Whether you’re a novice runner or training for a marathon, pounding the pavement can take a toll on your body if you’re not nourishing yourself properly. Being active, especially in a high-impact way like running, is great for your health, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients necessary for strong muscles, bones and more.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get the nutrients you need with a varied diet. Read on for a few of my favorite superfoods that runners of all levels can incorporate into their diet for optimal nutrition:
Quinoa is full of protein and fiber, both of which help keep you fuller longer. If you’re working up an appetite training for that 10K, eating foods like quinoa can fill you up so you don’t overeat after you just put in some serious exercise time. Protein is also essential for muscle recovery after running, so a high protein whole grain like quinoa makes for a great post-run meal.
Chia seeds are probably the smallest superfood out there – but don’t let that fool you! These teeny tiny seeds are filled to the brim with fiber, protein, and omega-3’s. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, so they can help prevent joint and muscle pain while keeping your heart in good shape for running. Chia seeds also hold about 10 times their weight in water – which means they’re great for keeping you hydrated! Add a spoonful of chia seeds into your smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal, or try a post-run chia fresca for a super hydrating treat!
Cherries are rich in antioxidants, and tart cherries in particular have impressive performance recovery benefits. Drinking tart cherry juice has been shown to drastically improve muscle soreness from running, and may even help get you to the finish line faster with less muscle soreness. This effect is largely due to the anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries.
Just like tart cherries, beets have been shown to improve running performance and reduce muscle soreness following a run. This is mostly because of the natural nitrates found in beets, which increase blood flow to your muscles and make it easier for you to exert the energy needed for running. Plus beets are rich in folate and iron, which many athletes are deficient in.
Salmon is loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The protein is needed for proper muscle recovery and muscle building, while salmon’s high omega-3 content makes it an anti-inflammatory superfood. Salmon can be so easy to cook, too – try this Matcha & Pumpkin Seed Crusted Salmon recipe for a quick and easy weeknight dinner that packs a nutritional punch.
As I mentioned before, the protein alone in yogurt makes it a superfood for runners. But yogurt is also rich in calcium, which is a necessity for strong bones. Having strong bones is especially important for runners and other high-impact athletes; no one wants to run into a bone fracture while training! The probiotics in yogurt are also great for digestive health, a bonus for anyone, and especially for runners who may have stomach problems while running.
Lentils are high in protein and fiber, giving you satiety and muscle-building benefits. They’re also rich in iron, which is essential for transporting oxygen to your muscles, so if you’re deficient you’ll likely feel lethargic, and that can seriously affect your workout performance. Eating iron-rich foods like lentils helps ensure you’re getting enough. Toss lentils into a salad or on top of veggie noodles for a quick and easy meal.
Sweet potatoes are fiber-rich starchy veggies that help keep you full and can act as a nutrient-rich carbo-loading option. They’re also rich in vitamins A and C — two powerful antioxidants. Plus, they’ve got more potassium than a banana! Potassium is an electrolyte necessary for proper hydration and for muscle function. Without enough potassium-rich foods, you could find yourself dehydrated and cramping up while out on a run. It’s a good thing that sweet potatoes are also so tasty! If you’ve never tried them in “pasta” form, give it a go with this delicious spiralized recipe.
Watermelon is perfect for hydration because – you guessed it – it’s mostly water. But the benefits don’t stop there. Watermelon is rich in vitamins A and C and lots of phytonutrients that provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Lycopene is one such phytonutrient. It’s great for cardiovascular health and has been shown to improve bone health, as well – both important for all adults, especially athletes.
We can’t finish a list of superfoods without including kale, right? It’s probably the trendiest superfood out there, and for good reason. It’s chock full of vitamin K, which is vital for healthy bones, and B vitamins, which are essential for metabolism and energy production. Kale is also full of calcium, iron, and fiber – making it an all-around superfood. Try it in a salad or as an addition to pasta, and check out all the ways you can use frozen kale for maximum convenience!