This article is adapted from a talk delivered at our 2016 September Algarve Training Camp for further details on attending a camp please click here.
The following outlines some evidence for and handful of foods that make us fitter i.e. they are considered to positively impact our health, and those that make us faster, in that they have been shown to improve running or sports performance.
Before we begin…
We’re surrounded by information – all day everyday, and nutrition is possibly the worst culprit when it comes to grabbing headlines and findings of scientific studies being blown out of proportion. Take time to question what you read and you’ll find that instead of following the trends, you stick to your own plan and your training and racing may improve as a result.
Foods that make you fitter
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Eating plants simply makes sense as a runner. Dark green leafy veg are associated with many positive health outcomes, such as reduced disease or cancer risk so eating a broad range covers many bases. They are also a good source of antioxidants, flavonoids and calcium, whilst acting as an important secondary source of iron (see here for an article on why that’s good). Something to bear in mind though is that they contain little to no carbohydrate so whilst a great accompaniment to a meal, they contribute minimally in terms of fuel. That said eating your greens often generally leads to a decreased risk of disease and an improvement in health…so what are you waiting for?
Fish oils like dark green leafy vegetables tick a number of boxes, possibly making them a lifelong supplement or accompaniment to a strong diet.
Fish oils are known to improve brain activity, blood flow and vascular function. They may also help with memory and in combatting muscle soreness, with emerging research into immunity, muscle growth and body composition also suggesting positive things. The only caveat being to consult your doctor or a dietician if you’re currently taking blood-thinning medication, before supplementing with fish oils. Try and eat oily fish such as salmon or mackerel twice a week, and use this supplement as a top up…just be thankful we no longer have to take it by the spoonful!
Foods that make you faster
The pink stuff has been in vogue for a while now, and we’re still learning more and more about it. Beetroot juice is a convenient source of dietary nitrate, although green vegetables are also fantastic (see above!). The body converts nitrate to nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure, and the cost of exercise. Supplementing with beetroot juice has been shown to improve runners’ performance in time trial and time to exhaustion tests by as much as x%. There is a downside however, beetroot juice is less effective in elite athletes, so loading protocols are often recommended for this group. For the rest of us mere mortals 2-3 beetroot shots 90minutes before the big race should suffice.
Coffee is a cracker: a source of caffeine and capable of a brilliant boost to running performance. 1-2 cups about 2 hours before a long run, hard training session or race can have a number of benefits including but not limited to improved power output and production, and increased fat oxidation. Some athletes experience stomach issues following coffee so consider caffeine gum, or swilling a caffeine containing energy drink in your mouth as an alternative if you’re susceptible. Coffee has previously received criticism as being dehydrating – some recent research refutes this, and with coffee consumption being positively associated with a number of other health outcomes it makes sense to be smart with your daily cup of java!
Where do I go from here?
The first step is to question claims made in the press, and online. Unfortunately there are no quick dietary fixes or super boosters when it comes to running performance. However, try things out in training, monitor how you go and incorporate what you find works for you into your racing.
For further insight into your diet, why not consider a nutrition review?