I’m always game for adding the latest and greatest nutrient-dense superfood into my daily nutritional habits for the exceptional benefits it has to offer. Hemp hearts, chia seeds, coconut water, matcha, tart cherry juice – the list goes on. But there are some foods that have been around for a long time that are nutritional powerhouses and even if they might not be getting their fair share of the spotlight, it doesn’t make them any less important in a runners diet.
Here are five classic foods that should be staples in every runners day-to-day eating practices (exceptions noted):
Surprise!! Okay pretty sure you’re not surprised to see this one listed here.
Banana’s contain about 425mg of potassium and 25g carbohydrate per banana. These are probably their two biggest attractions for athletes, plus they are easy to digest. When we sweat we lose potassium (an electrolyte) and a drop in potassium can lead to fatigue and muscle cramping among other undesirable symptoms. The carb content makes bananas a perfect pre-run and post-run snack.
Plus, bananas are one of the best sources of fructoogliosaccharides. Fructo-what?!! Haha, long name I know, but fructoogliosaccharides are the food of choice for our healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) – they thrive of the stuff! This is good because balancing our intestinal flora also boosts our immune system, keeping us strong and healthy.
Try these banana based recipes:
Exceptions – Some people dislike bananas and others simply find they have an intolerance to them. In this case I’d try using medjool dates instead of bananas – another fantastic food for athletes, albeit a tad less traditional.
Rice is a common and classic ‘carbo-loading’ food and for good reason. It’s a great source of easily digested carbohydrates (1 cup cooked contains 45 grams carb).
For this reason, I’ve heard of elite runners eating nothing but rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the days leading up to a marathon. I can’t say whether or not they are eating white or brown…
But please choose brown rice – it contains the bran, which is where the majority of rices’ vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are found, as well as some insoluble fibre that protects against various types of cancer.
Plus, brown rice is absorbed more slowly into our system so as to prevent blood sugar spikes. White rice is really only good for, well, the day before a race when you’re looking to carbo-load on low-fibre foods and aren’t worried about how nutrient-dense a food is!
Try these rice based dishes:
Exceptions – Whole grains including rice are a food category that some runners (and non-runners) choose to avoid (such as Paleo dieters). If this is the case, adequate carbohydrate consumption would need to come from other sources such as starchy fruits and vegetables.
Oats are a fantastic complex carbohydrate containing a certain type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown to boost the immune system. Not only does it protect you from the latest cold or flu however, it also lowers cholesterol and risk of heart disease!
Plus it has a low glycemic index, meaning even diabetics can eat it without problem. And another plus – oats contain avenanthramide which is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant with healing properties.
So that morning bowl of oatmeal really does have something to it!! But you don’t need to cook oats to receive their benefits, making shakes or no-bake cookies with them work great also.
Try these oat-based recipes:
Exceptions – those with celiac or a gluten intolerance may not be able to consume oats. Although oats are often thought of as gluten-free, most brands are typically cross-contaminated with wheat, barley or rye making them an unsafe choice. There are gluten-free varieties available but beware that some who suffer from celiac or gluten intolerance also react to avenin, the protein found in oats – meaning oats are a no-go. Additionally, anyone suffering from gout or kidney stones may wish to avoid oats due to the purines contained in oats. Lastly, as mentioned above with rice, oats are a grain some choose to avoid.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?!
Kind of true actually – studies have actually shown an apple a day lowers risk of heart attack, reduces risk of diabetes and one study associated them with weight loss.
Apples contain a lot of phytonutrients including one of my favourites, quercetin (highly anti-inflammatory) as well as catechins, phenolic compounds, phloridzins and chlorogenic acids. These phytonutrients help fight the oxidative damage that heavy training (hard or long runs) inflicts on our bodies.
PS. Eat the peel too – a ton of the nutrients are contained in the apple peel, not just the fruit. Oh – and apple juice does not count as apples – it simply does not contain the same nutrient profile and is missing out on the pectin (fibre the helps to regulate blood sugar levels).
Exceptions – Some people experience GI distress upon eating apples. This is likely due to the fructose content (see FODMAPS chart) – in this case simply avoid apples and choose other fruits such as bananas and berries.
5. Trail Mix
This classic snack has been around a long time – a bit of a staple for the athlete on-the-go. Almonds should be a staple in trail mix – they are highest in protein for a nut, contain the most vitamin E, are a good source of calcium and an excellent source of magnesium. Plus they are rich in the monounsaturated heart-healthy fats.
Pumpkin seeds are great to throw in also, as they are one of the best sources of magnesium (an electrolyte that can alleviate muscle cramping) – and pumpkin seeds contain the revered omega-3 fatty acids.
For that reason throw walnuts in there as well, another good source of omega-3s. For a classic trail mix, add dried fruit of choice (oh, and maybe a bit of dark chocolate too!).
Try this recipe: Maple Nuts
Exceptions – Some people have nut allergies to various or sometimes all nuts. Choose more seeds if you can’t eat nuts (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds as well as various seed butters).
Do you eat these five classics on a regular basis? Or is there another classic food that is a staple for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN