4 Summer Salads to Fuel Your Runs

This summer, turn your salad into a nutritional powerhouse full of the season's freshest produce. To sustain a runner through the intense summer heat, your salad needs powerful ingredients beyond your basic iceberg. "Especially in the summertime you don't want a heavy meal--the best solution is a great salad," says Carol Bradley, a registered dietician with the Texas Dietetic Association. "As a runner, you need quality ingredients, otherwise, you won't have the calories and nutrients necessary for your run."

Catherine Coccia, a registered dietitian in Tallahassee, Florida, says the best strategy for building a nutritious salad is to remember the five food groups: Incorporate a mix of vegetables, fruits, protein, whole grains and dairy. And don't forget a small amount of healthy fat from olive oil for optimum vitamin absorption. Coccia urges runners to think about how they combine salad ingredients. For example, the iron in meat is maximized in terms of absorption when consumed with Vitamin C sources such as oranges and spinach. Here are five simple steps to build a salad that not only satisfies, but also helps you run stronger.

Choose Your Greens Wisely: The most nutritious salads are built on a foundation of dark, leafy greens. You can keep the iceberg for crunch, but mix in spinach, romaine or arugula for nutritional benefits. Dark greens are loaded with nutrients, including iron, calcium, folate, beta-carotene, magnesium and Vitamins A, C and K to guard against heart disease and many types of cancers. Female runners, in particular, need diets rich in folate and iron to power them through long training sessions and races. "Runners can get depleted of their iron from heavy training," Coccia says. "It's important to restore that iron loss through daily food sources."

Keep Protein Lean: Ensure your salad is nutritionally complete with lean chicken, roasted turkey, salmon, shrimp or canned tuna. Coccia favors salmon, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. Potassium, one of the blood electrolytes, is essential for long runs because low levels in your system can lead to muscle cramping and fatigue. Grilled or boiled chicken is high in niacin and selenium and low in calories and fat. If you are a vegetarian, tofu, chickpeas and nuts are a quality source of protein and rich in flavor.

Add a Dose of Dairy: According to Coccia, the whey protein in dairy products is the most complete protein a runner can consume and contains ample amino acids for building muscle. Parmesan and feta cheese pack a lot of punch into just a tablespoon, allowing you to use a small amount to save calories without sacrificing on flavor. Soft, slightly sweet varieties like goat and Brie are lower in fat and calories than your standard cheddar or Swiss.

Use a Rainbow of Color: When choosing your fruits and veggies, Coccia and Bradley advocate variety and color. "The more color choices you can include in your salad, the better off you are," Bradley says. "By picking a variety of colors you are ensuring that you're consuming a variety of minerals." Red bell peppers, yellow squash, carrots, avocado, bright red tomatoes, mandarin oranges and dried cherries all get their colors from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that make them nutritional powerhouses. Bradley recommends fresh blueberries, strawberries and mandarin oranges for their water content, which helps runners to stay hydrated through long runs in the summer heat. Dried fruit such as dark cherries and cranberries provide high levels of antioxidants and melatonin, which helps to slow the aging process and regulate sleep. However, some types of dried fruits (pineapple, apricots, bananas) contain high amounts of sugar.

Top it Wisely: Whole-grains such as couscous, quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta turn a traditional salad into the ideal endurance fuel for runners. Complex carbohydrates such as whole-grains help to restore muscle glycogen stores after a long run. For flavor and crunch, sprinkle your salad with almonds or sunflower seeds, which are packed with healthy fats, protein and phytochemicals. When it comes to the dressing, choose a base of healthy oils, and remember, a little goes a long way. For portion control, consider using spray dressing, a tablespoon or a shot glass to measure instead of pouring straight from the bottle. Bradley recommends making your own dressing at home with lemon or orange juice, olive oil, vinegar, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and spices.

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