May 24 2018
A registered dietitian drank beetroot juice for a week before running a half marathon to gauge how the nutrient-rich fuel would affect her.
Don’t get too excited…we’re not talking about pie necessarily (though it has its place). We’re referring to the actual pumpkin, pumpkin puree and pumpkin seeds. National Pumpkin Day is approaching on October 26, so what better way to literally eat in season?
The pumpkin is a member of the squash family and actually boasts many nutritional properties that benefit runners. Pumpkins are full of antioxidants, as evidenced by their rich orange color. They are also high in many other nutrients for runners, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, copper, folate, iron, magnesium and fiber. While there is no one food that will provide you with everything you need nutritionally, pumpkins do have quite a bit to offer.
One cup of pumpkin provides you with more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy skin tissues and membranes, promotes good vision and enhances immunity. Running takes a toll on the body and immune system, so getting enough vitamin A can help keep your body heathy throughout your training cycles.
Vitamins C and E are both natural antioxidants that help enhance the body’s defense system and protect it from free radicals (substances that can cause harm in the body). Like citrus fruits, pumpkins are very high in vitamin C, which is also involved in immunity and recovery. Furthermore, vitamin C can aid the absorption of iron, which can be problematic for many female runners.
Iron is vital for runners because it attaches to hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen to muscles when running. Runner lose iron through sweat, intestinal losses, foot strike hemolysis and menstruation (for females). A serving of pumpkin can provide nearly 10% of your daily iron needs.
You’ve probably heard about potassium in relation to muscle cramping. Potassium is a key electrolyte for runners because it works with sodium to help balance fluids in our bodies. It’s important for runners for that reason, but also for its role in regulating blood pressure, nerve transmission and muscle contraction. One cup of pumpkin puree offers 500mg of potassium, nearly 15 percent of the daily recommendation.
Let’s not forget about the micronutrients that pumpkin offers, like copper, folate and magnesium. These are nutrients that we need in smaller amounts. Folate plays a role in energy metabolism and also contributes to the health of red blood cells, which help deliver oxygen to the working muscles. A deficiency in folate can lead to macrocytic anemia, where red blood cells don’t divide normally. Macrocytic anemia often results in fatigue, since the improper dividing of red blood cells means there are fewer cells to deliver oxygen to muscle tissue. Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function, energy production and muscle contraction. One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds gives you nearly half of your body’s daily magnesium needs.
Don’t underestimate how these nutrients can improve your running. Fall is the perfect time to include pumpkin puree or pumpkin seeds in your meals and snacks. Add some pumpkin seeds to your yogurt, salads or trail mix, throw pumpkin puree in a crockpot chili or make pumpkin soup. You can also add some to your pasta or pancakes. Embrace the orange nutrient!
Sarah Schlichter is a registered dietitian and marathon runner based in Charlotte, N.C. She works as a nutrition consultant and in private practice, where she writes the blog Bucket List Tummy, sharing nutrition posts, healthy recipes, running tips and everything on her bucket list.