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Nutrition

10 Upgrades That Will Make Runners’ Meals Instantly Healthier

Stir, sprinkle, or blend in these delicious, nutrient-packed ingredients to upgrade the run-supporting goodness of your staple meals.

When it comes to shoring up your health and taking your runs to the next level, there’s no better place to start than in the kitchen. And if you’re already kicking off your day with oatmeal, crunching your way through lunch salads and slurping up whole-grain pasta come dinnertime, you’re off to a great start. Yet, these go-to dietary staples can work harder for you by simply marrying them with other foods that deliver great tastes and a cocktail of must-have nutrients. In the spirit of value-added, give every meal or snack an upgrade with these stealth power food add-ins — all it takes is a sprinkle, stir or blend.

If You Eat Oatmeal…

Add: Sweet potato

Sweet potato oatmeal
Photo: Dilyara Garifullina / Unsplash

For many runners a morning bowl of steamy oatmeal is a staple, so why not look for ways to make it more of a nutritional hero? A good place to start is by stirring in mashed cooked sweet potato. Not only will the orange spud add creaminess and natural sweetness to your oatmeal but also a hefty dose of vitamin A, which the body uses to support bone, eye and immune health. (And who isn’t looking for ways to ramp up immunity these days?) Pair it with warming spices like cinnamon and cloves along with a touch of maple syrup and you have a morning porridge that tastes reminiscent of sweet potato pie.

If You Eat Sandwiches…

Add: Microgreens 

Microgreen sandwich
Photo: Alexandra Golovac / Unsplash

Although they are small, microgreens punch above their weight when it comes to flavor and nutrition. In general, research shows that microgreens such as broccoli and radish contain greater amounts of certain nutrients and antioxidants including vitamin E, vitamin C and carotenoids than their mature counterparts.

Why the nutrition boost? Microgreens are harvested when the plants are very young, so they are especially dense in the nutrition needed to grow into mature plants. That makes them a particularly beneficial addition to sandwiches, tacos and salads for athletes who have elevated nutrition needs to support training. Besides, their zippy flavors will most certainly wake-up your go-to turkey and cheese. Their short shelf-life calls for hasty use, however. Brands of packaged microgreens such as Upward Farms are increasingly populating supermarket vegetable aisles.

If You Eat Salads…

Add: Roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpeas in a glass container.
Photo: Deryn Macey / Unsplash

Chickpeas with crunch are an easy way to add new texture to a bowl of greens along with a hit of dietary fiber and plant-based protein. An ounce serving of roasted chickpeas contains about 6 grams each of fiber and protein. That will make your salad more satiating and better positioned to support muscular repair and growth if you’ve training hard. Chickpeas are also a great source of folate, a nutrient linked to a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes when consumed in higher amounts. You can try making a batch of your own roasted chickpeas in the oven or press the easy button and turn to a store-bought option such as Biena.

If You Eat Yogurt…

Add: Cacao nibs

cacao nibs in a pile on a table.
Photo: Getty Images

Take the beans used to make chocolate bars, pummel them into bits and you’re left with cacao nibs – chocolate virtually as close to its natural form as anything else available on store shelves. These crunchy gems with tempered bitterness offer up a payload of polyphenols — powerful antioxidant compounds that have been shown to improve heart health. Research has also found that consuming dark chocolate products may help elevate your VO2 max, or how efficiently you can use oxygen during workouts. Epicatechin, a flavonol that cacao nibs contain in spades, could help the mitochondria — the powerhouse of your cells — function more efficiently.

More good news: The crunch bunch also delivers healthy amounts of hunger-smashing fiber and magnesium, a frequently under-consumed mineral necessary for optimal bone health. And don’t forget that cacao nibs are also blissfully free of the added sugars pumped into most chocolate products. Look for brands of cacao nibs including Navitas Organics online or in health food shops. 

If You Eat Pancakes…

Add: Peanut butter powder

Peanut Butter Powder on a White Background.
Photo: Getty Images

Consider this nutty powder a low-calorie solution for infusing your weekend pancakes with a welcomed peanut butter flavor. Powdered peanut butter is made from whole roasted nuts that have been pressed to remove most of the oil and then the remaining nut particles are ground into a fine powder. What you’re left with is a more protein-dense product with significantly fewer calories than the creamy spread. An analysis of data from more than 30 studies reported in The BMJ linked higher protein intake overall and plant protein specifically to lower all-cause mortality risks.

You can substitute up to 1/3 of the regular flour in your standard pancake or waffle recipe with peanut butter powder for a stack that packs in more protein. It’s also great stirred into oatmeal or muffin batter. There are now more options for peanut butter powder coming on the market including PB Fit and PB2.

If You Drink Smoothies…

Add: Kefir

Bowl of kefir.
Photo: Ondacaracola photography / Getty Images

Time to give your post-run blender drinks a little sour power. Kefir is a dairy product created when milk is fermented by lactic acid bacteria and yeasts so has generated a lot of buzz lately as a source of probiotics including Lactobacillus that can help improve your digestive and immune health. In fact, it appears that kefir contains a higher population of these friendly critters than does yogurt.

Other nutritional highlights include healthy amounts of high-quality protein and calcium. And most kefir is fortified with typically hard-to-get vitamin D. Kefir is most often sold as a thick drink with a similar consistency to buttermilk. That makes it a great option for the backbone of creamy smoothies instead of milk. Just be sure to whirl in plain versions of kefir to side-step the added sugars included in flavored versions. 

If You Eat: Scrambled Eggs…

Add: Chipotle chili in adobo sauce

Chipotle chiles are dried, smoked jalapeños while adobo is a tangy, slightly sweet red sauce that the peppers are canned in. Put them together in a can and they become a versatile pantry staple that can add intense smoky heat to scrambled eggs. And doing so might be a recipe for longevity. A new study found that people who regularly eat chili peppers may be 26 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 23 percent less likely to die of cancer than those who prefer their cuisine to pack less of a fiery punch. This life-prolonging benefit might be in part linked to the chemical capsaicin, a naturally found chemical in chipotle and other hot peppers that is responsible for the spicy sensation.

If You Eat: Pasta…

Add: Smoked mackerel

Smoked fish fillets laid out in a row.
Photo: Getty Images

Perhaps the expression ‘Holy, Mackerel’ hails from the fact that this swimmer is a nutritional superstar? For starters, mackerel contains a boatload of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (more than salmon!) that have also been shown to help reduce muscle pain following exercise. It’s also a standout source of muscle-friendly protein, bone-strengthening vitamin D and the vitamin B12 you need for proper nervous system functioning. No-cook required smoked mackerel’s rich-tasting flesh can elevate a bowl of pasta, so skip the red sauce and make a meal consisting of whole-grain noodles, chunks of mackerel, sautéed vegetables and a generous drizzle of olive oil. The swimmer is also a good addition to scrambled eggs or sandwiches instead of less nutritious deli meat.

If You Eat: Pizza…

Add: Peppadew peppers

Pile of peppadew peppers from South African deli.
Photo: Getty Images

Whether homemade or delivered by the GrubHub guy, make your pie sing by tossing on these South African peppers. Peppadew peppers, a trademark name for piquante peppers, are blessed with a habit-forming sweet-fiery flavor that makes standard roasted red peppers pale in comparison. Like other peppers, they supply disease-fighting, metabolism-revving capsaicin as well as immune-friendly vitamin C and even a hit of dietary fiber. Look for Peppadews in the deli section of many grocery stores where they are often sold jarred in brine, or order online at peppadewusa.com. Get extra because after one taste you’ll be looking to add the rosy gems everywhere from salads to burgers to pasta.

If You Eat: Ice Cream…

Add: Hemp hearts

Heap of unshelled hemp seeds on white background.
Photo: Getty Images

If you’re going to enjoy a bowl of ice cream make it work harder for you nutritionally by ditching the rainbow sprinkles in favor of these groovy seeds. The seeds of the hemp plant that have had their teeth-rattling hard shell removed are a stand-out source of essential omega fatty acids, magnesium and plant-based protein – about 10 grams in a 3 tablespoon serving. The protein contained within hemp seeds has been determined to be ‘complete’ since it contains a full arsenal of essential amino acids, a rarity in the plant kingdom, which makes the nutty-tasting seeds useful for helping build lean body mass, a key aspect of injury prevention and improved power output. Two go-to brands we recommend are Manitoba Harvest and Bob’s Red Mill.