When you want to run strong, your diet can play an important role in reaching your goals. That means ditching the salty snacks and pumping up your meals with wholesome, fresh foods—the fruits, vegetables, meats, whole grains, and legumes you’ve come to love. Here are 10 nutrients health-minded runners should pay attention to, along with info on how to get more of them in your diet.
1. Vitamin A
Use it for: Keeping skin strong, bolstering eyesight so you can maintain sharp vision on night runs.
How Much? Men, 900 micrograms/day; women, 700 micrograms/day
How to get it: One baked sweet potato packs over 500 percent of your daily value. Other sources: kale, cantaloupe.
2. Vitamin B12
Use it for: Helping your body break down the fat and protein you eat for the energy you need to get through a workout. It also assists in forming new red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body. Deficiency can lead to a type of anemia—and fatigue.
How Much? 2.4 micrograms/day (men and women). Getting more than the RDA—i.e. supplements or shots—won’t net you more energy.
How to get it: A 3-ounce burger packs almost your entire daily value with 2.2 micrograms of B12. Other sources: milk and fortified foods (like breads and cereals).
Use it for: Supporting bone and teeth health—that’s where 99 percent of your calcium is stored. It’s also an electrolyte, aiding muscle and blood vessel contraction.
How Much? 1,000 milligrams/day
How to get it: One cup of milk packs about 30 percent of your daily value, although fortified non-dairy drinks (almond, cashew milk) offer a more impressive 45 percent. Other sources: tofu, spinach, and chia seeds.
Use it for: Metabolism, and helping your body form a specific neurotransmitter necessary for good muscle control, memory, and focus. Sufficient choline can increase your time to fatigue as well, says Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., author of Legally Lean: Sports Nutrition Strategies for Optimal Health & Performance.
How Much? Men, 550 milligrams/day; women 425 milligrams/day. However, about half of the population may have a gene variant that decreases your ability to absorb the nutrient, says Dorfman. Signs are lethargy and weight loss—in that case, you may need to eat more choline-packed foods.
How to get it: One whole egg (the yolk is the sweet spot) contains 610 milligrams. Other sources: wheat germ and turkey.
5. Vitamin C
Use it for: Building collagen in your skin to keep it plump and smooth. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant to sop up the free radicals you’re exposed to on a run, like pollution. Eaten with non-animal sources of iron (like lentils), C will aid absorption of the energy mineral.
How Much? Men, 90 milligrams/day; women, 75 milligrams/day.
How to get it: Two small kiwis offer over 100 percent of your daily quota. Other sources: Strawberries, red peppers.
6. Vitamin D
Use it for: Reducing injuries. “A 2012 study found that when vitamin D was low in a group of runners, they had a biomarker for increased inflammation,” says sports dietitian Linda Samuels, M.S., R.D. Low D can increase your risk for inflammation-related muscle injury.
How much? 600 IU/day (men and women). Samuels recommends that runners living in cold climates get their levels checked with a blood test prior to spring training season.
How to get it: Three ounces of salmon packs about 450 IU. Other sources: Egg yolks, milk, and some mushrooms (certain brands are grown in a way that increases their vitamin D content).
7. Vitamin E
Use it for: Keeping your body young and resilient. Vitamin E steels your immune system against viruses and bacteria, acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant in the face of free radicals, and keeps blood vessels wide and pliable.
How Much? 15 milligrams/day (men and women).
How to get it: One ounce of almonds (about 23 kernels) offers 37 percent of your daily value. Other sources: sunflower seeds, olive oil.
Use it for: Maintaining a healthy weight, staying regular, regulating blood sugar, and lowering cholesterol.
How Much? Men, 38 grams/day; women, 25 grams/day. “Most of my runners eat half of what they need in a day,” says Dorfman. Though prior to a race, go easy on the fiber-rich foods, which can cause GI trouble.
How to get it: 1 cup of raspberries offers 8 grams of fiber. Other sources: beans, whole grains.
Use it for: Powering up muscles. “Iron transports oxygen in the blood and muscle,” says Samuels. “If you experience a decline in performance and feel exhausted more than usual, get a blood test to check your iron levels.”
How Much? Men, 8 milligrams/day; women, 18 milligrams/day. If your doctor finds you have low iron levels, he or she will put you on the appropriate supplement. (Translation: don’t take supplements on your own.)
How to get it: A ½ cup of lentils supplies 3 milligrams of iron. Other sources: red meat, dark meat poultry, and fortified cereals.
Use it for: Improving your ability to tackle a run. Magnesium does it all, creating 300 biochemical reactions in the body. One of the most important: it’s role in energy metabolism, says Samuels. “Magnesium is particularly important during a strenuous training session.”
How Much?Men, 400 milligrams/day; women, 310 milligrams/day. “Seven out of 10 people are deficient. If someone says ‘I’m tired,’ I consider they may be running low,” says Dorfman. Supplementing can cause side effects like diarrhea, so aim to eat more natural food sources of the mineral.
How to get it: One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides nearly one-fifth of your quota. Other sources: Swiss chard, beans.