Seasonal Fruits to Boost Your Running Performance

sarah cuff Food for Runners, Fruit, Phytonutrients 1 Comment

I’m sitting here in a very sunny Vancouver, British Columbia, and feeling spoiled with all the fresh fruit that is in abundance at the farmers market and in stores these days. I  find these seasonal offerings taste oh-so-good, but could it possibly be true that they also benefit our running performance?

While fruits do contain naturally occurring sugars (including fructose), they are actually quite the nutritional powerhouses. Because the fructose in fruit is naturally occurring (intact in it’s original form, complete with fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients), the often-cited harmful effects of fructose do NOT apply to fruit – unless you eat ridiculous amounts, which would be nearly impossible – for example, 9 cups of strawberries, 89 cherries or 5 bananas contain the same amount of fructose as 20oz of pop. It’s added fructose that you generally want to avoid.

In fact, the very fact that fruit contains naturally occurring sugars (in varying mixtures of glucose and fructose), is what makes them ideal pre- and post-run snacks – both to provide quick energy and re-fill glycogen stores.

Let’s take a look at what seasonal fruits are in abundance right now, why they’re good for you and how to use them (other than just eating them raw!).

1. Apricots

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Apricots are best known for being a good source of vitamin A, a strong antioxidant that helps us recover from our runs. In fact, one serving (about 3-4 medium fresh apricots, or ¼ cup dried) contains over 40% of your daily value of vitamin A.

One of the particularly beneficial carotenoids found in apricots is called beta-cryptoxanthin, which helps to prevent the damage that free radicals do to our cells and DNA.

Ideas for Consumption:

  • just wash and eat them fresh, like an apple (no need to remove the skin)
  • cut into quarters and dip in nut butter or sunflower seed butter
  • throw slices in salads and on cereals
  • fold them into muffins or squares or into fruit crisps/crumbles

2. Berries (blueberries and strawberries and raspberries, oh my!)

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All berries contain phytonutrients that have strong antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory benefits – very beneficial in helping us recover quickly from our runs so we feel stronger for the next one.

Blueberries are known for their high concentration of a phytonutrient called anthocyanin, so much so that they’re often cited as the most beneficial berry of them all. A great example is a study done by researchers at Appalachian State University, who fed a group of runners one cup of blueberries daily for six weeks, while a control group was given no berries. Volunteers who ate the berries had less inflammation and better immune health following long runs!

Strawberries, like blueberries, contain anthocyanins – making them anti-inflammatory and great to include in post-run recovery shakes alongside blueberries. They also contain ellagic acid which, similarly to anthocyanins, is a strong antioxidant. However, strawberries are perhaps most outstanding for their vitamin C content: 1 cup of halved strawberries gives us 150% of our daily value! And vitamin C is not only a strong antioxidant, it’s actually required for the growth and repair of all tissues in our bodies (skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, bones, etc). So you can see how beneficial it is for run recovery!

Ideas for Consumption:

  • Top oatmeal, cereals and chia pudding with fresh berries
  • Add fresh or frozen berries to smoothies and shakes
  • Gently toss into salads
  • Dip them in chocolate for a delicious dessert treat
  • Bake them into muffins, squares and fruit crisps/crumbles

3. Cherries

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Cherries contain the phytonutrients anthocyanins and ellagic acid as discussed above, as well as a strongly anti-inflammatory phytonutrient called quercetin. As with berries, this makes cherries ideal for enhancing post-run recovery. All varieties of cherries contain these benefits – however it should be noted that tart cherries (not typically found or sold for eating fresh) contain overall higher amounts of phytonutrients – per 100g, sweet cherries contain 92mg to 146mg while tart cherries contain 146mg to 312mg.

Ideas for Consumption:

  • Snack on them raw
  • Add to smoothies and shakes
  • Add to salads
  • Make them into cherry sauces, compotes or salsas
  • Bake them into pies, tarts, crisps, squares
  • Turn them into jam
  • Serve over ice cream (or make your own cherry ice cream)

4. Figs

ImageFigs are a good source of calcium – a mere 2 figs provide 35mg calcium (4% of your daily value). Plus those same 2 figs offer us fibre (2g), 232mg potassium (7% of your daily value) and 17mg magnesium (4% of your daily value). Figs may not be the most nutritionally dense food compared to some of the superstars listed above, but they make for a perfect sweet snack that comes with a nutritional punch – perfect for pre or post run.

Ideas for Consumption:

  • wash, chop off stem and eat (no need to peel)
  • quarter and toss into salads or atop oatmeal / cereals
  • grill or bake halved figs with a touch of balsamic vinegar and maple syrup (try baking 10 minutes at 350); top with chopped walnuts
  • make into fig jam
  • bake into fig bars
  • use as a sweetener or as a fat substitute in many recipes (make your own fig puree by blending 4-5 figs with ¼ cup water until smooth)

5. Rhubarb

Rhubarb is known in Chinese medicine to have a positive and balancing effect upon the digestive system. Aside from vitamin K, it contains few nutrients – and few calories as well: one cup chopped rhubarb (4oz) contains only 25 calories, a little bit of vitamins A and C and a bunch of vitamin K (45% of your daily value).

Ideas for Consumption:

  • bake into muffins, pies, tarts and fruit crisps/crumbles
  • use to make sauces, salsas and jams
  • throw in chili and stews

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As a runner, you’ll want to include about 3 servings of fruit into your daily nutritional habits – add an additional serving or two per day if you’re very active (workout daily for an hour or more).

For purposes of consistency you can consider one serving of fruit to equal between 75 and 100 calories. For example, you might have a half cup of fresh or frozen blueberries with breakfast, one banana as a pre-run snack, a rhubarb muffin or 3-4 apricots sliced and dipped in sunflower seed butter as a snack, and a couple figs or one cup of sweet cherries for dessert (or a half cup of tart cherry juice).

Now go enjoy these seasonal fruits!

Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,
sarah

Sarah J Cuff, RHN

Image 1PS. I was thrilled to receive an email a few weeks ago from someone I’ve not worked with one-on-one, yet who has followed all the advice laid out in this blog. Miranda Gardiner began ‘eating 2 run’ after meeting me at a talk I gave at her run clinic. She’s found that by simply incorporating more nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory foods into her diet (such as blueberries, strawberries and cherries!), she is feeling stronger and recovering more quickly than ever before. Click here to read more!

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  1. Pingback: Recipe: Rhubarb Crumble | Eat 2 Run

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