In With The New: Five Running Superfoods

Boost nutrients and flavour with these easy substitutes for your favourite foods

Posted: 7 July 2009
by Matthew G. Kadey

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the motto many runners follow when it comes to their diets – and for good reason, since the wrong pre-workout meal can turn a run into one long pit stop. But eating the same foods day in and day out – even healthy standbys like peanut butter or brown rice – isn't the best bet for your body.

"Runners should try new foods for the flavour and the nutrients," says Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (VeloPress, £16). Adding new foods to your diet re-energises a bored palate, she says, and provides a variety of nutrients your body needs to ramp up health and running performance. These substitutions for tried-and-true staples will help you break out of a food rut while transforming your diet and your stride.

Out Peanut butter
In Almond butter
Good For Good cholesterol, bone health

Almond butter has about the same amount of total fat as peanut butter but almost twice the monounsaturated fat, which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, says Leslie Bonci, author of Sport Nutrition for Coaches (Human Kinetics, £21). A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eating almond butter for four weeks reduced harmful LDL and raised HDL. Almond butter also packs more bone-building minerals like magnesium, calcium and phosphorus, and more vitamin E, says Bonci. "Plus, it has a sweeter taste and isn't as heavy as peanut butter."

Find It Try Meridian Almond Butter from (£2.29 for 170g).

Eat It Use equal parts almond butter, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey for dressing. Add to shakes or a stir-fry.

Out Beef
In Bison
Good For Heart health, mineral-rich, muscle-boosting

Don't be buffaloed into believing that all red meat is high in fat. Sweet-tasting bison is lower in saturated fat than beef and is rich in protein: 140g has a third of most runners' daily needs. Since bison are brought to market later in life than cattle, they store up higher iron levels. "Iron is needed to produce haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your muscles to power your stride," says Ryan. Many bison are raised on a grass diet, and as a result, have higher levels of heart-healthy Omega-3s than corn-fed beef.

Find It Try a farmer's market or go to

Eat It Use it for burgers and chilli. It's very lean, so overcooking dries it out. Mix ground bison with soaked breadcrumbs or cooked quinoa to hold moisture.

Out Brown Rice
In Quinoa
Good For Energy, mineral-rich, muscle-boosting

Whole-grain quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa') makes most other grains look like nutritional lightweights. No grain has more protein (8g per 170g cooked). It has hefty amounts of carbohydrate and more magnesium, folate, iron and fibre than humble brown rice. "Quinoa has a pleasant nutty flavour and is very versatile in the kitchen," says Ryan. But here's the real kicker: quinoa cooks in half the time as brown rice. Serve it as a sidekick to barramundi and you have a perfect post-run recovery meal.

Find It In the natural and organic foods aisle at your grocery store.

Eat It Cook for 15 minutes in water. For breakfast, cook it in apple juice, and mix in cinnamon, berries and walnuts.

Out Spaghetti
In Soba noodles
Good For Heart health, energy

For most UK runners, eating pasta is as much a part of daily life as lacing shoes. But in Japan chopsticks twirl up soba noodles. "Soba noodles are thicker, flatter and chewier than pasta but cook up the same way," says Bonci. Made from wholegrain buckwheat, soba has just as many carbs as pasta, plus the phytochemical rutin. Studies show that rutin may halt the expansion of body-fat cells and lower blood-fat levels. And a 2003 Canadian study reported that buckwheat extract may have a role in treating diabetes. Soba noodles tend to have more sodium than pasta, so Bonci suggests eating them after a sweaty run.

Find It Look for soba at Asian markets or the speciality section of supermarkets.

Eat It Use soba in any dish calling for pasta. Or bump up the protein by mixing them with teriyaki, tofu and edamame beans, says Bonci.

Out Salmon
In Barramundi
Good For Good cholesterol, heart health, joint health

Prized for its delicate flavour and versatility, barramundi is an Australian fish now available in the UK. With white and flakey flesh, barramundi can easily be mistaken for cod, but it packs more Omega-3 fatty acids than many other white fish. "The Omega-3 fats in fish reduce internal inflammation," says Ryan. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 1.9g of fish Omega-3s a day reduced body fat and increased HDL, so-called ‘good cholesterol', when combined with exercise. Farmed barramundi like those available in the UK aren't identical to those line-caught in Oz, but they are cheaper.

Find It At some fishmongers, or you can buy online from

Eat It Dust with cumin and paprika. Sauté two minutes per side. Finish with lemon juice.

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Discuss this article

Just a quick addition to say that the reason quinoa has more protein than other grains is that it isn't a grain - it's actually a seed.  It has a full set of amino acids just like meat (normally you have to combine seeds and grains, pulses and grains, or seeds and pulses to get these - take it from a veggie ) It's great with roasted vegetables!  Apparently it's from South America and has been a part of traditional cooking there for ages so you can find some nice international recipes with it as well. 
Posted: 09/07/2009 at 17:29

Maybe it's how I'm cooking it but it looks like frog spawn (tails!) and tastes

I'll stick to pasta, rice and cous cous for now.

Posted: 09/07/2009 at 18:20

I can't deal with the texture of it on it's own (a bit porridgey) but put cold into a salad with chopped up carrrots, tomatoes, peppers with some seeds etc makes it more palatable.  Or half and half with brown rice or buckwheat or cous cous while you get used to it.  M&S do a nice wholefood salad with quinoa and other grains, blueberries and mango - give it a go!
Posted: 11/07/2009 at 10:03

StellaJo wrote (see)
Just a quick addition to say that the reason quinoa has more protein than other grains is that it isn't a grain - it's actually a seed. 

What do you think they use to grow wheat? I'll give you a clue, they also grind these up to produce flour. I bet you live in a town, don't you?
Posted: 11/07/2009 at 23:18

By the way, that article was complete tosh, the only substitute i'd heard of was bison, and i'm pretty certain they don't sell that in my local tescos. I only just about eat as healthily as the things they want to replace. £2.29 for a jar of peanut butter substitute?!?!?!?! Your having a laugh.
Posted: 11/07/2009 at 23:28

Lardarse you don't make flour from wheat seeds! You have to plant the wheat seeds, wait for the stalks to grow and then you harvest the grain which you then grind to make flour! Whilst with quinoa it is actually a seed you are eating, same as if you eat buckwheat or amaranth - they're all pseudo-grains, ie really seeds.
Posted: 14/07/2009 at 15:22

Another towny!

I'll spell it to you, the grain is the seed. End of.

Posted: 14/07/2009 at 17:50

Well Lardarse you obviously are the expert on food since the only other thing you'd heard of in the article was bison.   

To clarify, apparently it is different from grains or cereals like wheat because it doesn't grow as a grass.  I do live in a town, well a city, but I grew up in rural farmland so I know you can plant the seeds of a grain to grow a wheat plant or whatever, like Donna C described, but the quinoa plant is more similar to chard or spinach (according to the internet).  Apparently you can eat that part too, but it's about as easy to find as bison...unless you live on a South America... 

Posted: 15/07/2009 at 13:57

Siance wrote (see)

Maybe it's how I'm cooking it but it looks like frog spawn (tails!) and tastes

I'll stick to pasta, rice and cous cous for now.


 Try cooking it for less time, so that it has a slightly (only very slightly) crunchy texture.  Also, it does taste very bland unless you season the water.  I use low sodium bouillon and a bit of cumin.  I'm completely converted!

Posted: 23/07/2009 at 15:19

SJ - grains are the seeds of grasses - and wheat is a member of the grasses family so botanically speaking Lardarse is correct

cereals = grasses
wheat grains = wheat seeds

and yes - quinoa is a seed of a member of the spinach family and is a pseudocereal

so, what's the difference between a seed and a grain??

a grain is a seed with a thin seed coat which needs removal (hulling) before use as in wheat, rice, barley etc....

seeds do not have this coating so don't need the same treatment before us

anyhoo - I like quinoa!!

Posted: 23/07/2009 at 15:38

It's all very well Runner's World making all these alternative suggestions and trying to be more ethical - which is good, but I doubt you'll find Bison in any Supermarket or Butcher's in the UK, and as for the other suggestions - well good luck! . They are also all foods that are very expensive, and while some runners may have vast budgets as a result of a highly paid job, most runners don't.  I'd like to try the foods recommneded by they're no use if you can't find them anywhere - and if even you can they won't be cheap. I thnk, considering the harsh economic times at the moment, this article was alittle ill thought out. It would have been great 2 years ago but now just seems mis-timed.
Posted: 26/07/2009 at 17:29

Poncy foodie stuff ... what's wrong with good proper honest food like pasties?

Posted: 26/07/2009 at 18:01

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