Five Secret-Weapon Foods for Runners
There’s no doubt that good nutrition is an essential part of training and recovery for any athlete. When it comes to running, we’re usually fed the same old advice: carbs, carbs, a bit of protein, and more carbs. But beyond bowls of rice and plates of pasta, there’s an army of superfoods standing by that can help your body perform its best.
Read on to learn more about how these nutrition superheroes can help runners reap the benefits of improved blood flow, cell turnover, heart function, energy production, and more!
Radishes are root vegetables that are known for their crunchy texture and peppery/bitter flavour. Red radishes are the most common variety in our local grocery stores, but daikon, watermelon, and black radishes are popular worldwide. They’ve been consumed not only for their flavour but also for medicinal purposes for over 2,500 years - ancient nutrition at its finest!
Nutrients. A wide range of antioxidants, nitrates, calcium, potassium.
Benefits. Radishes have a high level of natural nitrates, which can help improve blood flow (good for any runner!), plus the antioxidants assist with liver and kidney detoxification.
Eat. Enjoy them raw on a salad, dipped in hummus, on top of a smoked salmon bagel with some dill and cracked black pepper, or quick-pickled on your next stir-fry.
Tahini is a superstar food all on its own, but it's also the BFF to fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. These vitamins work hard to keep the heart, lungs, and other vital organs working properly, and they’re best absorbed when paired with healthy fats like those found in avocados and nuts. Tahini offers plenty of interesting uses and health benefits that make it a worthy addition to any runner’s diet.
Nutrients. Phosphorus, manganese, thiamine (vitamins B1 and B6), antioxidants.
Benefits. Tahini packs a lot of vitamins into a small serving, giving you a significant bang for your buck. The high levels of phosphorus and manganese have been linked to improved bone health, and the high thiamine contributes to energy production. If that’s not enough, about ½ of the fats found in tahini come from monounsaturated fatty acids, which offer a variety of anti-inflammatory benefits.
Eat. Whisk with apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, and garlic for a healthy (and vegan) twist on Caesar dressing; use as a base to make a dip for fresh veggies; add to a blender with ½ banana, dates, a handful of spinach, cinnamon and vitamin d-fortified milk or dairy-alternative. Remember to pair it with fat-soluble vitamins when you can.
Besides being a tropical treat, pineapples boasts some major health benefits for athletes and runners. Similar to Tahini, you don’t need to eat a huge amount of pineapple to reap the rewards - just one cup can pack a major health punch that will keep your body feeling strong and energized.
Nutrients. Carbohydrates, fibre, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, copper, thiamine, folate, potassium, magnesium, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, iron, bromelain.
Benefits. Pineapple is essential for immune health, reducing inflammation, and healthy metabolism support. It can also aid in the digestion and absorption of important nutrients that runners depend on, like protein and iron. Bromelain (pineapple’s biggest health warrior) has been linked to many health benefits including improved immune function, easing the symptoms of arthritis, providing joint support, and even speeding up the healing process after strenuous exercise or injury.
Eat. Enjoy pineapple raw, frozen in a smoothie, grilled, or (though controversial!) on pizza.
“Eating pineapple may reduce the time it takes to recover from surgery or exercise. While this fruit helps replenish carb stores after exercise, some of its benefits are also due to the anti-inflammatory properties of bromelain. Several studies have shown that bromelain may reduce the inflammation, swelling, bruising, and pain that often occur after surgery, including dental and skin procedures. Moreover, proteases such as bromelain may speed muscle recovery after strenuous exercise by reducing inflammation around the damaged muscle tissue (though further studies still need to be conducted).” - Healthline
Beets! Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny their nutrient density. In fact, beets contain nearly all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs in some shape or form. Beets have become increasingly popular among runners in the past few years, and you can even find beet products marketed towards athletes.
Nutrients. Carbohydrates, fibre, manganese, folate, copper, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, nitrates.
Benefits. Beets are high in folate, which which plays an important part in heart health, while the manganese assists with bone health and nutrient metabolism.
Of particular interest to runners is their ability to help enhance athletic performance in the following ways:
- Nitrates have been shown to improve the efficiency of cells (namely mitochondria), which are responsible for producing energy in the body.
- Studies have shown that beetroot juice boosts cardiorespiratory performance in athletes, and can extend how long it takes you to become exhausted during tough workouts. In one study, cyclists showed increased oxygen usage by up to 20%.
- By increasing levels of nitric oxide in the blood, athletes can experience improved blood flow to the muscles and stronger muscle contraction.
Eat. They have a strong flavour, so how you enjoy them has a lot to do with personal preference. Roasting beets for use in stews or soups will bring out their sweetness, while pickled beets taste great in salads or as a solo snack. Not a big fan? Try beetroot powder in your smoothies to mask the flavour, or go raw and take a beetroot juice shot an hour before a heavy training session or race.
“Beetroot juice may provide a competitive edge for some athletes and has been shown to improve performance by almost 16% according to a small study conducted in 2014.” - Very Well Fit
Whether you call it a tomato or a tomato (did you read that two different ways?!), this bright-red superhero is a nutrition powerhouse. Tomatoes grow well in Southern Ontario, giving us easy access to them year-round here in the GTA, and they straddle the line between being a fruit and a vegetable - a level of confidence we can really get behind.
Nutrient: Lycopene, potassium, vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, antioxidants and flavonoids, fibre.
Benefits. Lycopene is the star nutrient here, and it’s linked to improved cell turnover, heart health, and collagen production, which helps protect the skin (for all of those hours spent running under the sun). The variety of vitamins found in tomatoes are also great for improved eye, immune system, bone, and muscle health.
Eat. One of the best parts about tomatoes is how easy they are to incorporate into your diet. From sauces to salads to slices of pizza, getting a regular serving of tomatoes is relatively easy and delicious. You can even boost its health benefits by pairing it with complimentary foods like olive oil, garlic, and parsley.
Treat Your Body to Some Star Nutrition
Complimenting your training with proper sleep, recovery, and nutrition is a bit of a no-brainer. You can’t perform your best without taking the needs of your connected body systems into account. Though no single food guarantees enhanced athletic performance or magical healing powers, the science behind the role that food plays in our overall health is sound - not to mention that eating a variety of healthy (and sometimes unhealthy!) foods is fun. So fill your plate and eat the rainbow when you can, and be sure to give some of these superhero foods a try in the process!
If you want to talk more about your fuelling strategies and how good nutrition correlates to performance, be sure to visit us at BlackToe Running to chat with our experts about your running needs!
Nutritional information sourced from: Healthline Nutrition