Contributed by Jeff Henderson - MIT Head Coach
As runners we are expending energy daily and using nutrients that are necessary for optimal health and vitality. During exercise (and throughout the day) we are releasing free-radicals into our body that need to be "neutralized" by antioxidants. Luckily, nature is generous and provides us with many nutritional options that can pave the path to greater fitness and optimal health. The following top 10 "superfoods" are selections that should be included in every runner's diet.
Blueberries Ounce for ounce, these little blue jewels may contain more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. The most powerful health promoting compounds in blueberries are phytochemicals that belong to the flavonoid family. Besides combating diseases such as heart disease and cancer, blueberries may boost brainpower-at least in rats. When fed blueberry extract for nine weeks, elderly rats outperformed a control group at such tasks as running through mazes and balancing on rotating logs. And, when aging rats ate a blueberry enriched diet for four months, they performed as well in memory tests as younger rats!
Broccoli Who cares if "Dubya's" dad hated it? The fact is broccoli is one mean green antioxidant loaded machine! A number of studies have linked regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli to a reduced risk of breast, colon and stomach cancers. Broccoli is a rich source of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamin C (1 cup contains more C than an orange). The best way to unleash the nutrients is by cooking light and chewing hard. But if you simply can not stand broccoli, try brussels sprouts, cabbage, or bok choy.
Tomatoes Tomatoes contain lycopene, probably the most powerful antioxidant among the carotenoids, the compounds that turn fruits and veggies deep orange. Studies have linked tomatoes, especially once they are cooked (such as ketchup, stewed tomatoes or spaghetti sauces) are linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer and other cancers of the digestive tract.
Potatoes These spuds are one of the world's greatest foods, filled with calcium, niacin, iron, vitamin C, and plenty of carbohydrates. Just eat them in moderation. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing- studies have linked excessive intake of starch (potatoes, white bread, white rice, and processed foods) to obesity. A potato portion should be the size of your fist. Also, try to incorporate sweet potatoes and yams into your diet, they are loaded with antioxidants, metabolize less rapidly, and wreak less havoc with blood sugar.
Avocados The high fat content of one avocado may send shivers up a low fat dieter's spine, but besides being an excellent source of folate and potassium, avocado's strength actually comes from its fat. The monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid found in avocados, can actually improve cholesterol levels in the body and help control diabetes. The fiber content is impressive too. One avocado has more fiber than a Weetabix biscuit! Now you can say "Guac This Way!"
Bananas It's a myth that bananas are high in fat. Bananas are slightly higher in energy than other fruits but the calories come mainly from carbohydrates- excellent for fueling before and after exercise. Bananas are also loaded with potassium that helps lower blood pressure, and vitamin B6 for healthy skin and hair.
Beets Pickled, boiled, roasted or in a cake (yes cake...think carrot cake with beetroot!) beetroot needs to find a place on every runner's plate. Beets are best when it comes to protecting against cancer and helping to build iron stores. They're loaded with folate, a B vitamin women need to get plenty of - folate protects against birth defects. Grate beets into a salad or add to your favorite stir-fry. Just Beet It!
Nuts and Seeds An excellent snack food high in omega-3 fatty acids (which are great for your heart), zinc and iron. Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds are best. We suggest trying- walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia, or pistachio nuts. Also try sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds sprinkled over the top of a salad.
Salmon Many North Americans are deficient in an essential fatty acid called omega-3. Salmon and other cold-water fish (e.g. tuna, mackerel, and halibut) contain oils that are rich in omega-3. This "good fat" will protect your arteries against plaque build up and is effective in lowering the "bad" cholesterol. Note: Try to choose wild salmon, or limit your intake of farmed salmon to 2, 5 ounce servings a week (to minimize methyl-mercury intake).
Water Last, but certainly not least! Although technically not a "food", the body is completely dependent on water for survival. Dehydration is one of the main causes of fatigue and muscular stiffness. By drinking water throughout the day you will notice a dramatic increase in energy levels and in the health and vitality of your hair and skin. Don't forget your water during your running sessions either- this will help to keep your body in fluid balance.