The most recent slew of studies suggests that what you toss in your grocery cart can improve performance, prevent injury and bestow various health benefits. And certain foods can do all this while meeting the unique nutrition needs of women runners. We chewed our way through the supermarket to suss out foods that should be a staple on every woman runner's menu.
The Energizer: Grass-Fed Beef
Secret Weapon: Iron
Women runners are notorious for poor iron levels due to inadequate intake and losses from exercise and menstruation. "Because iron is needed to deliver oxygen to the brain and muscles, low levels can impair aerobic capacity and leave you feeling drained, sluggish and run down," says Molly Kimball, a sports dietitian at Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
Beef has significant levels of highly absorbable iron as well as top quality protein. According to Kimball, runners of the fairer sex should strive for 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight to support training. Three ounces of steak dishes out about 18 grams.
Consider going against the grain and splurging for grass-fed cuts. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef often has less saturated fat yet more omega-3 fats, vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which studies report may help shed body fat. Plus, levels of dangerous bacteria including E. coli are lower in beef raised on pasture. Look for the label "100 percent grass-fed and finished" or the green American Grassfed logo, which guarantees no antibiotics or hormones were used on the cattle. If you can't find grass-fed beef at your grocer or butcher, go to eatwild.com to find a local supplier.
Try this: Whole-Grain Pasta With Meat Sauce
In a large skillet, combine 1 pound ground grass-fed beef, 1 chopped onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves. Cook until meat is no longer pink. In a blender, mix 6 chopped tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. each dried oregano and basil, 1/2 tsp. sugar, 1/4 cup red wine and salt to taste. Add tomato mixture to meat and simmer about 20 minutes. Serve on top of whole-grain pasta.
The Joint Enforcer: Pomegranate
Secret Weapon: Antioxidants
To help stiff or sore joints move easier, try popping a handful of pomegranate seeds. Studies have honed in on the antioxidants in this juicy red fruit and its ability to suppress pro-inflammatory compounds associated with joint problems. "A diet rich in antioxidants can help to minimize a runner's muscle soreness and enhance recovery after a training session by knocking out free radicals," says Kimball. What's more, California researchers found that ellagic acid, a predominant antioxidant in pomegranate, may suppress breast cancer cell growth. For extra fiber to help dull hunger, choose the seeds in these red orbs over juice. Other fruits with a plethora of antioxidants include red grapes, blueberries and tart cherries.
Try this: Pomegranate Parfait
To concoct a parfait, place a dollop of plain yogurt in the bottom of a glass. Top with some granola and pomegranate seeds. Repeat the layers and top with a drizzle of pure maple syrup.
The Injury Thwarter: Almonds
Secret Weapon: Healthy Fat
Too many female runners shy away from high-fat foods like nuts, seeds and oils because of calorie concerns. But fat phobia can set you up for a sidelining injury. A 2009 University at Buffalo investigation discovered that female runners who suffered more lower body injuries, including stress fractures and tendonitis, consumed significantly fewer calories from fat than non-injured runners.