read Superfoods for Runners: How They Help Improve Performance

Superfoods for Runners: How They Help Improve Performance

superfoods for runners

Superfoods are foods, which are packed with the maximum amount of nutrients, along with certain ergogenic benefits that enhance performance or improve recovery. 

As a runner, the most important foods are those that are rich in macronutrients especially carbohydrates and protein and specific micronutrients like calcium, vitamin C, iron, etc. Runners may benefit from foods, which help release energy quickly, aid in the running performance, improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen immunity, as well as provide quick recovery. Healthy eating for runners include various foods, among the regular foods in our diets, that be useful for endurance athletes. 

Here are 10 superfoods that should be present in a runner’s diet: 

Sweet potato

Sweet potatoes have natural sugars and complex carbohydrates that are released slowly in the bloodstream and provide sustained energy — a must-have for long-distance runners. 

Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamins A and C, which are antioxidant vitamins (help reduce damage to cells and improve immunity). They also contain potassium, an electrolyte necessary for proper hydration and for muscle function.

1. They are a good option as part of carb-loading before the race and as a pre-workout snack as it helps sustain energy

2. You can have one medium i.e., 100g-150g of sweet potato one hour before workout

3. Sweet potatoes can also be included in post-workout meals to help replenish the glycogen stores, which are lost during workout

Dates

Dates are full of natural sugars, which are a concentrated source of slow-releasing carbohydrates. They also contain potassium, which aids muscle function. 

1. Dates are easy to carry and are a high energy-yielding option during the run.

2. You can have 3-4 dates mid-run every 45mins-1 hour of the run to have sustained energy

3. Dates can also be added in recovery meals

Oranges

Orange is a citrus fruit packed with vitamin C and natural sugars. Vitamin C aids in formation of collagen, which is used to create and repair tissues, blood vessels, and muscle fibers. Vitamin C may also protect against development of  common cold and other upper respiratory tract infections, which are commonly observed in long distance running. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which mitigates oxidative stress induced by long distance running. The fruit also boosts hydration, which along with natural sugars, provide energy and aid recovery. 

1. Having an orange or one glass (250ml) of orange juice post-run may help reduce muscle soreness and strengthen your muscles.

2. Orange is an excellent snacking option for runners as it helps improve iron absorption when taken with iron-rich food like spinach, lentils, red meat, etc. 

Beetroot 

Beetroot improves running performance and reduces muscle soreness following a run. It contains nitrate, which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. This nitric oxide improves blood flow, oxygen utilization and increases speed, which altogether is beneficial for endurance activities. 

Beetroot also contains betalains which are water-soluble pigments that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These betalains help to reduce the free radicals produced due to cellular stress in the body.

1. 150ml beetroot juice may be had pre-workout to improve the nitrate concentration in blood and to improve running performance.

Also read: Supplements: How Do Runners Benefit

Cherries 

Cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and antioxidants, and are packed with anti-inflammatory properties. Cherry juice is a good recovery food as it works to reduce muscle inflammation. Studies show that regular consumption of cherry juice may expedite post-workout recovery by reducing muscle soreness, muscle pain, inflammation, and by improving training capacity.

1. 120ml to 150ml or one glass of tart cherry juice should be had immediately post run

Spirulina

Spirulina is a green powder made from seaweed, which is beneficial for runners. Studies show spirulina supplementation increases exercise performance and fat oxidation (using fat as an energy source). Spirulina is a good source of protein, iodine, electrolytes such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, and possesses antioxidant and  anti-inflammatory properties. It can help repair muscle damage and fasten the recovery process. 

1. Dosage of Spirulina is 2g-3g a day; 2tsp spirulina can be added to post-workout meals and smoothies

2. Spirulina tablets can also be taken 1-2 times a day

Moringa

Moringa, which is also known as drumstick, is a nutrient-rich food source with a lot of benefits. It contains iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, potassium and protein.

For runners, moringa reduces oxidative stress,  lactate concentrations, and helps in electrolyte balance.

1. 1-2 tsp of moringa powder can be had in the day as herbal tea or can be added to smoothies or mixed with salads or soups; or, 1-2 tablets of moringa can be had in the morning with a glass of water

Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates our nervous system, which leads to our experiencing a “kick”. This kick can improve your focus, increase alertness, and enhance mood. Caffeine may also increase your running speed because of the stimulation to both central and peripheral nervous system to reduce exertion perception and pain. 

1. You can have 3mg/kg-6mg/kg body weight of caffeine i.e., a 60kg man can have 180 mg-360 mg of caffeine 45-60 minutes before your run. Studies also show that 200mg of caffeine has equal benefits. 

2. Caffeine can come from espresso shots or caffeine gels or pre-workout powders

3. Excessive caffeine can result in jitters, heartburn, gastric issue or can make you stay up late at night

4. Habitual caffeine intake might not show any performance benefits

Also read: Nutrition for New Runners: Strategies to Make a Difference

MCTs

MCTs or  Medium Chain Triglycerides are a type of saturated fatty acids that are abundant in food sources such as coconut oil, butter and dairy. MCTs are also available as supplements. They are absorbed in our body rapidly compared to most other fats. Once in the bloodstream, they are transported to the muscle for yielding energy. This can save some glycogen for later use during the run duration. 

1. MCTs are supposed to be taken pre-run to delay glycogen consumption for energy 

2. To avoid gastric issues, start with 1tsp and gradually build up to 1tbsp of MCT oil 30-35mins pre-workout

3. In some, MCT may induce gastric emptying and cause stomach cramp, bloating and nausea. In that case, its consumption should be avoided. 

Eggs

Eggs are superfoods due to their unique nutritional composition of high biological value proteins (that provide the body with all nine essential amino acids), B vitamins, fats, vitamin A, iron, and selenium — everything that a runner needs to boost performance in one package. Eggs also provide satiety, aid in muscle synthesis and recovery.

Micronutrient composition of whole egg

Vitamins & Mineralsmcg/100g%DV
Vitamin A16016
Vitamin B245715
Vitamin B515337
Vitamin B61705.6
Vitamin B94715.6
Vitamin B120.8935.6
Selenium30mcg75
Calcium56 mg/100g5.6
Iron1.75 mg/100g6

As per Indian RDA (Recommended dietary allowance)

1. 1-2 whole eggs can be had at breakfast to provide complete protein

2. Egg whites can also be added in meals to meet the protein requirement

It is important to note that no single food, not even superfoods, provide all the essential nutrients or hold the key to good performance. A variety of foods in your daily meals alone can help enhance your performance.

References: 
1. Wang, Y., Liu, Z., Han, Y., Xu, J., Huang, W., & Li, Z. (2018). Medium Chain Triglycerides enhances exercise endurance through the increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism. PloS one, 13(2), e0191182. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191182
2. Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism. 1983 Aug;32(8):769-76. doi: 10.1016/0026-0495(83)90106-3. PMID: 6865776.
3. Nosaka N, Suzuki Y, Nagatoishi A, Kasai M, Wu J, Taguchi M. Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Apr;55(2):120-5. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.55.120. PMID: 19436137.
4. Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Romero-Moraleda, B., Cupeiro, R., Peinado, A. B., Butragueño, J., & Benito, P. J. (2018). The effects of beetroot juice supplementation on exercise economy, rating of perceived exertion and running mechanics in elite distance runners: A double-blinded, randomized study. PloS one, 13(7), e0200517. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200517
5. Pickering C, Kiely J. Are low doses of caffeine as ergogenic as higher doses? A critical review highlighting the need for comparison with current best practice in caffeine research. Nutrition. 2019 Nov-Dec;67-68:110535. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2019.06.016. Epub 2019 Jun 26. PMID: 31400738.
6. Clifford, T., Berntzen, B., Davison, G. W., West, D. J., Howatson, G., & Stevenson, E. J. (2016). Effects of Beetroot Juice on Recovery of Muscle Function and Performance between Bouts of Repeated Sprint Exercise. Nutrients, 8(8), 506. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8080506
7. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ. The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2015; 7(4):2801-2822. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7042801

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