The world of vitamins, supplements and ‘super foods’ can be a bit of a maze for those who aren’t used to supplementing their nutritional intake. For most runners, a healthy blend of proteins, carbs and essential fats can provide us with the energy we need to tackle everything from an Ironman race to a mini-marathon. It never hurts to obtain the best we can from Nature, however, and this doesn’t mean overspending on expensive items from health shops. In this post, we offer just four items to add you can easily add to your diet, which will boost energy levels, keep stress at bay and even help you achieve an optimal state of mind before a big race. Best of all, they are all affordable and easily accessed.
Natural Stress Busters: One of the most oft-ignored conditions in serious runners is stress – tension, anxiety and even depression can hit before an important run or even during the lead-up to an important event, especially when an athlete feels stuck in a plateau, frustrated because they are not able to improve their times or make progress in areas like strength and stamina. These emotions often cause athletes resort to artificial artificial performance enhancers, in a self-destructive effort to artificially enhance their performance. Steroids carry a host of side-effect which, in the long run, are detrimental to a long, fruitful career in running. There are a host of natural stress busters which can do wonders for a runner’s moods during tense periods. One of these is Sam-E (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine), an amino acid which occurs naturally in the body and which can become depleted in moments of physical and mental stress. A groundbreaking study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 found that Sam-E has powerful anti-depressant effects, producing double the response rate in patients with depression, as compared to those in a placebo group. What makes Sam-E so special is that it is all-natural, and boasts a strong safety record. It has additional perks for runners too, since it confers great benefits to the joints, stopping and even reversing degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids, taken in supplement form and found in foods like walnuts and wild salmon, has also been found to stave off depression, improve the mood and aid with everything from anxiety to sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction.
Amazing Adaptogens: Adaptogens are agents which combat stress in a non-specific way, intensifying the body’s ability to resist an array of stressors. Adaptogens are non-toxic and have the unique ability to normalize functions in the body – i.e. they tend to lower blood pressure in those suffering from high blood pressure, and vice-versa, making them such a powerful ally, particularly for those who subject the body to tough physical workouts. Some of the most powerful adaptogens include Panax Ginseng (which boosts the immunity), Echinacea (which boasts powerful antibiotic and antiviral properties, keeping athletes in tip-top condition by enabling them to resist cold and flu bugs) and Eleuthero (which combats joint pain, muscle spasms and fatigue). Panak Ginseng and Eleuthero are most potent when taken in root form. Echinacea can be found in pill or liquid form.
Raw foods: If you’re already sourcing your fruits and vegetables from organic famers, then you’re on to a good thing. To obtain the maximum benefits from these natural bounties, try to consume them raw a few times a week. Raw fruits and vegetables contain around a third more vitamins and minerals than when they are cooked, but you do need to conduct your research beforehand, because this general rule does not apply across the board. According to an important study published in the Journal of Food Science, while some of the most popular veggies (like zucchini, peas, Swiss chard, peppers and cauliflower) lose significant nutritional value when cooked, others, like green beans and garlic, retain their antioxidant powers even after being subjected to most cooking methods. Still other vegetables (including celery, carrot and broccoli) are actually more nutritious when cooked.
Sprouts: When we allow seed, pulses or grains to sprout, they convert into potent energy factories, manufacturing a host of useful nutrients. Additionally, their vitamin content soars. Take wheat grains – sprouting them increases their Vitamin E content threefold! Vitamin B and C content is also increased.
Sprouting additionally neutralizes the abundant ‘enzyme inhibitors’ in foods like chickpeas, mung beans and lentils. Enzyme inhibitors make foods difficult to digest, often causing bloating and discomfort. When it comes to running, it is important to be nutritionally fortified yet light on your feet, so sprouts are a great ally to include in your diet as often as you can. Best of all, you don’t need to spend inordinate amounts on ‘designer sprouts’ at health food stores and supermarkets; rather, you can simply make your own sprouts at home. This helpful post by Biologist, author and popular blogger, Leslie Kenton, will take you a long way towards building your own little garden of sprouts.
By Lily Hardcastle