Science Says Runners Perform Their Best When They Fuel Up On These 6 Foods

by Julia Guerra

Food and exercise go hand in hand. To perform well, you have to eat well, and to recover properly, you need to rehydrate and refuel with water and nutrient-dense meals. But the thing is, some foods are better than others when it comes to boosting athletic performance, especially running. In fact, according to the results of a new study, members of #teamcardio are often prone to digestive troubles. But the good news is, there are plenty of foods that are good for runners to stock up on to combat these irritating symptoms before they even have a chance to flare up.

The new study comes from Anglia Ruskin University in England, where researchers recruited 16 "healthy, recreationally active runners" to participate in an experiment, per the research article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. According to the university’s official press release, the volunteers were randomly assigned to eat either a low or high FODMAP diet for one week.

Let's pause for a moment. Are you clueless as to what the hell FODMAP even is? Don’t sweat it. For those who don’t know, the FODMAP diet, the study's press release explains, typically includes lactose foods (think dairy), fructans (bread-y carbs like pasta and cereal), galactic-oligosaccharides (legumes, beans), excess fructose (found in fruits like pears and veggies like asparagus), and polyols (a food additive). Low FODMAP diets are often prescribed to people experiencing digestive health issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so don’t feel too bad if the term didn't ring any bells. The only reason I know what the FODMAP diet is, is because I try follow it to keep my own IBS symptoms in check (spoiler: it’s not easy).

Anyway, back to the study: To track their progress, the volunteers completed surveys both at the beginning and end of the week. According to the researchers’ findings, 69 percent of those who’d followed a low FODMAP diet reported that they were able to run more frequently and perform better overall. The only downside is, the low FODMAP diet is pretty restrictive, and unless you’re working closely with a dietitian or nutritionist, it can be difficult to navigate.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in New York City and nutrition partner with KIND, tells Elite Daily that the reason why runners sometimes struggle to figure out the best foods to eat after training is because, during this type of physical activity, blood is diverted away from the gut as it works itself into the muscles. "If you eat a large meal shortly before an intense workout, chances are the food is going to sit undigested in your stomach and cause distress," Rizzo explains. "The same can happen if you eat fatty foods before a workout because they take a long time to digest, as well as sugar alcohols or high fiber foods, which can both cause bloating and gas."

So what are the best foods for runners, FODMAP or no FODMAP? Here's what the experts suggest you shop for if you're a fan of pounding the pavement.

Oats Are Great For Pre-Workout Fuel

Rizzo tells Elite Daily that, if you're looking for a hearty pre-workout meal, oats in any form — a bowl, a bake, even a grab-and-go bar like the one featured above from KIND — are the way to go because they "provide carbohydrates that will power you through a run." Plus, she adds, one serving of just half a cup of oats yields five grams of protein, on top of four grams of fiber — both of which, Rizzo says, will help to keep you fueled.

Fresh Or Frozen Berries Give You Energy

Berries are the perfect mini additive to any meal or snack. Sprinkle them on top of yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, or heck, just snack on a straight-up handful of 'em. According to Rizzo, berries can be a solid source of pre-workout fuel and they can be a tasty post-workout snack to help your body recover.

"I always recommend that runners keep frozen berries in their freezer to use as a pre-workout fuel or post-workout recovery," she tells me via email. "Before a workout, berries provide carbs to give you energy, and they are packed with antioxidants, which help tackle post-workout inflammation."

Alternatives To Wheat-Based Carbs Are Easier To Digest

While carbo-loading sounds great in theory, it's not always easy on your stomach. For a good-for-you alternative that's just as tasty, Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian based in New York City, tells Elite Daily that Banza, a chickpea pasta and rice, offers a ton of protein, and it delivers a significant amount of fiber to keep you full and your body moving.

"[Banza] will help you stay satisfied post-workout, but more importantly, [it'll] help you restore and repair those muscles you just put to work during your run," she tells Elite Daily.

If chickpeas aren't really your thing, Nora Minno, a registered dietitian, certified dietitian/nutritionist, and Daily Burn personal trainer, says quinoa is another solid alternative. "Quinoa is a great choice for runners because it is low FODMAP, but also a good source of carbohydrates and makes a great alternative for wheat-based, carbohydrate-containing foods," she tells Elite Daily, adding that potatoes and rice can also make for good, low FODMAP carbohydrate sources.

Cucumbers And Leafy Greens Are Great For Hydration

Kermit the Frog once said it wasn't easy being green. I don't know much about being green, but I know for a fact it's not always easy eating greens. Still, according to Minno, greens are important for every diet, especially that of a runner.

"Veggies, including leafy greens like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, are all good sources of important vitamins and minerals for runners, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium," she tells Elite Daily over email. Cucumbers are good to work into your diet, too, Minno adds, as they're a "great source of water," and can help with the dehydration that runners often experience.

The Potassium In Watermelon And Bananas Reduces Bloating

Beckerman tells Elite Daily that a common digestive discomfort for runners is gas/bloating. To combat these symptoms, she explains, you want to look out for foods that are a) easily digestible, and b) pretty low on the FODMAPs, like watermelon and banana.

"Watermelon should be eaten after your workout to help reduce bloat, and the potassium in watermelon may help regulate sodium levels," Beckerman explains. Ripe bananas, however, are pre-workout snacks that keep you fueled throughout the session. "Plus," Beckerman adds, "the more ripe a banana, the more easily digested the starch is."

Probiotics In Yogurt Can Ease Tummy Issues And Replenish Your Body Post-Workout

Got protein? Shakes are great, and omelettes are always a personal fave of mine, but if you're looking for a high-fat, high-protein snack to refuel post-run, Jenna Amos, RD, a nutrition communications manager for siggi’s dairy, tells Elite Daily that whole-milk yogurt, as well as drinkable yogurts, can provide "a great carb-protein ratio, plus fat for extra calories, and fluid in drinkables."

"Higher-fat and -protein foods help to replenish calories lost during a run, repair muscle tissues, and prevent fatigue," Amos explains, noting that whole-milk and drinkable yogurts, specifically, "may actually be better than a plain yogurt because the extra carbohydrates are beneficial to restore muscle glycogen used up on the run/training."