6 perfect food pairings to make you a better runner

Green tea + Toast = Less overeating

Starchy breakfast favourites like toast, pancakes and cereal are a great way for runners to load up on carbohydrates. But when eaten alone they may produce a blood-sugar spike and crash that can lead to post-workout or mid-morning cravings for sweet or fatty foods. Green tea may blunt the spike, easing the urge to overeat. A 2012 Pennsylvania State University study in the US found that starch combined with an antioxidant in green tea, called EGCG, lowers blood-sugar rise by up to 50 per cent. The dose of EGCG in the study was the equivalent to that found in 340ml of green tea. That same cup also provides about 45 milligrams of caffeine to jumpstart your morning.

BONUS Add a squirt of lemon to your cup of green tea. A study in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that adding citrus juice to green tea increases the body's ability to absorb the tea's antioxidants.

Lentils + Red pepper = More energy

Lentils are rich in iron – which helps transport oxygen to working muscles – making the legume an ideal lunch option for runners. But because iron in plant-based foods is ‘non-haeme’ (not from haemoglobin), the body doesn't absorb it as easily as it does haeme iron found in animal products, says sports nutritionist Ilana Katz. Enter vitamin C-rich red bell peppers. ‘Vitamin C is a powerful enhancer of non-haeme iron absorption by making it more soluble in the intestines,’ says Katz. Dark leafy greens also have significant doses of iron, while tomatoes and broccoli provide vitamin C to boost iron absorption.

BONUS Higher vitamin C intake can help marathoners slash their risk of catching a cold by up to 50 per cent.

Porridge + Strawberries = Stronger runs

The carbs in a bowl of porridge and berries provide a quick and convenient snack before lacing up your shoes – and the tag team of antioxidants (oats) and vitamin C (berries) may do your heart some good. Researchers at Tufts University found that vitamin C interacts with oat antioxidants to possibly improve how well antioxidants disrupt the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (oxidation makes this so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol even worse).

BONUS Splurge on organic strawberries. The Environmental Working Group in in America found that conventionally grown berries can contain high amounts of pesticide residue.

Cereal + Milk = Quicker recovery

More proof that cereal and milk are made for each other. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, US, found that subjects who ate whole-grain cereal with fat-free milk after exercising at a moderate pace for two hours experienced noticeable increases in muscle glycogen repletion and protein synthesis, two markers for exercise recovery. ‘The natural sugars, protein, amino acids, and electrolytes in milk team up with the carbs in cereal to provide muscles what they need after a workout,’ says Sumbal. The quicker you recover, the faster you can put in hard miles again.

BONUS A British Journal of Nutrition study found that milk protein improves fluid retention post-exercise, allowing for better rehydration and recovery.

Salad + Olive oil = Lower disease risk

A salad of brightly coloured vegetables such as carrots, spinach and tomatoes is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, including beta-carotene and lycopene. But skip the fat-free dressing: these antioxidants require dietary fat for absorption. A 2012 Purdue University, US, study found that the monounsaturated fat in canola oil (also think olive oil, almonds and avocado) was best at bolstering antioxidant uptake, while saturated fat (think bacon bits and creamy dressings) was the least effective. Using just three grams (a little less than a teaspoon) of a monounsaturated fat-rich dressing is all that is needed to get the full benefit.

BONUS ‘Monounsaturated fats are important for heart health,’ Sumbal says. ‘They lower LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk for heart disease.’

Greek yoghurt + Hemp seeds = Muscle

Shuttering the kitchen after dinner is common diet advice, but if you want to build muscle, consider a high-protein bedtime snack. Findings published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2012 suggest that eating up to 40 grams of milk protein a half hour before bed promotes new muscle growth if exercise occurred earlier that evening. ‘More lean body mass can improve aerobic capacity increase muscle efficiency during runs, and reduce injury risk,’ says Katz. Greek yogurt has about double the protein of traditional versions, while nutty-tasting hemp seeds contain more protein (10 grams in three tablespoons) than other seeds, making this a power couple.

BONUS Greek yogurt packs probiotics, which may reduce stomach issues like cramps and nausea in athletes.