Eight foods that can improve your marathon performance
Whether you'll be running Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon, cheering along the course or gritting your teeth until the streets reopen, you'll need to eat. Fortunately, foods that can make runners go longer and faster can make the rest of us healthier, too. ''People underestimate the power food has,'' said Nancy Clark, author of ''Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook.'' Clark says these foods can benefit nearly everybody.
Eat/drink this before the race if you are used to it. (If not, you risk what we'll politely call ''digestive difficulties'' during the race.)
Eat/drink this soon after the race.
Add this to your diet after the race so you can run better next year.
Natural nitrates in beets and beet juice reduce the amount of oxygen the body uses, so muscles require less energy to do the same amount of work. Muscles contract more efficiently, too. Clark said people with artery or lung disease who consume beets may be able to exercise more easily and enjoyably.
Caffeine ingested within an hour of exercise stimulates the central nervous system, making effort seem easier. Other potential benefits are improved focus, less pain and more-efficient fat burning – and maybe added stamina for spectators who plan to yell
''You got this!'' a few thousand times.
Healthful unsaturated fats in nuts can reduce the inflammation of muscle damage and can also benefit people with inflammation-related diseases such
as diabetes. Clark suggests eating nuts five or
more times per week. (Use nut butter pre-
race; whole nuts can be hard to digest.)
Recent studies have found that flavored milk helps depleted athletes recover. The milk provides high-quality protein (for rebuilding muscle), magnesium and calcium (for improved muscle function) and electrolytes sodium and potassium. The sweet flavoring adds needed carbs.
Dark fruits such as tart cherries and blueberries and purple grape juice contain antioxidants, which neutralize cell-damaging atoms called free radicals. By quelling free radicals, antioxidants can ease a host of ills, including arthritis, gout and muscle soreness from exercise.
Many runners' diets are short on iron, a necessary building block for red blood cells that transport oxygen from lungs to muscles. Lean beef is an excellent source of iron; it also provides zinc, which aids immune function and healing.
Research suggests that the flavanol antioxidants in dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or more) appear to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. While dark chocolate is not a perfect health food, Clark says a couple of squares a day won't hurt and might help.
In small studies of both mice and men, participants willingly ran farther (mice) or cycled longer (men) after taking quercetin, a chemical found in red apples and onions. Preliminary results suggest that quercetin may boost both motivation and capacity for exercise.
SOURCE: Nutritionist Nancy Clark RD; American College of Sports Medicine; John Ivy, professor of kinesiology and health education, University of Texas; WebMD.com; MayoClinic.com; National Institutes of Health; Journal of the American Medical Association.