Like many people, I used to only eat fish at restaurants – mainly because I had no real idea how to cook fish well. I’d also worry about what “sushi grade” fish meant and where on earth to find it – it’s not as though there’s a “sushi grade” aisle in your supermarket. Discovering my local fishmongers help reassure me of the latter, and “sushi grade” basically means “really fresh” which is what you should find when you have unpackaged fish on ice rather than the stuff that’s been sealed in plastic packaging for days at a time. You also have to eat it pretty much the same day, and no more than a day later, so it’s not something to purchase ahead.
Fish is truly one of the best superfoods for runners. It’s as close to pure protein as you can find, low in fat and empty calories, and packed full of powerful nutrients such as Omega-3s, calcium and vitamin D. All of these are essential in building and repairing muscle, enhancing cardiovascular function, reducing inflammation and other oxidative stress, and increasing bone density and repair. Basically, everything you need to become a stronger runner. Which is ironic as you can’t run in the sea, but there you go – we left the oceans for good reason!
- Omega 3: post exercise recovery
Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation after a run, which can improve tissue repair and reduce (and even help prevent) muscle and joint pain. Research has also shown that omega-3s can help improve airflow and improve lung function, thanks to their anti-inflammatory effect. They’re also linked to making your kids brainy, and no doubt there’s some science to show it’ll work with adults as well – although not sure there’s any link between being brainy and being a good runner…
Salmon and oily fish are a great source of omega-3s, as are eggs, chia seed, flax seed and hemp.
2. Vitamin D: Reducing Injury
Vitamin D is best known for its role in maintaining bone health. It helps the body absorb calcium from food and decrease risk of future stress fractures. From a training perspective, a number of new studies show vitamin D is required for the activation of certain enzymes involved in muscle stimulation, as well as for the nerves to carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body. Vitamin D is unique in that it can be obtained from foods but can also be synthesized by our own bodies through exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D is one of four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) meaning that it needs adequate dietary fat to be absorbed. Therefore, fat-containing foods are often good sources of vitamin D. The following are some examples:
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, catfish, sardines and mackerel; also fish liver oil. Smaller amounts in foods like egg yolks and cheese
How to get it: Three ounces of salmon packs about 450 IU. Other sources: Egg yolks, milk
3. Calcium: bone building
Contrary to popular wisdom, running has been proven to strengthen bone and reduce skeletal injury – but only if there’s enough available calcium in your body to build bone mass (rather than draw away from it if you’re calcium deficient). Ensure at least two portions of dairy each day – and that includes that found in fish. I’m also a big fan of Skyr yoghurt (with vitamin C rich fruit to aid absorption) and cottage cheese. Kale and broccoli are also calcium rich vegan alternatives. Tahini, almond butter and hemp seed milk are also great plant powered sources of calcium.