Spinach - The Strength Booster
Turns out Popeye was on to something. Spinach contains nitrates, compounds that past research shows can improve running performance by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to muscles. In a new study from the National Council of Research in Italy, scientists gave participants two cups of nitrate-rich spinach juice or a placebo for six days. The spinach juice group performed better on a series of strength tests and reported less fatigue.
Action plan: Eat spinach–or drink the juice–regularly. If the juice's potent flavor is too strong, try blending it in smoothies.
Tart Cherries - Improve Sleep & Reduce Inflammation
Tart cherry juice is rich in melatonin, a phytonutrient that can improve sleep (and you need quality sleep to keep your immune system strong and speed recovery postrun). In a study at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, subjects drank an ounce of tart cherry juice twice a day for a week. Those who drank the juice fell asleep faster, slept longer, and reported feeling more rested than those who had a placebo. The phytonutrients and antioxidants in tart cherries also help to reduce inflammation
Action plan: Add tart cherry juice to sparkling water, stir the dried fruit into oatmeal, or toss it in your trail mix.
Raisins - Pack A Punch and Boost Energy
Participants in a study by the University of California at Davis ran for 80 minutes and then completed a 5-K time trial while consuming water, or water and carb-based chews, or water and raisins. Researchers assumed the fiber in raisins might cause stomach distress. But runners who had raisins ran equally well as those who had energy chews–and both groups ran faster than those who only drank water.
Action plan: During long runs, have 1/4 cup of raisins, which supplies 33 grams of carbs, with water every hour you run.
Yeast - Wards Off Colds
Hard exercise lowers your immunity, but beta glucan (a carb in baker's yeast) may help. Runners in the 2011 Austin Marathon who took a beta glucan supplement for four weeks were sick fewer days postrace than a placebo group. Researchers from Western Kentucky University think it stimulates immune cells in mucous layers, creating a barrier against bugs.
Action plan: If you get sick during hard training, take a daily 250-milligram baker's yeast beta glucan supplement. Eating oats and mushrooms (two sources of less potent beta glucan) may also help.