Running in the Heat: Nutrition & Food Tips for Summer Exercise
For runners, the end of winter and the cooler days of spring can feel like a sigh of relief. Instead of dark mornings and icy paths, it’s sunshine and long evening runs. And just as your running wardrobe gets a warm-weather switch, so should your diet.
High temperatures mean that eating certain foods before and after runs can help you perform your best as the temperature starts to soar.
Here are the best 6 foods for runners in the summer:
1. Coconut water
Known as nature’s sports drink, coconut water is ideal for rehydrating after summertime runs instead of artificially sweetened sports drinks or plain H2O.
Coconut water is loaded with potassium, which makes it high in electrolytes — the nutrients that are critical to preventing dehydration, keeping blood sugar levels stable, and helping with muscle function and relaxation. Coconut water is also lower in carbohydrates than normal sports drinks.
It’s rare that I don’t include avocados on a must-eat list. That’s because they’re incredibly nutrient-rich and full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B and vitamin C, which aren’t stored in the body and need to be replenished daily.
For runners, avocados are especially helpful: they’re full of good-for-you, monounsaturated fats, which can help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. They’re also full of soluble fiber which helps keep you feeling full for a longer time — perfect for those long run mornings.
And here’s a bonus avocado benefit you may not be aware of: it’s actually one of the top plant-based protein foods, so they help you build lean muscle mass and burn fat. This may seem contradictory, since avocado is a fatty food, but in addition to its high protein levels, avocado is rich in the monounsaturated fats that are known to keep you fuller longer, improve insulin sensitivity, and help the body to burn fat stores more efficiently. Try adding smashed avocado to a piece of whole-grain toast before heading out on a run
These little nutrient-dense fruits are fantastic for runners. Blueberries have a high water content, so consuming them before working out in the heat will help you stay hydrated during those steamy runs. They’re also high in antioxidants, which can protect against numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease.
In fact, one study found that when runners ate blueberries before doing a 5-kilometer run, good cholesterol levels increased while insulin levels decreased after the run.(1) Luckily, blueberries are plentiful during the summer. Have a handful before heading out for a run, or try this blueberry and kale smoothie.
I’ve been a long-time fan of kefir, a cultured dairy product. It’s one of the best sources of probiotics, which are the beneficial gut bacteria that boost the immune system, help you maintain a healthy weight, and prevent the development of leaky gut syndrome. These are helpful benefits for any athletes, but when it comes to runners, I especially love kefir because of its ability to help improve allergies.
If you suffer from hay fever or other seasonal allergies, you might find that spending time running outside exacerbates your condition. Regularly consuming kefir, however, can help alleviate that, as the microorganisms found in kefir help the immune system naturally suppress allergic reactions.
This seed’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years and with good reason. It’s a complete protein source, meaning it provides all 20 amino acids the body needs, including the 10 essential acids our body doesn’t produce on its own. If you don’t eat meat or just want an extra protein boost, serving quinoa as a side dish or building a meal around it can help you boost your protein intake.
I love it in the summertime because quinoa is also a complex, gluten-free carb, helping to sustain you during challenging runs while aiding in weight loss. Enjoy it as an alternative to the normal pasta-heavy meal the night before a big race or a longer run!
Spinach should also be on your shopping list this summer. Exercising in the heat can take a toll on your body. Luckily, this leafy green can help you reach peak performance.
One study discovered that nitrates, which are found in greens like spinach, can improve performance during short bouts of exercise, like sprints or interval running. In fact, after just five weeks of training, athletes given a nitrate supplement of 400 milligrams — the equivalent of about 2-3 cups of fresh spinach — improved their muscle fiber composition.(2) This allows athletes like yourself to train harder and boost performance. Try it in a smoothie before running or afterward in a Grecian spinach salad.
Choosing the right foods in the summer can make it easier to work out in the heat, both before and after your run. Integrate these nutrition tips into your summer diet to improve your running performance. Your body will thank you!