Most supermarkets stock more than 30,000 items, yet every time we race up and down the aisles of the grocery store, we usually toss the same 10 to 15 foods into our carts. Which isn’t such a bad thing, as long as you’re taking home the right foods—ones that will keep you healthy, fuel peak performance, and easily make up lots of delicious meals. So before your next trip to the grocery store, add the following 15 foods to your must-buy list. Then, when you get home, use our tips and recipes to easily get them into your diet and onto your menu.
Runners should eat a small handful of almonds at least three to five times per week. Nuts, especially almonds, are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that many runners fall short on because there are so few good food sources of it. Studies have shown that eating nuts several times per week lowers circulating cholesterol levels, particularly the artery-clogging LDL type, decreasing your risk of heart disease. And the form of vitamin E found in nuts, called gamma-tocopherol (a form not typically found in supplements), may also help protect against cancer.
To incorporate almonds into your diet, add them and other nuts to salads or pasta dishes, use as a topping for casseroles, or throw them into your bowl of hot cereal for extra crunch. Combine with chopped dried fruit, soy nuts, and chocolate bits for a healthy and tasty trail mix. Or spread almond butter over whole-grain toast or on a whole-wheat tortilla, top with raisins or banana, and roll up for a solid prerun snack. Store all nuts in jars or zipper bags in a cool dry place away from sunlight, and they’ll keep for about two to four months. Storing them in the freezer will allow them to keep an extra month or two.
One egg fulfills about 10 percent of your daily protein needs. Egg protein is the most complete food protein short of human breast milk, which means the protein in eggs contains all the crucial amino acids your hard-working muscles need to promote recovery. Eat just one of these nutritional powerhouses, and you’ll also get about 30 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin K, which is vital for healthy bones. And eggs contain choline, a brain nutrient that aids memory, and leutin, a pigment needed for healthy eyes. Choose omega-3 enhanced eggs to increase your intake of healthy fats. Don’t worry too much about the cholesterol: Studies have shown that egg eaters have a lower risk for heart disease than those who avoid eggs.
Whether boiled, scrambled, poached, or fried (in a nonstick skillet to cut down on the need for additional fats), eggs are great anytime. Use them as the base for skillet meals such as frittatas. Or include them in sandwiches, burritos, or wraps as you would meat fillers. You can also add them to casseroles and soups by cracking one or two in during the last minute of cooking.
Sweet potato fries
3. Sweet Potatoes
This Thanksgiving standard should be on the plates of runners year-round. Just a single 100-calorie sweet potato supplies more than 250 percent of the DV for vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, and the two trace minerals manganese and copper. Many runners fail to meet their manganese and copper needs, which can have an impact on performance since these minerals are crucial for healthy muscle function. There are even new sweet-potato varieties that have purple skin and flesh and contain anthocyanidins, the same potent antioxidant found in berries.
Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, or microwaved. You can fill them with bean chili, low-fat cheese, and your favorite toppings, or you can incorporate them into stews and soups. Baked as wedges or disks, sweet potatoes make delicious oven fries. Don’t store sweet potatoes in the fridge because they will lose their flavor. Instead, stash them in a cool, dark place, and they should keep for about two weeks.
4. Whole-Grain Cereal With Protein
While cereals in general get a bad rap, not all cereals are created equal. Skip cereals made of refined grains and packed with sugar. Instead, look for whole-grain cereals that offer at least five grams of fiber and at least eight grams of protein. Dietary fiber from whole grains helps reduce cholesterol levels, may lower your risk of heart disease, and aids healthy bowel function so your next run won’t involve sprinting to the bathroom. Added protein will keep you feeling fuller longer.
Of course whole-grain cereal is excellent for breakfast—a meal you don’t want to skip since research indicates that those who eat breakfast are healthier, trimmer, and can manage their weight better than non-breakfast eaters. Cereal also makes a great postrun recovery meal with its mix of carbohydrates and protein. Or you can sprinkle whole-grain cereal on top of yogurt, use it to add crunch to casseroles, or tote it along in a zip bag for a snack.
Eat enough oranges and you may experience less muscle soreness after hard workouts such as downhill running. Why? Oranges supply over 100 percent of the DV for the antioxidant vitamin C, and a recent study from the University of North Carolina Greensboro showed that taking vitamin C supplements for two weeks prior to challenging arm exercises helped alleviate muscle soreness. This fruit’s antioxidant powers also come from the compound herperidin found in the thin orange-colored layer of the fruit’s skin (the zest). Herperidin has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure as well.
Add orange sections to fruit and green salads, or use the orange juice and pulp for sauces to top chicken, pork, or fish. And to benefit from the antioxidant herperidin, use the orange zest in baking and cooking. Select firm, heavy oranges, and store them in the fridge for up to three weeks. Orange zest can be stored dried in a glass jar for about a week if kept in a cool place.