When we runners hear the term ‘superfoods’, a list of exotic ingredients often comes to mind. Kelp noodles, anyone? But foods don’t have to be obscure to be super. Take the humble lentil, which packs a massive payload of nutritional power into a tiny package. Or consider the marvel of perfect protein that is the egg. These foods aren’t just nutritionally super: they can also help you lose weight. That lentil can rev your calorie-burning engine. And eggs can hold off the hunger monster till lunch. The 11 superfoods here provide key nutrients runners need and also help you stay lean by boosting metabolism, burning fat or keeping you feeling full for longer.
Boost metabolism: Beans
As well as being full of hunger-reducing fibre and protein, beans pack another weight-loss superpower: resistant starch. Foods high in this nutrient (a type of carb that passes undigested through your intestine) may force your body to use extra energy to try to break them down. Researchers at the University of Colorado, US, found that adults who ate meals containing resistant starch had higher post-meal metabolic rates and that resistant starches may also help control appetite.
Get the boost: Purée beans with garlic and a splash of oil to make a healthy dip for veggies.
Cook up: Our runner-friendly take on beans on toast.
Boost metabolism: Lentils
These tiny legumes are metabolic powerhouses. Like beans, they contain resistant starch, says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, nutritionist and author of Overcoming Binge Eating For Dummies. Lentils are also rich in iron – if you’re deficient in this mineral, your body is less efficient at using calories for fuel, says nutritionist Marlo Mittler.
Get the boost: Add lentils to salads. Make lentil soup a frequent lunch choice.
Cook up: This fresh-tasting roasted shallot, beetroot, puy lentil and goat's cheese salad.
Boost metabolism: Chillies
These spicy peppers get their kick from capsaicin. Recent research at the University of California suggests this compound can boost post-meal calorie burn. ‘Eating spicy food may also curb your urge to continue to eat,’ says Cohn.
Get the boost: Sprinkle cayenne or chilli powder on recipes from casseroles to grilled fruit. Use jalapeño peppers in marinades.
Cook up: A spicy chicken and peanut curry for a creamy alternative to your average korma
Burn fat faster: Grass-fed beef
Not only does grass-fed beef taste better than corn-fed, it also has a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Western diets generally contain too much omega-6 (which can be inflammatory) and too little omega-3 (which is anti-inflammatory), says Cohn. Grass-fed beef also contains lots of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Your body uses CLA to build muscle, a fat-burning machine.
Fat fix: Grass-fed beef is pricey, so try cutting back on your meat consumption and splurging on grass-fed beef when you do eat red meat.
Cook up: Hearty grilled beef fajitas for you and your running chums.
Burn fat faster: Red wine
The skin of red-wine grapes contains resveratrol, a polyphenol linked to many benefits, such as a decreased risk of heart disease. We’ve been drinking to that for years and, says Cohn, resveratrol has also been shown to reduce the production of the stress hormones that compel your body to store fat.
Fat fix: Not a difficult one, this; just enjoy that glass of stress-relieving, fat-burning red wine. Keep your daily consumption reasonable, though, because in this case you can have too much of a good thing.
Burn fat faster: Green tea
The alternative cuppa gets its fat-burning boost from EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate). ‘This phytochemical promotes fat oxidation and thermogenesis [production of energy for digestion],’ says Cohn. The green tea effect is well known, but other teas offer fat-burning benefits, too: in a group of studies reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tea drinkers (of black and white varieties, as well as green) burned more calories and fat daily than non-drinkers.
Fat fix: Swap your second cup of coffee for a cup of green tea. Add unsweetened iced green tea to smoothies, or mix it with your sports drink for a fat-burning caffeine boost.
Burn fat faster: Sesame seeds
A compound in sesame seeds (and oil) called sesamin may have a fat-burning effect, says Cohn. ‘It could be that it increases the production of ketones, which helps your body maintain muscle. This, in turn, burns fat.’ Chemicals called lignans, also found in sesame seeds, help your liver to produce the enzymes necessary for fat metabolism.
Fat fix: Use sesame oil in dressings. Coat chicken or fish with sesame seeds before cooking.
Cook up: Filling soba noodles with peanut sauce and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.
Feel fuller: Soup
Consuming a bowl of soup has been shown to curb your subsequent calorie intake. The effect is twofold, says Mittler: first, it fills you up, but soup’s satiating effects also have to do with warmth. ‘Warm liquids have a greater psychological effect on fullness than cold ones,’ she adds.
Fill up: Ordering a starter when you’re out to eat? Choose thinner soups instead of creamy, calorie-heavy options.
Cook up: Super-nutritious mushroom miso soup.
Feel fuller: Eggs
‘Eggs contain all the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein,’ says Mittler. As well as delivering all the building blocks your body needs to repair and upgrade your muscles, they’ll also save you battling those midmorning snack demons because the protein keeps your blood sugar from spiking and then crashing, which causes hunger.
Fill up: Hard-boil a dozen so you have a quick, easy-peel breakfast all week.
Cook up: Huevos rancheros for a spicy start to the day.
Feel fuller: Avocados
These creamy fruits are a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is both heart-healthy and satiating. Like any fat eaten as part of a meal, avocados are last in line for digestion, so they stick with you: in a recent study at Loma Linda University in California, overweight people who ate half an avocado at lunch reported a significant decrease in the desire to eat later in the afternoon.
Fill up: Have half a sliced avocado as part of a lunch salad or spread it on a sandwich in place of less-healthy mayonnaise.
Cook up: Well, smash up avocado with tomato, red onion, chilli, garlic and lime for delicious guacamole.
Feel fuller: Potatoes
You don’t have to dump these tubers in the same bin as low-nutrient carbs such as white bread or white rice. Loaded with resistant starch (not to mention vitamin C and potassium), potatoes have staying power, keeping hunger pangs at bay two to three times longer than other starches, says Mittler.
Fill up: Top a baked spud with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of Parmesan, rather than piles of sour cream and butter.
Cook up: Minted pesto, asparagus and potato salad for a lunchbox twist.