Natural Defences: Six Superfoods

Going the extra mile(s) will whip you into PB  shape, but it's not a one-way street for your health and conditioning. Training hard also boosts your body's production of free radicals - unstable molecules that attack your body's cells.

Over time, the buildup of damage can hinder recovery and increase your risk of falling prey to illness, according to sports nutritionist Marie Spano.

So what's a runner's best defence? Eating plenty of antioxidants - compounds that can prevent that cell damage from occurring. For maximum benefits, runners should eat a wide variety of antioxidant-rich foods, says Spano.

You won't fall off your dining chair when you hear that fruit and veg are excellent sources, but because they only stay fresh for a few days, the smart move is to stock your cupboards and fridge with antioxidant-loaded options with a longer shelf life.

Enter the RW all-star lineup of long-lasting, convenient and protective superfoods to seriously boost your health. And seriously endanger your PBs.

Picture credit: Plamen Petkov

Molasses

Probably not one you have sitting next to the kettle already, but this is a sweetener worth getting your sticky mitts on. Produced when cane sugar is converted into white sugar, molasses retains the nutrients that are lost during the refining process.

The result? It's high in iron, magnesium and antioxidants that reduce DNA damage. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association confirmed molasses packs significant amounts of these protective compounds.

Power up: Add a tablespoon of molasses (Meridian Organic Molasses, £1.99 for 740g from goodnessdirect.co.uk) to a post-run smoothie along with blueberries, banana and cocoa powder. 

Lentils

Packed with protein and a huge variety of vitamins and minerals, lentils are a nutritional gold mine. Researchers at North Dakota State University, US, discovered that they possess a strong ability to neutralise free radicals, thanks to their high concentration of phenols.

These compounds have been linked to improved muscle recovery and reduced risk of chronic diseases. "Lentils are also   high in soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol and regulate  blood sugar," says sports dietitian Tara Gidus. Which means it's well worth keeping your fingers on this particular pulse.

Power up: If you're a lentil sceptic, try mixing your own burger patties and replacing half the beef mince with cooked lentils. You'll boost fibre, slash fat and barely notice. 

Brazil Nuts

One of nature's great convenience foods, these nutritional powerhouses are often unfairly neglected in favour of almonds and walnuts, but Brazils are actually one of your richest sources of selenium.

A single Brazil provides more than 100 per cent of your daily needs. Which is good news as your body uses selenium to  create crucial antioxidant enzyme compounds called selenoproteins, which research shows work to offset free   radical cell damage caused during endurance exercise. So, go nuts.

Power up:
Chop up Brazils and toss into salads, blend with milk and seasonal fruit for a smoothie, or eat them on their own as a quick, nutritious snack.

Egg Yolks

Egg yolks are a leading source of lutein and zeaxanthin - a dynamic antioxidant duo that accumulates in the retina and protects eye health. Better still, US Researchers at Tufts University recently discovered that lutein is more readily absorbed from eggs than other sources, such as spinach.

"Yolks also provide selenium, vitamin E, high quality protein and choline - a nutrient that can help improve heart health," says Gidus.

Power up: If you tire of the classic boiled-scrambled-poached triumvirate, bring a little Mexican flavour to your mornings with breakfast tacos. Just top tortillas with scrambled eggs, diced tomatoes and basil. Muy bien, as they say in Guadalajara...and now Guildford.

Black Rice

Wholegrain black rice is chock-full of body-repairing anthocyanins, according to scientists at Louisiana State University Agricultural Centre, US.

"These are the same powerful antioxidants found in blueberries and blackberries that have been shown to offer protection from various health threats including cancer and heart disease," says Gidus. Hang your head in shame, Mr Egg-Fried.

Power up: Combine cooked black rice (Infinity Organic Black Rice, £3.09 for 500g from greenlife.co.uk) with radish, carrot and red pepper, then drizzle with sesame oil for a tasty salad.

Peanut Butter

The runner's favourite provides a healthy dose of vitamin E. "This antioxidant may protect your good cholesterol, in turn helping to lower your heart disease risk," says Spano.

A study found that subjects who supplemented their diets with extra vitamin E experienced less oxidative  stress and muscle damage after exercise than those who did without. Peanuts also pack resveratrol, the same heart-protecting antioxidant found in red wine - but feel free to let that slip your mind next time you need an excuse to crack open the Rioja.

Power up: You already know the toast thing, right? Up your culinary ambition by whisking together peanut butter, olive oil, grated ginger, red chilli flakes and rice vinegar for a vinaigrette that would make Jamie and Nigella proud.