A 2008 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that distance runners who took daily probiotic bacteria supplements increased the activity of their immune-boosting T-cells and cut the length of time they experienced upper respiratory tract infection symptoms by more than half.
Yogurt also contains a great mix of carbohdyrates and protein that working muscles need plus more bone-building calcium than milk. Kimball suggests seeking out thicker and creamier Greek-style yogurts, which contain up to twice as much protein as standard yogurts. To keep a lid on your intake of added sugars, choose plain yogurt and add nutritious sweetness in the way of fresh fruit.
Try this: TzaTziki Dip
To make a wonderful tzatziki dip, combine 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp. fresh chopped dill, 1/3 cup grated cucumber, 1 minced garlic clove and salt to taste in a bowl.
The Immune Booster: Kale
Secret Weapon: Vitamin A and C
A serving of this jaunty nutritional overachiever contains more than a day's worth of vitamins A and C, "two vitamins that women need to maintain a healthy immune system," says Kimball. Researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey conducted a review of studies and reported that increased intakes of vitamin C and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A that is abundant in kale) can reduce uterine cancer risk in women by 12 and 15 percent, respectively. Vitamin C is also required to make collagen, an important structural component of tendons, ligaments and bone.
Kale's ascension toward nutritional sainthood is further bolstered by huge amounts of vitamin K needed for proper blood clotting and bone health. Plus, kale is rich in the antioxidant duo lutein and zeaxanthin, which accumulate in the retina to help protect against vision loss. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, only about 14 percent of American women are eating the recommended three servings of vegetables daily. Read: Eat loads of kale!
Try this: Baked kale Chips
To make kale chips, tear the leaves off the stems of 1 bunch of kale and cut into bite-size pieces. Toss with 2 tsp. oil and sea salt to taste. Spread them out onto a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until just crisp.
The Restorer: Quinoa
Secret Weapon: Carbs and Protein
A sacred source of strength for the ancient Incas, quinoa offers a hearty helping of complex carbohydrates, which helps reload your muscle glycogen stores (your most important energy source during exercise) after a run. "Compared to other grains, quinoa has higher quality protein to help encourage post-exercise muscle recovery," adds Gidus. Studies suggest that women who trade in refined grains such as white pasta and rice for more nutrient-rich whole grains like quinoa have lower rates of heart disease and breast cancer and are less likely to become overweight. Quinoa also contains a wealth of magnesium, an often under-consumed mineral, which appears to act as a deterrent against diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. On top of its nutritional might, quinoa cooks up in half the time as brown rice. You can now find quinoa in many supermarkets and health food stores.
Try this: Apple Cider Quinoa
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of apple juice or apple cider, 1 cup quinoa and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until all the liquid has absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. Serve as a sidekick to fish, poultry or grass-fed beef as part of a post-workout meal.
Matthew Kadey is a Canada-based dietitian and food writer. Find him at wellfedman.com.