You’re a savvy runner. You eat a banana every day and your diet includes peanut butter, broccoli, berries, avocados, and all the other foods commonly touted as being the best for runners. But efficient fuel for athletes goes beyond the usual suspect superfoods. There’s more to “the best foods for runners” than salmon and sweet potatoes.
That’s not to say that the more common culprits don’t serve their purpose. They’re frequently featured because they tout rich nutrient profiles ideal for fueling workouts and aiding recovery afterwards. Running is a repetitive sport, but your diet doesn’t have to mimic that theme. The following foods don’t spend as much time in the limelight as say, almonds or leafy greens, but they’re definitely just as nutritious and make great additions to any athlete’s diet.
1. Chia Seeds
As a good source of carbohydrates, Omega 3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and calcium it’s quite clear why chia seeds are an ideal food for runners. One recent study revealed that for endurance athletes performing for 90 minutes or more, pre-exercise fuel consisting of 50% calories from chia seeds and 50% calories from Gatorade worked just as efficiently as consuming 100% of the calories from Gatorade. The researchers noted that while the chia seeds didn’t necessarily improve performance, their benefits shouldn’t be disregarded because their inclusion decreased the amount of sugar consumed and increased the athlete’s intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds are included as an ingedient in everything from pretzels to fruity-flavored snack bars these days, but to reap the most nutritional benefits, buy chia seeds raw and try including them as a hearty topping for cereal, veggies or rice. They even work well in smoothies, yogurt, and homemade baked goods, too.
Stop carving and start eating. This festive form of squash should serve as way more than a doorstep decoration. Pumpkins are extremely abundant in vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. In fact, they have more potassium (a nutrient that assists with muscle contractions) per serving than a banana. Vitamin A and C are known for containing carotenoids and phytochemicals, which may help reduce the presence of free radicals— tiny particles that are provoked by stress (like high intensity exercise) and can damage cells. And while antioxidants and vitamins haven't necessarily been proven to boost performance, vitamin deficiencies can lead to a long list of training troubles, so it's a good idea for runners to make sure they're getting enough of each.
P.S. Not to burst your bubble, but Pumpkin Spice Lattes won't count toward pumpkin intake. Instead, try a roasted pumpkin dish or incorporate baked goods flavored with all-natural pumpkin puree.
3. Wheat Germ
The "germ" of a wheat plant is the part that sprouts and grows into a new plant. Despite being packed with plenty of powerful nutrients, when wheat is processed into white flour the germ is discarded; which is too bad, because it packs a whopping 6 grams of protein per one ounce (28g) serving. With 15 grams of carbohydrates in that same serving size it makes an excellent fuel source for runners while also supplying the body with considerable amounts of iron, magnesium, and zinc. The crunchy, earthy grain tastes great as a topping on salads, oatmeal, and yogurt and can be used in recipes for everything from baked chicken fingers to slow cooker chili.