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Foods Runners Can Use

By Beth Moxey Eck - from Runner's World Magazine

In those early Popeye comics, you'll recall how our sailor-man hero would always inhale a can of spinach every time he found himself in a jam--which usually consisted of being pummeled by Brutus. After downing the green stuff, Popeye's muscles would bulge, and he'd pop Brutus right in the kisser, sending him flying through the air. Spinach was the original "quick fix" but may not always be the best choice in every situation.

Runners get in jams, too. Long runs loom. Workouts don't go well. Races leave you depleted. Well, it turns out there are quick-fix foods for these situations as well--and others besides. For this story, we looked at 10 common scenarios that runners face while training and racing, then found ways to literally eat to win. And each fix is backed up by the latest scientific research.

We also found 10 more foods to help you in difficult life situations, such as when you're feeling low, or you can't sleep, or you become forgetful. All told, 20 easy-to-prepare foods that'll make you leaner, meaner, and more energized. And they all taste better than spinach.

1. Before a short run or race
The food: Coffee
The Benefit: A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that runners who drank 11/2 cups of coffee (containing about 3 grams of caffeine) prior to running 1500 meters ran faster times and had higher max VO2 levels than those who didn't drink any coffee. In addition, related studies have suggested that the antioxidants in coffee can help cut the risk of developing both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Just keep in mind that coffee's energizing effect is that of a stimulant; it doesn't provide true energy calories.

2. The week of your race taper
The Food: Oranges
The Benefit: Stay healthy during this crucial week by sucking down an orange a day--each one packs 75 milligrams of vitamin C. For even better reinforcement, eat organic oranges, which according to research from the American Chemical Society, may contain as much as 30 percent more vitamin C than conventionally grown oranges.

3. Before a long run
The Food: Peanut butter
The Benefit: Peanut butter is super-high in vitamin E, the most potent antioxidant vitamin in foods. For prerace energy, spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on half a bagel, and eat it 2 hours before race time. The good fats (monounsaturated) in peanut butter will "stick to your ribs" and help you feel full. Plus, you'll be energized with slow-release carbohydrates. Bonus: Recent data from the Nurse's Health Study indicates that peanut butter and nuts can help reduce the risk of Type-2 diabetes in women.

4. After a short race
The Food: Cottage cheese
The Benefit: Cottage cheese is full of protein for muscle repair, and it's a good calcium source as well, making it the perfect postrun treat (eat 1/2 cup to 1 cup). It also contains linoleic acid, which boosts memory and protects against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Bonus: Adding 1 cup of fresh blueberries will give you 19 grams of carbohydrate for recovery fuel. Or, to help with rehydration, mix in cantaloupe or honeydew, both of which are 90-percent water.

5. The night before a marathon
The Food: Pasta plus a side salad
The Benefit: Stick with one serving of traditional pasta to carbo-load your muscles, but have it with meat sauce and include a high-protein salad as well. Mix greens with vegetables, chickpeas, cheese, diced ham, or soynuts for a healthy, protein-rich side dish that will keep you satiated through the night so you're not ravenous on race morning.

6. After a strength-training session
The Food: Tuna fish
The Benefit: Research has shown that runners need about 50 to 70 percent more protein than the average couch potato, which means you should eat 75 to 100 grams a day, depending on your body size and mileage. This is especially important if you're strength training, as lifting weights increases your protein needs even more. Eating just 3 ounces of white tuna fish will supply you with about 20 grams of protein.

7. During a long race
The Food: Honey
The Benefit: An excellent source of carbohydrate, honey has been shown to effectively keep blood glucose levels high for optimal endurance. Three studies done at the University of Memphis Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab report that honey is just as good as energy gels when eaten before and during a workout. One of the studies showed that cyclists who ate 15 grams of honey before a 40-mile race and every 10 miles during the race increased their power and speed.

8. The first meal after a marathon
The Food:
Clams over whole-wheat pasta
The Benefit: A 3-ounce serving of clams contains 24 milligrams of iron and zinc, while 1 cup of cooked whole-wheat macaroni packs 37 grams of carbohydrates. Since your immune system is weakened after a marathon, the zinc in clams can help boost your immunity, which will lower your risk of getting a cold or the flu. The zinc will also repair muscle tissue damage that occurred during the race, and the pasta will restock your carbohydrate stores.

9. The week after a marathon
The Food: Meat stir-fry
The Benefit: To refortify your depleted immune system the week after the big race, you need vitamin C. And you'll get this by eating plenty of vegetables such as green and red peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli. For an added bonus, eat green, leafy vegetables to boost folate levels, which will help decrease cancer risk. Adding meat rebuilds muscle tissue.

10. When You have a joint injury
The Food: Glucosamine and gelatin
The Benefit: According to several studies, supplemental glucosamine--about 1,500 milligrams daily--helps soothe joint pain, possibly by stimulating cartilage growth. Most recently, a study from Harvard has shown osteoarthritis improvements with gelatin-based products. Yes, there's always room for Jell-O.

Special thanks to Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Penn State University, for her assistance with this article.

And now for the rest of your life
Because eating well can improve more than just your running, here are 10 more research-proven foods to make you happier and healthier.

1. The sleep enhancer: Turkey
You sleep better after eating turkey because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is the building block for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of calmness and drowsiness. So the next time you have trouble sleeping, try a turkey sandwich.

2. The Memory Booster: Blueberries
Preliminary studies on blueberries suggest they may help prevent mental decline as we age. Florida researchers recently found that blueberries reduced age-related brain damage in rats. These findings, along with preliminary results from a human study, suggest that
1 cup of blueberries a day may be the secret to preventing Alzheimer's.

3. The Pregnancy Helper: Enriched Breads (Folic Acid)
Folic acid may help guard against gestational hypertension, cervical cancer, and the risk of neural-tube defects in fetuses. It's important for women to get the proper amount of folic acid (Daily Value for women is 400 micrograms, the amount in most daily vitamins) before becoming pregnant. Folic acid has been added to some foods, such as enriched breads, pastas, rice, and cereals, but can also be found in supplement form.

4. The Sex-Drive Booster (Men): Oysters
Oysters are one of the most concentrated food sources of zinc--a nutrient that is key in the production of testosterone. In fact, six raw oysters contain 76 milligrams of zinc. Eat 'em over pasta or on the half-shell.

5. The Mood Lifter: Chocolate
According to a recent issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, chocolate can be an antidepressant. The carbs and fats in chocolate flood the brain with feel-good endorphins and hormones. They also release peptides in the brain that have an antidepressant effect. Plus, another compound in chocolate, called phenylethylamine (PEA), has been shown to boost mood in depressed people.

6. The Breast-Cancer Fighter: Eggs
A preliminary study published in Breast Cancer Research reported that teen girls who ate at least one egg a day reduced their risk of eventually getting breast cancer by 18 percent. Other nutrients associated with a reduction in breast-cancer risk were fiber and vegetable fats.

7. The Heart Protector: Cranberry Juice
A study presented at the recent American Chemical Society meeting reported that drinking three glasses of antioxidant-rich cranberry juice a day significantly raises levels of "good cholesterol" (HDL) and may help reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

8. The Prostate-Cancer Fighter: Tomatoes
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight prostate cancer as well as heart disease. Aim for seven to 10 servings of tomato-based products each week. One tomato serving is equal to about 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce, one medium tomato, or one slice of pizza with sauce.

9. The Prostate-Cancer fighter (Part 2): Watermelon
A recent article published in the Journal of Nutrition reported that watermelon has even more lycopene than tomatoes. Bonus: Watermelon is also 92 percent water--making it a great choice for when you need to rehydrate after a run. Use it in fruit salsas or salads.

10. The Cholesterol Reducer: Oatmeal
Various studies on oatmeal have proven that the breakfast favorite can help reduce the risk of heart disease. One particular study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a daily serving of oat bran significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in healthy men and women. --B.M.E.

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