Runners of all intensities–from those who run around the block to professional marathoners–know that whole foods are fuel. But you don’t have to slam a power drink or scarf down a power bar or gel to keep your body moving. Try these 10 whole foods (and one natural drink!) that fuel runners with essential nutrients.
Carb loading is common among runners, but the trick is to eat high quality nutrient-packed carbohydrates rather than empty ones. Be sure not to eat too many complex carbs directly before running. Fiber is tough for your body to digest while exercising. Eat it well before or just after you run.
1. Quinoa: A quality whole grain carbohydrate that’s high in fiber, quinoa is especially effective for vegetarian and vegan runners. It’s a complete protein–meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.
2. Black rice: Whole grain pasta is great, but black rice is even better. The superfood black rice is delicious plain or as part of a fantastic Malaysian dessert dish, Pulut Hitam or Sticky Black Rice. Reduce or eliminate the sugar in your pulut hitam for your best running results. I swap in honey granules for sucanat when I need to keep moving. Black rice is perfect runner fuel since it’s high in antioxidants and vitamin E, an awesome immune-booster. It has 5 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving (plus 2 grams of fiber). Brown and white rice have just 4 and 3 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving, respectively.
As with any exercise, protein is needed to rebuild your muscles after running breaks them down. When seeking whole foods, runners should stick to lean meats, eggs, nuts and yogurt to speed recovery and rebuild muscles.
3. Lean beef: Lean beef is loaded with protein, about 25 grams in a small 3-ounce serving. Instead of a big slab of meat, eat small portions mixed with vegetables that are high in nutrients and antioxidants. Try stir fries or fried rice. Vegetarian? Swap in lentils for lean beef. Lentils have nine grams of protein in a 1/2 cup (100 grams) serving. Lentils also are filled with vitamins and minerals (that you get less of–or not at all–from beef), and are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
4. Salmon: Wild salmon is a healthy protein high in omega 3s and vitamin D. The vitamin D can boost your energy level and, along with calcium, help keep your bones healthy.
5. Eggs: Eggs are amazing whole foods–6 grams in a single egg. Eggs also are high in choline, a B vitamin that reduces inflammation and assists brain neurotransmitters that tell your body to move (and, of course, run).
6. Nuts and other healthy fats: Almonds, avocado and olives are excellent healthy fats for runners to use for fuel. Be sure to eat them well ahead of exercise time to allow your body to fully digest the food. As whole foods, almonds get bonus points for being high in vitamin E. Add walnuts to your repertoire to get extra omega 3’s.
7. Yogurt: A vegetarian protein and a digestive aid due to its natural healthy bacteria, yogurt also is super high in calcium. Calcium can help keep your bones strong and prevent or shorten healing time for running injuries like shin splints. Don’t use refined sweeteners if you don’t like the tang of unsweetened yogurt. Choose honey or fruit instead.
Fruits & Veggies
Veggies and fruits are often the best whole foods because they provide a variety of vitamins needed to prepare your body for running and replenish your body after strenuous exercise.
8. Leafy greens: Kale and other salad greens are critical for runners. Salad greens are filled with fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, while kale also packs vitamin K, folate and numerous antioxidants. Among other benefits, folate helps runners’ circulation.
9. Sweet potatoes: Mmm….sweet potatoes. My favorite preparation is baked sweet potato fries. But, no matter which preparation you choose, sweet potatoes are high in fiber, potassium and antioxidants. They’re also a great healthy carbohydrate. Skip unhealthy toppings and keep the skins on to acquire the most benefit from these whole foods.
10. Bananas: Bananas powerhouse whole foods for runners. They aren’t just superstars in potassium levels, bananas also are high in fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C and they’re like a natural sports drink substitute because they help balance your electrolytes. Try them frozen and blended into smoothies or whipped into banana ice cream.
It’s extremely important for runners to keep hydrated. So while it’s not exactly food, keep healthy fluids on hand to continue running strong.
Coconut water: Drop those sugar and junk-filled sports drinks and opt for natural options like water or even coconut water, which can help balance your body’s electrolytes. If you aren’t a fan of coconut water, try a salty snack with your jug of water to replenish your body.
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