We typically think of farmers markets in the summer when we’re obsessing over watermelon, ice-cold lemonade, and early morning runs to beat the heat. As the days get shorter and the weather turns cooler and grayer, many of us may forget that there are plenty of fall produce options that are seasonal for the fall.
As runners, we want to include varied sources of fruits and vegetables in our diets to help provide all of the vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes necessary for our working muscles. Food can be medicine for our bodies, playing a role in muscle building and recovery, decreasing inflammation, and helping improve immunity. Many winter produce items are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber (important for energy and satiety, respectively), as well as in vitamins A and C (antioxidants that can help with immunity). “Vitamin C can also support muscle recovery,” says Melissa Daniels, nutritionist and director of managed plans at G-Plans.
To get the most nutrition bang for your buck this autumn and winter, focus on these antioxidant-heavy produce options to help fight the winter blues and improve recovery after those cooler runs.
Healthy, Seasonal Fall Produce Ideal for Runners
“Just by looking at their bright orange hue, it signifies being rich in beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A that helps support bone health and a healthy immune system,” says Daniels. Sweet potatoes are also excellent sources of vitamin A and vitamin C, with one medium sweet potato providing 120 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the recommended daily values. They are a sweeter alternative to the regular potato, and their bright color gives them an extra antioxidant boost. Sweet potatoes offer adequate potassium, magnesium, and manganese, electrolytes that are often lost through sweat and exercise. These electrolytes help with muscle contraction, maintaining a normal blood pressure and blood sugar, and regulating fluid and mineral balance in cells, all of which are important for long endurance exercise.
Sweet potatoes are also a source of complex carbohydrates, perfect for eating before a run. “Sweet potatoes are easy to digest while providing a regulated and steady stream of glucose into the bloodstream. This will decrease runners experiencing the ‘hitting the wall’ effect,” says Daniels.
Daniels offers one last sweet potato pro-tip: leave the skin on (if it works for your recipe, of course). Like other fruit and vegetable skin, sweet potato skin is rich in fiber. “Fiber helps keep the digestive tract regular and improve blood cholesterol,” she says. One un-peeled sweet potato is about 13 percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber.
How to Use Sweet Potatoes: Roast them as fries, cube them and add them to your chili or stir fry, mash them up and throw them in burgers, or try Daniels’ sweet potato pie oatmeal: Add half of a cooked, mashed sweet potato to ¾ cup of cooked oatmeal; mix in 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Top with chopped pecans.
Pomegranates are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and fiber. They also boast several antioxidant and bioactive plant compounds known as polyphenols that are health powerhouses. According to this recent research published in Sports Science, pomegranate juice contains more polyphenols than other beverages touted for their antioxidant concentration, such as cranberry juice, grape juice, and red wine. It has also been shown to alleviate soreness, accelerate recovery, and improve weightlifting performance. Some research has shown that pomegranates may help reduce inflammation in different areas, including the gastrointestinal tract, and may also help with joint pain.
How to Use Pomegranates: The seeds are the edible (and tasty) part of a pomegranate. While it can take a bit of labor to get those sweet, tart, juicy seeds out, they make great additions to salads, desserts, and savory dishes. They can also be a tasty snack on their own, either pre- or post-run.
Citrus season peaks in the cold months (sumo citrus, an easy-to-peel, intensely flavorful relative of the orange, is only available for a few months around January). Adding some tart and tangy citrus to your winter dishes can not only brighten them up, but also add some extra vitamin C to your diet to boost immunity. A 2019 study out of the University of Massachusetts found that adding orange peel and zest to every day recipes was effective in reducing gut inflammation. They are currently looking for a way to create a higher concentrated supplement to treat diseases associated with gut inflammation like irritable bowel disease or colorectal cancer.
If you usually stick to just navel oranges, branch out and try the deep-hued blood orange or cara cara orange, which tastes like a mix between an orange and a grapefruit. Citrus fruits are about 88 percent water, making them a great way to boost hydration.
How to Use Citrus: Add some supremes to your salad, or pair your favorite tart fruit with a handful of nuts for a pre- or post-run snack.
There are an array of beautiful choices that fall under the winter squash category, including butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, and more. A fall produce favorite, squash are known for their yellow and orange flesh and sweet, starchy consistency. They are packed with complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6, helping the body produce energy and simultaneously reduce inflammation. Winter squash also provide modest amounts of a handful of micronutrients, including copper, manganese, potassium, folate, and magnesium, to keep your body functioning optimally.
Because of the incredible amount of variety in winter squash, Lori Fiorvich, who grows nearly 60 varieties on her family farm in California, recommends shopping for them adventurously. Each one will have a different texture and flavor. “If you ever go to a farmers market and there’s somebody that’s got some really rad, rare squash or one that they didn’t grow a lot of, go for that guy,” she says. “They all have different characteristics and things you’re going to like or not like.”
How to Use Winter Squash: They taste great roasted on their own or diced, cubed and added to pasta, soups, chilis, and salads. You can also make your own puree and add it to smoothies and oatmeal.
Beets, or beetroots, are known for their earthiness, but the stunning fuchsia-hued root vegetable is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Beets are also a valuable source of folate to help with energy production, as well as potassium and magnesium, among other electrolytes. If you want to skip the mess of peeling beetroots, consider buying them canned or in juice form. Beets and beet juice are powerful sources of inorganic nitrates, which may help lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and enhance oxygen flow and use — sometimes by as much as 20 percent. There is also a great deal of research linking the nitrates in beets to enhanced athletic performance and longer time-to-exhaustion while exercising.
How to Use Beets: Throw beets into a food processor with some tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to make beet hummus. You can also toss them in olive oil and spices and roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice them over salads or mix them in with grains to help reduce post-exercise inflammation.