Running on Whole Foods

LÄRABAR lovers are whole food lovers. With racing season in full swing, physically active whole foodies are presented with a difficult conundrum. The sports nutrition world is full of supplements made from everything but whole foods! However, I have good news! Many whole fruits and vegetables make excellent fuel for your runs.

Several studies show significant gains in performance for athletes who eat nitrate-rich vegetables before exercise. These nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body and contribute to several mechanisms such as improved oxygen delivery and more efficient energy production- a great combo for improved performance!

Although beets are championed as the endurance athlete’s nitrate-rich secret weapon, some vegetables pack an even higher nitrate punch. Arugula is actually the best source with four times more nitrates than whole beets! Dig in to a pre-run peppery arugula salad to get your nitrate fix.

Bananas are the quintessential runner’s fuel, a rich source of carbs and electrolytes and conveniently portable. Another reason to keep this running staple around: bananas can be an effective whole food replacement for sports drinks. One study compared cyclists who fueled with a regular sports drink to cyclists who fueled with bananas and found no difference in performance or recovery. Mash bananas and carry in a zip-top bag. When you’re ready to fuel, tear of a corner of the bag and eat the mashed banana like a gel packet. A ½ cup of mashed bananas has the same amount of carbs and calories as an average gel packet.

Try refueling mid-run with dried fruit like raisins instead of sport chews, gummies or blocks. In runners completing a distance run followed by a 5-K time trial, fueling with raisins and fueling with energy chews resulted in the same level of performance enhancement compared to fueling with just water. Carry a pack of raisins or other dried fruit to replenish glycogen stores during long runs.

Fast recovery is key to powering through a grueling race training schedule, and cherries may be just the ticket to feeling your best workout after workout. Cherries deliver a heaping dose of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, which ease pain from exercise-related muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress- the things that make it difficult to bounce back after a tough run. Several studies show significantly less muscle soreness in athletes who consume tart cherry juice before, during and after exercise. Try a refreshing cherry smoothie or a Cherry Pie LÄRABAR post-run.

Kayli Dice, MS, RDN is a plant-based dietitian, writer and founder of Gather, a series of plant-based cooking classes, workshops and supper clubs. She co-writes the recipe blog The Plant Eaters’ Manifesto with her husband.

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