Open up any health and wellness website or cruise through the aisles of the grocery store, and chances are you’ll see the word superfood used more than a few times. Whether it is to describe the ingredients in a new product, encourage you to buy a new brand, or just make you more aware of the benefits surrounding the food you are eating, the term gets thrown around often.

But when it applies to running, just any superfood isn’t good enough. The denotation of superfood can mean many different things, ranging from its high content of a certain vitamin to its antioxidant volume and its high protein value. But if you want to find the ones that are for optimizing running results, it’s best to turn to science, and specifically these five superfoods:

Beet juice

If you haven’t jumped on the beet juice train yet, it’s not too late. And in fact, the research just continues to grow in support of this vibrant colored beverage. The science is simple: beet juice contains nitrate, and when you consume this, it mixes in your mouth with bacteria that convert it to nitrite. Later the nitrite is transformed in the body to nitric oxide. This nitric oxide is responsible for several mechanisms related to blood flow and oxygen. With this in mind, the research has supported that consuming beet juice, and in essence increasing ones’ nitric oxide, allows for improved oxygen utilization and blood flow throughout the body when engaging in endurance activities.

Tart cherry juice

Recovery is the name of the game here, and tart cherries are popping up more and more when it comes to helping athletes stay healthy and perform optimally. The secret sauce lies in their ability to offer anti-inflammatory benefits to athletes, as well as a high volume of antioxidants. During strenuous exercise, there is a lot of oxidative damage that occurs due to energy production, and antioxidants are a key player in removing these oxidative byproducts and allowing the muscles and body to return to optimal functioning. Coupled with tart cherry’s ability to exert anti-inflammatory effects on damaged muscles, and a daily dose may be just what your recovery plan is missing.

Cordyceps mushroom

The influx of mushrooms on the market, including Reishi, Cordyceps and Lion’s Mane, speaks to their increasing popularity of these ingredients amongst the general population. When it comes to running, however, they are more than just the latest trend. Cordyceps mushrooms have been shown in the literature to improve aerobic performance, as well as to increase antioxidant activity such that they help with reducing oxidative stress and aid in recovery. In other studies, measuring markers of stress, including cortisol, those participants taking the mushrooms showed a lower level of stress response to strenuous physical activity, hence reducing their risk of overtraining.

Spirulina

All you have to do is look at spirulina to know how healthy it is, that vibrant green powder you may have seen in the organic food store. A form of seaweed, spirulina has several mechanisms by which science has shown helps endurance athletes:

  • Source of Iodine – This is the mineral that is essential for healthy thyroid function. The thyroid plays a big role in regulating metabolism and energy, key bodily processes for successful running.
  • High in Protein – The protein power for spirulina is impressive, offering four grams for just a teaspoon-sized serving. In addition, it is high quality digestible protein that the body can easily assimilate.
  • Powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects – These have been shown to have a protective effect on the body, by helping facilitate muscle repair. Oxidative damage is often a contributor to muscle fatigue, and spirulina’s content of the active component phyocyanin, can help.

Broccoli sprouts

While you have likely heard of the importance of eating your broccoli, now you can take it one step further and focus on eating broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts, like all vegetables in the cruciferous family, are a rich source of sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a compound and natural antioxidant found in high levels in sprouts which have shown impressive health benefits to the body, including mitigating oxidative stress, reducing cancer risk, aiding in brain health to reduce Alzheimer’s risk and much more. While you can get an intake of sulforaphane from broccoli alone, as well as Brussel sprouts, cabbage or cauliflower, sprouts have been shown to have the highest content.

When it comes to running and performing at a high level, fueling alone isn’t enough. More than getting the right amount of food, we also need to pay attention to what those foods are and how they are helping optimize running performance.