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 goodnessdirect.co.uk (£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.
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 bisonfarm.co.uk.
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
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.
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.
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 thefishsociety.co.uk.
Eat It Dust with cumin and paprika. Sauté two minutes per side. Finish with lemon juice.