A big part of setting yourself up for success as a runner is through your diet. Which is why runners get a little obsessed with the idea of “superfoods.” This mysterious food group has a loose definition. Generally speaking, we’re talking about food that’s nutrient-rich and particularly good for health. In running, it’ll likely be something that gives you energy, reduces inflammation, or boosts endurance. If it gives you extra juice in the back end of your run, chances are it’s in that superfood category and runners are buying it by the bushel (or carton, or caseload).
These running superfoods will help to make you the best runner you can be.
Blueberries aren’t just a punishment for vile children who chew gum in the candy factory that you mysteriously run, they also help you with your running! A group of researchers in North Carolina found that athletes who were given blueberries in conjunction with running burned fat for much longer afterward than those who weren’t, and also, absorbed polyphenols better. Blueberries are super rich in polyphenols which are an antioxidant compound that reduces inflammation, improves artery function, and lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Best of all for runners: Blueberries are invaluable in helping your muscles recover from damage.
We’ve all heard or (done some) carbo-loading before a big race. But exactly how much carbo-loading you should do is confusing. Should you eat a bowl of hearty pasta or order 23 identical Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes that say, “Got Get ‘Em Killer” and eat them entirely by yourself on the floor of your kitchen? It’s a tough call. You want to have stored up energy to burn, but you also don’t want to crash from a sugar high that bottoms out suddenly. Well, here comes sweet potato walking slowly down the stairs as “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer plays and we realize just how beautiful and carb-y sweet potato was all along, but especially without those glasses.
Sweet Potatoes are the best way to get your carbs in as a runner. They do the job, but they also have a low glycemic index rating which prevents blood sugar spikes after you eat. And they’re filled with things like beto-carotene which will help protect your skin from the sun on the trails, and Vitamin A and C. Sweet potatoes are just a food that it’s time to fall in love with for real. Not just because you made a bet that you could turn it into the prom queen. They’re beautiful inside AND out.
Sometimes running can feel like you’re swimming upstream, just fighting against the fatigue, pain, and mental blocks. Luckily, there’s another creature that’s swimming upstream and it wants to solve all your running woes. Salmon.
Salmon is a great source of protein for your running. It’s filled with omega-3 (which can increase your maximal oxygen uptake during running and therefore, boost endurance), and vitamin-d which will not only keep your bones healthier but is known to improve your mood. Feeling happier will make it way easier to get up and go run those tougher days.
Another great way to infuse energy into your running routine without eating a ton of carb heavy-foods is to incorporate chia seeds into your diet. Also, to get some chia pets. They. Will. Motivate. You. To. Be. Better. For. Them.
In one study, researchers had one set of athletes carbo-load and drink Gatorade before running while the other drank just a mixture of chia seeds blended into the Gatorade. And, while I think we should all pause for a moment to make a face at how disgusting that sounds, the results were that there was no statistical difference in energy when comparing the two groups. The chia seeds were just as effective at giving the body energy to burn as the crap ton of carbs. So, when you’re trying to maintain weight loss while also giving yourself running fuel, adding chia seeds to your yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies is a great bet.
This gluten-free, whole grain superfood is a high-quality protein. So it’s great for supporting exercise recovery and muscle growth. It’s also brimming with magnesium, fiber, and is a source of iron. People may roll their eyes when you present them a delicious quinoa dish instead of using rice because it’s considered such a health food. But those people clearly aren’t runners.
Another pick for a healthier way to consume carbs is oatmeal. Oatmeal is super high in fiber. And while fiber is a carbohydrate, it’s not absorbed into the bloodstream and is calorie free. Fiber helps to soak up toxins and will help prevent constipation. Which, you know, is a good thing in general. When the whole system is healthy, your running routine will always benefit.
Plus, oatmeal helps you take in nutrients better, and helps to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Kale is more than that food you always see your skinny-jeaned neighbor carrying bags upon bags of in his beach cruiser bicycle basket. It’s truly a superfood.
Seriously, the stuff is amazing. First of all, just one cup of kale gives you 1000% of your daily Vitamin K. Way more than broccoli, spinach, or collard greens, and vitamin k helps with bone growth by allowing your bones to hold onto more calcium. It also promotes healthy blood clotting. More facts about kale: it has more iron per calorie than beef, is full of antioxidants, prevents inflammation, and gives you glucosinolates that prevent cancer.
So mix it in your salad! Throw it in a smoothie, float it in your wine, sew it together to create a magnificent cape and then wear it all around the land. For you’re king of the kale now, friends. All hail the kale king.
Bananas are great food for a runner at every level. Those babies have a ton of potassium and that will (among many other things) help you retain fluid balance in your body’s cells which will prevent cramps during your runs. They also have vitamin C to strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Plus, they are super easy to carry around for a quick snack or to throw at your enemies before jumping on the back of motorcycle and speeding away — which isn’t part of the runner’s lifestyle but is adventurous and fun.
Cherries are great. They reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and help improve your brain’s ability to function. More importantly, cherries naturally have melatonin which will help you sleep. You need to get some good z’s if you’re ever going to be able to up your running game.
Jury is still out as to whether cherry flavored Dr. Pepper has the same benefits, but probably, right? Why would Dr. Pepper, a medical professional, recommend something that’s not good for you?