The recent pandemic has resulted in a systematic shift in the fitness world as we know it. With gyms across the world temporarily closed or drastically altering their hours and procedures, many people have turned to the streets; literally. Outdoor running has seen an unexpected surge of popularity and with it so too, has cooking from home.
Are Superfoods Good for Runners
One of the biggest debates in relation to at-home fitness and outdoor running is the question of superfoods. Are they worth adding to your daily diet? Short answer, absolutely! To tackle this question, we first must understand, what makes any food, a superfood? In essence, a superfood is any nutrient rich food that is thought to provide beneficial health and well-being to its consumer. Superfoods are not only beneficial to your overall wellbeing; they provide necessary antioxidants to power runners through strenuous training sessions and help facilitate speedy recovery.
The Top 10 Superfoods for Runners
When it comes to running, not all superfoods are created equal. If you are a runner looking to optimize your training and recovery routine, these 10 superfoods need to be added as staples in your diet!
1. Beets and Beet Juice
If you haven’t turned to beets just yet, I know what you may be thinking. Eww beets! Beets are extremely nutritious. They can be consumed as a juice or incorporated into smoothies. The flavour blends well with other superfoods. The biggest key to this nutritional powerhouse is the nitrate that it provides. It is widely believed that dietary nitrates, when used correctly, have positive effects in increasing efficien blood flow and oxygen processing in the body. By consuming beet juice prior to your endurance training, runners can utilize the nitric oxide converted in the body to power their run and improve their VO2 max.
Spirulina is a less commonly known supplement that is derived from seaweed. This is another must add to every runner’s smoothie! This subtle green powder packs an all but subtle nutritional blow! You should add spirulina to your diet for an increased source of iodine, protein, and its anti-inflammatory effects. These three added benefits are used to power runners both during and post run. The Iodine provides your body with added thyroid benefits. This is beneficial to runners since the thyroid regulates your body’s metabolism and energy. The high protein content and anti-inflammatory effects then help the body recover post run by rebuilding muscle tissues and helping ease the stress that runners put on their joints after packing on the mileage.
Bananas are an excellent source of energy for every runner. Not only do they taste great on their own, they are an excellent inclusion in a smoothie too. If you haven’t begun to notice a theme here most superfoods are extremely easy to incorporate into your diet, and go well together to get your daily boost of antioxidants! What makes bananas so great are the natural sugars and potassium contained in just one banana. Sugar is vital for energy, to keep runners going while potassium helps boost every runner’s hydration levels. Runners are notorious for suffering from potassium deficiency due to the constant impact from daily training. If you haven’t already, you should definitely consider adding a banana to your pre- or post-run routine!
This would not be a post about superfoods for runners if we did not talk carbs! While many modern fad diets today preach low-carb diets, not supplementing a runner’s diet with carbs could have detrimental effects to your training output. You may have had it ingrained in you that carbs are bad. However like any food, take in moderation. Consuming healthier carbs rich in dense fiber, vitamins, and minerals can significantly improve your training. One of the best benefits of oatmeal is just that. It is high in carbohydrates, giving runners the energy needed to push further during training without expending all your energy stored in your body. Its large fiber content also does not sit heavy on the stomach so you can still be number one on the run without having to worry about taking care of number two!
Spinach should be included in everyone’s diet regardless of whether you run or not. Spinach is in the heavyweight class for superfoods. It not only provides ample amounts of vitamins, minerals, and protein but is also a great source of iron. It has been proven that iron has a direct correlation with fatigue levels and strength. In some cases, iron deficiency may lead to shortness of breath. This is particularly of note for women. Many women suffer from lower iron levels than men due to nutrient loss caused by menstruation. Spinach is a healthy alternative to give your body the iron boost needed to keep training. It is also another easy addition to smoothies, salad or cooked meals.
When it comes to berries think, the darker the berry, the larger the nutritional output! Blueberries are a great low calorie – only 84 calories per 1 cup of blueberries – superfood that have been proven to reduce muscle inflammation and increase heart health. Blueberries also provide a great source of fiber; vitamin K and vitamin C. Vitamin K helps the body regulate calcium levels while also provides benefits for blood flow throughout the body, while vitamin C provides boosts the iron levels and immunity. Blueberries are a great add to smoothies and works well with oatmeal to provide a daily nutritional source that is quick and easy to make.
Lentils, unlike most of this list, may not be a must have for your protein shakes, however these tiny legumes pack a huge nutritional punch! Just one cup of lentils contains about 35% of your recommended daily Iron intake. It also boasts a large content of fiber and protein, with about 18 grams of protein per serving. Lentils are a great low-calorie side that can be incorporated with rice to make a small low calorie recovery bowl perfect for post run activities! Lentils have also been tied to increasing digestive health, lowering cholesterol due to its high fiber content, and increasing energy. All key traits to help runners continue to increase mileage in training.
Like beets, I know what you’re thinking. I DO NOT WANT TO EAT KALE! Out of every superfood on this list, kale may be the pound for pound best superfood for the nutrition it provides per calorie. At just 33 calories per cup, kale provides more than your daily dosage of vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin C. Vitamin A has been proven to support a healthy immune system as well as supports bone health, vital to runners who are constantly putting stress on our muscles, bones and joints. Another key benefit to vitamin C is that it has been proven to help reduce heart rate during exercise. If you have heard the age-old adage, go slow to run fast, this will help you run a tad bit faster while maintaining a lower heart rate for a prolonged period of time! Kale is also easy to add to your daily smoothie!
Now who doesn’t like avocados? Did you know that this tasty treat that you have to pay extra at Chipotle for is one of the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat? Avocados boast a resume full of vitamins and minerals that are vital for training. The avocado is loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, the healthiest type of fats for your body. These fats have been linked to reduced inflammation, making avocados great for post run recovery! Avocados also provide your daily value of Vitamin K, 17% of your recommended vitamin C intake, 14% of your potassium, and 10% of your vitamin E. In addition to all these benefits the avocado provides more potassium than Bananas!
10. Chia Seeds
Rounding off the list, but most certainly not least, we have the chia seeds. An ounce serving of chia seeds provides a nutrition list that some might mistake for a multivitamin! Chia seeds provide 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 18% of your value of calcium, 30% of your value of manganese, 30% of your value of magnesium, and only comes in at a whooping 137 calories. Chia seeds are easy to add to smoothies and will boost your daily requirement of vitamins, help regulate energy levels and assist in kick-starting your recovery.
When it comes to running just getting enough calories is not enough to push you to your next PR and get you across the finish line. As athletes, we really need to pay attention to what we are fueling our bodies with. Every superfood on this list can either be easily incorporated into a smoothie on the go, or a quick 5-minute breakfast or lunch. With just a few minor tweaks to your diet you will be surprised at the results!