Do you want to optimize your running performance? Your brain plays a critical role in dictating fatigue levels during a run. Optimal performance while running will not only require a strong body, but a strong mind as well. There are certain foods that you can incorporate into your daily routine to ensure overall health, peak performance, and a well-nourished noggin. Try these 11 ideal foods for runners to give you mental clarity and improve your athletic performance.
11 Foods for Runners
Almonds, and most other nuts, are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps lower cholesterol and decrease risk of heart disease. Vitamin E combats oxidative stress which can be caused by an excess of fat and refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar) in the diet. Gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E not usually found in supplements, may also be protective against certain forms of cancer. Aim to consume a small handful of almonds at least 3-5 times per week. Try using almonds as a topping for added crunch on salads or hot cereal. You can also create a healthy trail mix with mixed nuts and dried fruit. Nuts can be kept up to 2-4 months when stored in jars or ziploc bags in a cool, dry place.
Eggs are a great source of protein, containing all of the essential amino acids you need to promote proper muscle recovery. One egg will provide you with about 10% of your daily protein needs and about 30% of your daily vitamin K needs. They also contain choline, a nutrient that aids in memory, brain function, and eye health. Be aware, though, that the choline is only found in the egg yolk, so be sure to use the whole egg! No need to be too cautious regarding the cholesterol in eggs as newer research has shown dietary cholesterol does not increase the risk of heart disease. Eggs are a great snack or addition to meals, whether boiled, scrambled, poached, or otherwise. Add them to salads, wraps, frittatas, and more.
Manganese and copper, trace minerals important for healthy muscle function, are found in sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are also good sources of vitamins A and C, potassium, and iron, all at around 100 calories each. For these reasons, runners should consume sweet potatoes year-round, not just at Thanksgiving time. Try adding sweet potatoes in soups or stews, baked, boiled or topped with some healthy favorites; the options are endless. Store potatoes for up to two weeks in a cool, dark place.
Most of us know that oranges are high in vitamin C. Did you know that vitamin C helps alleviate muscle soreness after exercise? Runners, stock up on those oranges to take advantage of their antioxidant power, found in the skin, shown to help lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Try adding orange slices to salads or use the juice and pulp for sauces on top of meats like chicken, pork, or fish. The zest of an orange can be used in cooking and baking and can be stored in a glass jar for up to one week in the fridge. When selecting an orange, choose one that is heavy and firm. Whole oranges can then be stored in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Salmon is a high-quality protein that is one of the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats help improve memory and decrease inflammation in the body. Try eating a serving of salmon after a long run to lessen inflammation and muscle soreness. Worried about possible mercury contamination? Choose wild-caught salmon whenever possible and aim for two 3-4 ounce servings per week. Salmon can be baked, grilled, or poached, just know that it should flake when cooked properly. It can then be added to salads, on pasta, or in soups. Fresh salmon can be kept about one to two days in the fridge or frozen for about four to five months.
Yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium, with one cup of Greek yogurt providing 13 grams of protein and almost 40% of the daily recommended value for calcium. The probiotics (live, healthy bacteria) in yogurt help with optimal digestive tract function and improved brain function. Who wants to be in a fog while out for a run? When purchasing yogurt, look for one that is plain and unflavored to cut down on added sugars. Try adding your own fruit to yogurt, topping it with granola or using it as a base for healthier dips.
Because runners are continuously depleting their energy stores, they need at least three to six one-ounce servings of whole grains each day. Look carefully at labels and read the ingredients list, as some whole-grain breads still contain refined grains and flours. One slice of bread is equal to one serving and can help lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Try topping yours with peanut butter or fill it with sliced veggies for a great, easy recovery meal.
Protein helps to rebuild muscles and promote recovery, especially after a long run or intense exercise. Most runners need about 50-75% more protein than non-runners and one serving of chicken contains almost half of a runner’s daily protein needs. Chicken also is a good source of selenium, which is important to protect muscles from free-radical damage that commonly occurs during exercise. Try out this versatile protein source by baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching it. You can then add it to salads, pasta, sandwiches, and more! Fresh chicken can be stored for up to two days in the fridge while frozen chicken can be kept up to six months.
Frozen Mixed Berries:
The antioxidant compounds found in brightly colored berries are called anthocyanins. These compounds help speed up post-run recovery and muscle repair. At less than 100 calories per cup, mixed berries are a great choice for runners…and everyone! Purchase frozen berries for the same nutritious benefits, with the added bonus of a lasting shelf-life, up to nine months. Thaw them out and add them to yogurt, cereal, or eat them on their own for a sweet treat.
Branch out and change up your lettuce routine by choosing mixed salad greens for a variety of phytonutrients, beneficial compounds found specifically in plants. Phytonutrients found in mixed greens like radicchio, butter leaf, endive, spinach and kale act as antioxidants, helping you to prevent muscle damage and fatigue that occurs with strenuous exercise. Mixed greens can be bought in bulk or pre-washed in bags. Kale is especially high in lutein, a nutrient that protects against oxidative damage brought on by pollution and heaving breathing; think hard running. Oxidative damage is linked to decreased brain function, memory loss, heart disease, and other age-related diseases. Consume more mixed greens in salads, sandwiches, soups, or smoothies. Greens can be stored in the vegetable drawer of the fridge for up to six days.
Black beans are loaded with protein, fiber, folate, and certain B vitamins responsible for heart health. The fiber and antioxidants they contain can help lower cholesterol level and your risk for heart disease. Beans are a low glycemic food, which means they take longer to digest. Therefore, the carbohydrates they contain are slowly released into the body. This allows for better blood sugar control and enhanced exercise performance due to the steady release of energy. You can add black beans to soups, pasta, and rice dishes for added fiber and protein or as a great recovery meal from a long run.
For ideas on how to incorporate these foods into your weekly routine for improved athletic performance and overall health, stop in and receive a nutrition consultation.Schedule a Nutrition Consultation
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.