Food is fuel, but can food be medicine? In a world full of supplements and quick fixes, it’s important to remember that generations ago food was the original prescription for sickness and recovery. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Around the year 400 B.C., he advised people to prevent and treat diseases first and foremost by eating a nutrient-rich diet. We should take a note from our ancestors and closely examine the foods, herbs and spices we consume to see how they might help us live longer, as well as make us healthier runners and individuals.
An enzyme found in the fiber-rich core of pineapple, more than 1,500 articles classify it as “true medicine.” Bromelain is a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling agent and is also helpful in soothing and relieving tense, inflamed muscles and connective tissue. While the juicy pineapple flesh is appealing, the core is where it’s at! Try blending it into your morning smoothie or pureeing the core with Greek yogurt as a snack!
Feeling squeamish already? Just wait! Sardines are classified as the “healthiest” fish—and are one of the most budget-friendly! Just three ounces of these little squirmy guys are chock-full of nutrients including 2,300 milligrams of low-mercury omega-3 fatty acids, which research supports are essential for decreasing inflammation, not to mention a great option for women who are or are looking to get pregnant. They also contain selenium (a powerful antioxidant helpful in recovery), bioavailable calcium and phosphorus as well as vitamin D, a nutrient found in few foods. To include them in your diet, try pureeing sardines into tomato sauce or swapping sardines for anchovies on your whole-grain veggie pizza!
This Indian spice boasts of curcumin, arguably one of the most potent, naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents ever identified. It is known for its positive role in disease protection and anti-aging. Liberally sprinkling the powdered version on protein and rice dishes or blending one inch of the root into a smoothie are tasty ways to get the health benefits of turmeric.
Rich phytochemistry can be thanked for the strong anti-inflammatory power ginger contains. It helps boost immunity and fight off viral infections. A review study from the International Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that ginger reduces muscle pain after strenuous exercise. To reap the benefits, consider ginger tea (boiling slices of ginger with tea bags for 30 minutes), grating it into entrée dishes or juicing it into fruit and vegetable beverages.
Looking for a stronger antioxidant than vitamin C? Tart cherries’ anthocyanins provide just that! This phytonutrient helps minimize oxidative damage caused by exercise and thus can improve your recovery time. A study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming 11–12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for seven days prior to a running race significantly reduced pain after the run. Consuming the juice with a half scoop of whey protein is a great post-workout beverage to enhance recovery.