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Superfoods for Runners

By Jeremy Chin
Posted on 06 May, 2015

Superfoods for Runners

When you engage in endurance activities such as long distance running, your body takes quite a beating; oxidative stress occurs, micro-tears appear in your muscles, you lose water and minerals, your glycemic index gets thrown off, the production of free radicals in your body increases, acidity goes up, inflammation sweeps in and your immune system gets compromised. To recover quicker and perform better on your next run it is important that you make everything you eat count. For that, we’d like to turn our attention to the nutritional prowess of that category of food we know as superfoods.

Superfoods are a class of the most potent and nutrient-dense foods on the planet. With a much higher nutrient-to-calorie ratio than other foods, they exceed our requirements for protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Often, they are foods which for centuries have been used in exotic parts of the world, where they are treasured for their health-giving properties. But as you’ll see on our list, superfoods don't have to be obscure to be super. Some of the items we have on here are easy to obtain from most grocery stores, and affordable too.



berriesIntense activities like running increases your metabolic rate and in the process increases free radical production. Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. In their quest to find another electron, they are very reactive and cause damage to surrounding molecules. Left unchecked, they can also trigger cell mutation that can lead to cancer.

Antioxidants help counteract the increase of free radicals produced while running and berries like acai, blueberry, cranberry, maqui and aronia have among the highest concentration of antioxidants of any other fruit. Vitamin C and E are two of the more common antioxidants that work to neutralise the free radicals that are causing havoc in your compounds. Another is anthocyanin, an extremely powerful antioxidant found in berries and is the substance that gives them their deep red colour. The goal should be to work as many colors as you can into your diet.

[Recommended reading: Antioxidants - A Clear And Simple Explanation]



avocadoWhen it comes to food, us runners sometimes get caught up with the amount of nutrients we put into our body. But some nutrients are fat soluble, and they are no good if our bodies are unable to absorb them. This is where avocados come in. Not only are they highly nutritious, they dramatically increase the nutrient value of the other foods you consume.

Avocados are one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. But they don’t just contain any fat… the majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid. This is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component in olive oil which is great for fighting inflammation. Avocadoes are also very high in non-soluble fibre and they contain more potassium than bananas.



bananasBananas have long been a favorite of endurance athletes mainly for its low glycemic index, fast digesting carbs and its glowing potassium credentials. Bananas’ low glycemic index help to keep energy levels steady. And its high potassium content is crucial for muscle contraction, heart function and staving off muscle cramps.

Bananas also contain magnesium, antioxidants and vitamins C and B6 which are all highly necessary for runners. Lastly, bananas are affordable and highly portable. Consider this. Even though avocados may have more potassium than bananas, imagine if they handed you one at a race and you had to open it.


Chia Seeds:

chia seedsChia seeds are one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world with a unique nutrient profile that makes them the perfect choice for endurance athletes. Chia seeds are full of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which are great for lubricating joints and cells. They are also high in protein and calcium, which is essential for muscle growth and repair, and bone strength.

Chia seeds take on a gel-like quality when they come in contact with water, and they can hold up to ten times their weight in water when they expand. This suits the hydration needs of long distance runners who would need slow and steady release of water.


Coconut Water

coconut waterIn Sanskrit, the coconut palm is known as 'Kalpa Vriksha' which means "The tree that supplies all that is needed to live". The same can be said of its water.

Coconut water has been found to be antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. And besides being rich in natural occurring sugars, coconut water contains five essential electrolytes that are present in the human body: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium. This makes it perfect for replacing salts and electrolytes lost while running.

As a sports drink, coconut water has fewer calories and sodium than Gatorade, and more potassium than four bananas.

Another really interesting thing about coconut water is that it is only one chromosome away from being the same as human blood plasma. During World War II it was used for blood transfusions, and in poorer countries, it is still intravenously administered to hydrate the human body in emergency situations.



eggsIn a nutshell, a whole egg contains all the nutrients required to turn a single cell into a baby chicken. Case closed.

Eggs are pretty much the perfect food, they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient we need. Vitamin A, B5, B12, B2, D, E, K, B6, Folate, Phosphorus, Selenium, Calcium and Zinc. Eggs are also high in protein, the building blocks to restore you to prime running condition.

Whole eggs are one of the best sources of the nutrient choline. Besides playing a key part in brain health, choline helps keep a runner’s circulatory system clear of compounds that would otherwise cause inflammation.

What I think is most impressive is that eggs contain all the essential amino acids in the right ratios. This is important for your body to make full use of the protein contained within each egg.


Goji Berries

goji berriesGoji berries have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to increase vitality, strengthen the immune system and to relief stress. In Europe, they are known as wolfberries. Many of miracles that goji berries claim to be able to do is still not fully verified by scientific research. But on a nutritional level, they pass with flying colors.

Goji berries contain 6 essential vitamins, 11 essential and 22 trace minerals, 5 unsaturated fatty acids, 5 carotenoids, and high levels of antioxidants. They give you 4 grams of protein per serving, and have 18 different amino acids, making them a complete protein essential for muscle repair. Goji berries have a high oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value, a measurement of a food's antioxidant power on a relative scale. Antioxidants counter the destructive power of free radicals that get produced during running, and goji provides you with a good dose of that.

[Recommended reading: Free Radicals: A Clear And Simple Explanation]



kaleOf all the super healthy greens, kale is king. And for good reason.

Rich in quercetin, kaempferol and lutein, kale has gotten a reputation for being one of the most antioxidant rich foods you can eat. As you’d find in most leafy greens, it is chock full of vitamins B6, C and K, but with low amounts oxalates, a substance found in some plants that can prevent minerals from being absorbed.

Kale is often claimed to be high in vitamin A, but this is false. It is actually high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body can turn into vitamin A. And why is this an advantage? Well, taking big doses of vitamin A can be toxic. With beta carotene, your body only converts as much vitamin A that it needs.



quinoaQuinoa contains all nine essential amino acids and is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein on the planet.

Quinoa is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. This combination of carbohydrates and protein makes quinoa an optimal post-run recovery food, as the carbohydrates replenish muscle glycogen and the protein provides amino acids for muscle repair. Quinoa also contains iron, which carries oxygen to our muscles. Quinoa is high in Riboflavin (B2) which aids energy production in cells.


Raw Cacao

cacaoThe cacao bean, in its natural state before it is processed, is extremely beneficial for health. Loaded with flavanol and polyphenol, it contains far more antioxidants than superfruit juices like acai, blueberry and cranberry. It is also a very rich source of magnesium - an essential mineral for runners, as it aids bone strength, prevents muscle cramps and improves heart health. Cacao also contains, zinc, iron, calcium, phosphorus, chromium, manganese, sulphur, copper, vitamins A, B, C and E, amino acids, and omega 6 fatty acids.

But does that mean you should go crazy on chocolate. Absolutely not. Most of cacao’s benefits comes from its natural, non-alkalized state. Most commercial chocolate goes through alkalization, a process used to mellow the flavor of cocoa. This process destroys the polyphenolic and flavanoid compounds. As a result, most chocolate products contain few or no antioxidants.

Another thing worth taking a note of would be the calories and fat contained in a serving of dark chocolate. It is much higher than that of fruit juices. You shouldn’t let this stop you, however, but may want to consume it in moderation.



spirulinaSpirulina is a blue-green algae that grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates. They provide the fundamental nutrient and food sources for all life on earth, they are the basis and beginning of the food chain.

According to the FDA, Spirulina contains significant amounts of calcium, chlorophyll, niacin, phytonutrients, potassium, enzymes, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. It also has all the essential amino acids (compounds that are the building blocks of proteins). In fact, protein makes up about 65 to 71 percent of Spirulina's dry weight.

Most of the protein in foods is lost through cooking, a problem that spirulina, consumed as a raw compound, manages to skirt around. Spirulina also contains Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid which can help you keep inflammation down after your run.


Sweet Potato

sweet potatoesAs sweet as they are, sweet potatoes, unlike other starchy foods, have a low glycemic index, meaning they release sugar slowly into the bloodstream. This means you won't get blood-sugar spikes, but instead will be supplied with a steady amount of energy, which to a long distance runner is essential.

There are lots of foods that have a lot of nutrients in them, but we don't necessarily know the bioavailability of those nutrients. Bioavailability describes the amount of nutrients actually absorbed by the body after it is swallowed. In some cases, eating two different foods at once will help the body absorb nutrients better than if the person ate the foods separately. On top of being a healthy energy source, sweet potatoes are full of manganese, which helps the body metabolize carbohydrates, further improving its potency. Manganese also helps the body utilize antioxidants.

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