Sunday, February 3, 2013

Top 10 "Runner Foods" I Eat

Three hungry birds in our back yard two summers ago ...they prefer worms
and none of this stuff, but I think the neighbor's cat got 'em a few days later.
I'm definitely not a nutritionist, but I've learned a little over the years about the best foods for my body that help make me a better runner.  And while I'm not a "great" runner, I have ran almost 9,000 miles over the past three years, and completed 21 marathons in that same time period, all while basically staying injury free and healthy all along the way.

I'm a firm believer that what I consistently put into my body is a huge factor with any running success I might have.  But unfortunately it's the single biggest thing I struggle with in training.  All of the "runner foods" I eat are those that help reduce inflammation and promote quick healing to my legs that take a daily pounding.  Inflammation is the enemy of healing to the body, so the more we can reduce it, the quicker we heal.

Here are the top 10 foods I try to eat regularly when I'm managing my diet the way I should. They're listed in no particular order ...

     1. Blueberries  This is probably the food I eat most often on a regular basis.  I usually have 1-2 cups per day, and usually immediately after workouts.  Blueberries are very rich in something called pro-anthocyanin natural pigment anti-oxidants which greatly help reduce inflammation.  The only down-side is blueberries can be fairly expensive.  One option I use when they get really over-priced at the store is buy them frozen. Blueberries are always great raw, or added to a smoothie.  HERE is a link from Runner's World about a study performed on runners who ate blueberries vs. those that didn't.  I don't think they used a large sample size, but their limited results show that runners who ate blueberries during this time period performed better and had drastically less inflammation.

     2. Quinoa (w/Honey, Cinnamon, & Ginger) Jason from Cook Train Eat Race actually turned me onto quinoa (pronounced "Keen-wah") a while back.  It is considered a "superfood" meaning that it has a high level of many different nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and is also a good carbohydrate source for runners.  Quinoa can be prepared similarly to rice and actually take it's place in many meals.  And quinoa has basically replaced oatmeal as my post-run recovery meal.  I mix 1/2 cup quinoa with some honey, a few sprinkles of cinnamon & ginger (which both also help reduce inflammation), a few shots of extra virgin olive oil, and two cups of water - then cook in the microwave for 17 minutes.  I usually start it, shower, and then enjoy on the way out the door.  It really helps add back in some of the carbs I need for my next workout, without having to eat a wheat-based product which contribute to inflammation.

These are the blueberries I had this morning!
     3. Almonds Most runners are well aware of almonds and eat a handful every so often.  I usually eat a handful about every day.  Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, an antioxidant that most runners don't get enough of.  Lately I've been eating Blue Diamond Honey Coated Almonds.  I probably don't need the extra sugar and salt - but they're delicious.

     4. Bananas I start every morning with a banana, and usually have another one at some point during the day.  They are another food considered a "superfood" because of all the nutrients they contain.  They are a great carbohydrate source and contain very high levels of potassium, which help lower blood pressure, and aid in recovery from long workouts.

     5. Spinach I have spinach on a sandwich or salad almost everyday of my life.  It's not really one of my favorite tasting foods, but it's packed with a lot of great nutrients.  Spinach has a very high amount of iron, which many runners are low in.  In fact many female runners become anemic from an iron deficiency. Also, it contains a high amount of Vitamin A & C.  I try to eat raw spinach as much as possible since cooking it reduces the nutritional value.

     6. Salmon I go through spells where I eat a lot of salmon - right now is not one of them.  But there are few, if any, meats that are recommended more for runners. While obviously high in protein, salmon is one of the best sources of Omega 3 fats that reduce blood clotting, and yes ... inflammation.  It's also linked to preventing depression and protecting against the onset symptoms of dementia.  I need to eat more salmon, but it's kind of an acquired taste, and I really don't enjoy it as much as other meats.  But pound for pound, there's just no better meat for runners.

     7. Black Beans One meal I love is Beans & Rice, as long as it's not too spicy.  I'll mix a can of low sodium black beans with brown rice & chicken, and then add a little Cholula Hot Sauce ... Awesome!  As part of the nutrient rich legume family, black beans are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and a great source of heart-healthy fiber and folate.  They are also a great source of molybdenum which helps with the body's energy production.  I obviously don't eat them everyday because I don't want to over do it with fiber, but they are a big part of my diet.

Naked Coconut Water in our fridge,  mango peach flavor
     8. Chicken The meat I undoubtedly eat the most is chicken.  It's a great source of lean protein and I add it to almost everything, including pizza.   One of my favorite meals that I eat 2-3 times a week is chicken breast with brown rice and broccoli, mixed with extra virgin olive oil.  This is a staple for me the night before long runs or tough workouts.  I really enjoy red meats, but I try to avoid eating too much of them, and chicken is a great lean, high protein alternative.

     9. Coconut Water This is one of the latest things I've been consuming after a workout, but honestly, the jury is still out a little for me.  Here is an excerpt from about coconut water ...
   "Coconut water, the clear liquid found inside the fruit, contains none of the fat found in coconut milk and has a tangy, light almond flavor. Eleven ounces contain 14 grams of sugar and 670 milligrams of potassium-way more than sports drinks. 'Potassium works closely with sodium to maintain water balance and helps trigger muscles to contract and relax optimally,' says Suzanne Girard Eberle, R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. Coconut water has enough carbohydrates for an hour-long run but not enough sodium for longer efforts."
Coconut water is one of  those trendy things right  now that a lot of pro athletes are using for recovery.  Bases on the nutritional label, it should be the ideal thing - but in my opinion it doesn't taste great, and I haven't really seen any real tangible benefits.  But I'm gonna stick with it for a while.

     10. Eggs There is no better complete food source of protein than eggs (apparently with the exception of breast milk).  Body builders have known this for years, and while my aging, thin body will never be mistaken for a juiced up muscle-head, I eat plenty of eggs to help give my body as much protein as possible.  While being high in protein, eggs are also packed with amino acids, Omega-3, and Vitamin K, which all promote healing to muscle fibers broken down after a workout.  Carb replenishment is very important to runners, but something a lot of runners neglect is protein for recovery, and eggs are a great source.

Some of the other things I try to mix  into my diet on a regular basis are broccoli, steak about twice a month, low sugar and as natural as possible protein bars, brown rice, quite a bit of extra virgin olive oil, avocados here and there, all natural peanut butter, and reluctantly ... salads.  The tough part, of course, is not adding all of the other stuff that destroys my diet plan.  It's on going battle.  But these food definitely help provide energy and aid in recovery, and help make me a better runner.
... be great today!


  1. Very nice. 9 out of 10 are on my daily regiment. all except quinwah. ill have to check it out. i have almonds spinach banana kale orange blueberry in a nutriblast every morning.

  2. I don't eat quinoa, because my super hippy progressive healthy food family force fed it to me as a child, so - no longer on my list of foods I enjoy! Almost everything else makes my plate, though.

  3. that is all good stuff, I probably need to eat more of those things above.

    And about Ray Lewis, I agree 100%. He definitely was responsible for more than he was charged with in that murder case a long time ago. I'm tired of hearing about Ray Lewis, when Patrick Willis of the 49ers is a better example. Note taken about Sharapova, I'll post some for sure!

  4. I've only just started using quinoa but I've found it to be a great base for other flavours. It's good to know that it's packed with nutrients too.

  5. I eat a lot of these foods although not as often as you are talking about. I do not eat: Quinoa, salmon or coconut water. Cooking/preparing quinoa intimidates me. Heck shopping for it intimidates me but I guess i need to get over it and try some.
    Good post.

  6. Another great post Jim. Most of what's on your list is on mine too. Not big on Coconut water and I have not tried quinoa. I love all fruits!

  7. I wish I liked salmon but I just can't tolerate most fish. Fish supplements work well for me :). I'm also not big on the coconut water. Avocados are one of the best fats for an ultra runner, too. Avocado wrapped in Romaine leaves with a tomato and some Annie's dressing - yummy!

  8. Thanks for the list - it's was nice reminder of some foods I basically forgot about completely. The one criticism I have is that (and I think everyone would agree with me), you are "great" runner!

  9. Thanks for the shout-out brother.

    You should also use spices to help with the inflammation reduction especially tumeric. That is truly beneficial to runners/triathletes in aiding them to recover from the daily grind.

  10. Great stuff Jim! I try to eat really healthy but there is always room for improvement. Adding blueberries to the grocery list right now. :)

  11. Just found your blog. Great stuff here. Big fan of quinoa. No one in my office gets it when I explain what it is, they still just think I'm eating brown rice. I'm in 10 for 10 for all things on the list. Salmon gets pricey though.

  12. Love the food lists! Good to see what is popular because I am working as an intern for a prominent sports nutritionist! I love working for free! No, really, I do...

  13. Oooo that's lots of good stuff. I can't even begin to pick my favorites.


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