and helping to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin K also helps blood to clot properly. Its anti-inflammatory properties help support eyesight and boost the immune system. Low-grade inflammation can be an issue for runners who train frequently, and in some cases become a chronic problem. Kale is considered by many to be the superfood of all superfoods.
With over 450mg of potassium, bananas contain essential nutrients for running. High in magnesium and calcium, bananas can aid in preventing muscle cramps that often plague runners. Bananas are high in carbohydrates, which is the most vital fuel source for running. A medium size banana has roughly 27g of carbohydrates, and 14g of sugar making it a perfectly portable pre-race food choice.
Manganese and copper are essential for healthy muscle function, especially in athletes, and sweet potatoes contain high amounts of both. Recently, sweet potatoes have replaced white pasta as the go-to pre-race fuel because they are more nutrient dense. Rich in fiber and vitamin C and A, sweet potatoes have quickly become a major superstar for runners looking to improve their performance.
Lentils can be a great meatless protein source for vegan and vegetarian runners. With over 26 percent protein content, lentils help restore and rebuild muscle fibers after running. The high fiber content of lentils prevents a glucose spike, leaving blood sugars stable. Like bananas, lentils contain magnesium, which helps combat heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Another essential component of a balanced diet is healthy fat intake. Almond butter has double the amount of monounsaturated fat than peanut butter, making it a superior choice when adding fat to a meal. Monounsaturated fats aid in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels by lowering LDL. Runners can benefit from almond butter’s bone-building minerals such as magnesium and calcium. Almond butter happens to be the highest calorie nut butter, but a majority of those calories come from healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which can help in preventing Alzheimer’s and depression.
Cherries are known to reduce belly fat and improve sleep. They also contain a high level of vitamins and minerals that have anti-inflammatory properties. Tart cherries are also the highest known natural source of melatonin. Eating tart cherries or drinking tart cherry juice can help combat and lower cortisol, which can be important when training for a race.
Honey is 70-80 percent carbohydrates, which makes it the perfect choice for a pre-race sweetener. Used for centuries, honey contains powerful antioxidants as well as anti-fungal and antiviral properties. However, not all honey is created equal. Look for raw honey, which still has a high percentage of bee pollen, and hasn’t been treated with heat. This provides maximum health benefits for runners, and can be used during exercise in place of regular sports gels.
These superfoods can help runners of all levels improve their performance, recover faster, and maintain good overall health. Try incorporating a few of these into your pre and post race meals!