Dashing down the produce aisle, most runners regularly toss reliable vegetables into their cart: broccoli, an onion or two, a bunch of carrots, maybe a few tomatoes. Nothing really wrong with that, except that by passing up fennel, tomatillos, purple cauliflower, and other less common varieties, we're missing out on enjoying a full spectrum of nutrients — and some great new tastes.
"As runners, we need to get over the fear of trying new vegetables," says Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., a sports nutritionist and adjunct professor at the University of Miami. Each vegetable contains a different palette of nutrients: The wider the range of veggies you eat, the more types of nutrients your body gets.
Grocery stores and farmers' markets feature a huge variety of vegetables this time of year. Not sure what you should try first? Many of our go-to veggies have relatives, which makes it easy to start taste-testing. Once you try these close cousins, you'll never have to rely on plain old broccoli again.
If you like carrots...
Try celeriac and beets
These root vegetables taste far better than they look. Celeriac (or celery root) is particularly ugly, with a knobby, whiskered exterior. But peel that away, and you'll discover a creamy, potato-like interior with a hint of celery flavor. One cup provides 80 percent of your Daily Value (DV) for vitamin K and contains iron, calcium, and potassium. Fresh beets are deliciously sweet and firm with a ruby hue. They're high in potassium, which helps prevent cramping, and magnesium, which Dorfman calls the "overlooked mineral" because runners may not realize its vital role in muscle contraction. Beets also contain anthocyanidins that can help lessen inflammation.
If you like tomatoes...
Try tomatillos and ground cherries
Native to the tropics, tomatillos and ground cherries look like little green tomatoes except for the papery husk that loosely covers the fruit. Ground cherries turn yellow when ripe and develop a sweet pineapple flavor. Tomatillos are best when green; that's when their tart flavor lends zip to salsas, fish, and chicken dishes. Tomatillos contain a compound called ixocarpalactone A, which may halt the growth of cancer cells, according to preliminary research at a number of universities. Both supply vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that may help control cholesterol.
If you like spinach...
Try mustard greens, endive, and radicchio
Peppery mustard greens deliver lots of beta carotene and phytochemicals that may help combat cancer. One cup of endive (Belgian and curly are two common varieties) provides 22 percent of your DV for vitamin A. Both endive and tangy radicchio are very high in bone-protecting vitamin K, providing more than your Daily Value. Radicchio has loads of antioxidants that combat muscle-damaging free radicals produced during exercise. "By consuming foods high in antioxidants, you'll likely recover better from tough workouts," says Dorfman.
If you like broccoli...
Try Romanesco cauliflower, purple cauliflower, and broccolini
These vegetables are all members of the brassica genus, which contains cancer-fighting compounds called isothiocyanates, but each looks wildly distinctive. Romanesco cauliflower is pale green with impressively spiky florets. Purple cauliflower contains anthocyanins, antioxidants similar to those found in grapes that produce its show-stopping color. Broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, with delicate florets and asparagus-size stalks. All three taste similar to regular cauliflower and broccoli and share their nutritional benefits: Broccolini delivers plenty of vitamins C and K. Romanesco and purple cauliflower contain potassium and folate, a B vitamin that helps build new cells.
If you like onions...
Try leeks and fennel
Look beyond onions to other bulbs that pack flavor. Leeks look like overgrown scallions and have a mild onion flavor tastiest when cooked. They deliver iron and allicin, an antibiotic that may help fight tumors, reduce cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and lower blood pressure. Chop before washing to release grit in their stalks. Fennel is a crunchy white bulb, tasting faintly of black licorice, and it's especially valuable to runners because it contains anethole, an anti-inflammatory compound that can inhibit stomach spasms and relieve cramping.
In the Kitchen
Easy ways to prepare less-than-common veggies.
When preparing something new, says Nina Planck, author of The Farmers' Market Cookbook, start basic. "The first time you cook a vegetable that's new to you, use the simplest method possible, so you know what it tastes like. Then you can really start experimenting."