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.
We’ve all been there: We start seeing swelling and redness or feeling pain and heat after pushing through a niggle or two to get through a run, which translates into inflammation. At best, you’re looking at a few hours of discomfort, but the worst-case scenario could mean a mini-break from your favorite activity.
The upside of an injury (in addition to an excuse to binge-watch GLOW) is that it shows our immune system is functioning by alerting our white blood cells, known as the macrophage. These specialized cells of the immune system are formed in response to an infection and destroy accumulating damaged or dead cells to fight infection and begin the repair process.
Anti-inflammatory foods can also help the body heal, as well as stave off future injuries. “I did eat alkaline and anti-inflammatory foods, particularly when injured, but not to an obsessive extent,” says Paula Radcliffe, Olympian and world record holder for the women’s marathon since 2003.
Here’s a look at five fabulous foods that can help fuel your body for healthy, injury-free running.
Blueberries are the Beyoncé of superfoods. Rich in flavonoids, they act both as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, are loaded in vitamin C and potassium and have been shown to improve cognitive function.
Blueberries can be frozen without losing any nutritional value, but they are heat-sensitive, so keep them cool and choose organic (if your budget allows) to avoid pesticides. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests “moderately active women through the age of 30” require 2 cups of raw or cooked fruit per day, but women over 30 should reduce daily intake to 1.5 cups. One cup of blueberries (between 100 and 150 fresh) has only 80 calories.
Add It In
Mix berries into your yogurt and cereal to start the day, or into a smoothie. You can also toss some berries into a salad, but consider throwing in some nuts for protein. (No, blueberry pie does not count!)
A powerful antioxidant, curcumin is the yellow pigment and medicinal compound found in turmeric, a spice native to India and Indonesia. It can reduce inflammation, improve performance recovery and even, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “offset some of the damage associated with downhill running.” In addition, a 2010 study in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment showed curcumin and “piperine,” an alkaloid derived from black pepper, were able to prevent the development of cancer stem cells in breasts.
The European Food Safety Authority advises 1.4 milligrams of curcumin per pound of body weight per day. If taking a curcumin supplement, up to 400–500 milligrams is suggested twice a day.
Curcumin is not easily absorbed, so take it before a meal or three hours after; avoid taking before bedtime, as it can cause digestive problems. Also, increase the dose gradually. Too much of the supplement can be hard on the stomach and gallbladder and can interfere with other medications (like anticoagulants), so make sure you check with your doctor before taking, especially if pregnant.
The key to this insoluble spice is that it needs fat to go into full absorption mode. Mix freshly grated curcumin (which can be found in some grocery and ethnic food stores and can last up to a week in the fridge) with olive oil before you drizzle it on roasted veggies, scrambled eggs or rice. For a post-run smoothie (as it can give you gas if you consume before a run), dissolve it in a tablespoon of coconut oil. Adding black pepper will help quicken the absorption process 1,000 times, says Melissa Rifkin, a registered bariatric dietitian at NYC’s Montefiore Medical Center. You can also buy curcumin in dried or supplement form.
Called a “secret weight-loss tool,” green tea has been touted as a powerful antioxidant that can prevent everything from cancer to high cholesterol and can improve mental alertness. Now, thanks to its high amounts of catechin polyphenols, the beverage is being recognized for its anti-inflammatory virtues, especially for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
You should be getting 240 to 320 grams of polyphenols daily, which means about 2 to 3 cups of green tea, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (or 100 to 750 milligrams per day when taking green tea extract supplements). Green tea contains 2 to 4 percent caffeine, so look for caffeine-free products.
Green tea is for drinking. Add ginger (a known anti-inflammatory that helps your body absorb nutrients) and a little honey (which brings active enzymes to the mix), and you’re sure to stave off any colds or lingering blues.
Tomatoes are an important source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects your brain and fights depression-causing inflammation. Khloe Kardashian’s recent endorsement of the tummy-flattening tomato has shot it to the top of the veggie A-list.
Tomatoes are high in potassium and water content and have been linked to weight loss when nibbled or sipped late in the day, as their citric acid burns fat, but the lycopene reduces the production of adipocytes, which are known to store excessive fat.
Lycopene lives in tomato skins, so if eating raw, opt for cherry tomatoes, but add some olive oil because (like curcumin) tomatoes are fat-soluble. Also note that processed tomatoes have higher amounts of lycopene than the fresh ones.
Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and other dark green vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin E, which protects the body against pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
How To Consume
The USDA’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend, for a 2,000-calorie diet, an equivalent of 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. One cup of raw leafy greens (the equivalent of half a cup when cooked or ¾ cup of juice) equals one serving.
Add handfuls of the green stuff to smoothies, as they are lower in calories but higher in protein and nutrients than fruit, and easier to digest when blended.