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The medicinal powers of pineapple have been recognized since at least the 1800s—and probably earlier than that in the fruit’s native South American lands. But fast-forward to 2020, and endurance athletes may have more reason to add some pineapple to their post-workout snack in order to aid recovery and help heal injuries.
As runners, we know that a list of natural foods can help us perform in a variety of ways. Dark chocolate, for example, has flavonoids and magnesium, aiding in vascular function. Beets and tart cherry juice are high in antioxidants and nitrates that help blood flow and lung function. Coconut is good for brain health.
Tyler Jean, a nutrition specialist who works with the Human Performance group at Under Armour, calls these “functional foods” and includes pineapple in that list because it contains bromelain, which researchers have discovered aids in soft tissue injuries, helps the body heal wounds, and stimulates circulation.
The scientific research and reviews regarding how bromelain can help in healing are ongoing, but in a small study of 45 patients undergoing oral surgery, the results are promising. Researchers divided the patients up into three categories: one group was given bromelain, one group got diclofenac (NSAID), and one was given a placebo. Pain, swelling, and trismus (when the jaw muscles lock the mouth closed) were measured after surgery. Those given the bromelain showed reduced pain and swelling more than those who did not—and the bromelain had a similar effect as the anti-inflammatory medicine.
Another small study that utilized treadmill running investigated the effect of proteases, like bromelain. This study had participants running at 60% of their VO2max and taking either placebo or bromelain supplements. The results showed that the supplement can speed recovery and reduce the inflammation caused by strenuous exercise.
Jean, who is studying naturopathic medicine, encourages athletes to get what they need to perform at their best from whole foods—preferably organic. So it makes sense that he’d suggest pineapple over pills if a runner has the choice.
“The food you eat is the foundation to perform and recover,” he says. “You want to consume the whole food—the orange, not the juice, for example.”
The sweet, juicy pineapple’s benefits don’t stop there, though. It’s also been found to help short-term relief of arthritis pain, and one study of 98 children found that those who ate pineapple had lower risk of viral and bacterial infections because of its immune-boosting properties. It aids in digestion, too—pineapple has long used as a meat tenderizer because it can break down difficult proteins. And like all anti-inflammatory foods, pineapple can help reduce the risks of heart disease, too.
Just Can’t Get Enough
How much do we love the prickly fruit? Oh, let us count the ways: Here are just 11 of our favorite sweet and savory ways to eat pineapple.
- Throw it in a smoothie: Blend it with ice, banana, and plain Greek yogurt or coconut milk.
- Add it to a salsa recipe with tomatoes and onions—use the salsa either for snacks (pair with some tortilla chips) or as a topping on baked chicken.
- Put it on pizza with diced ham (it’s not our thing, but hey, some people swear by the Hawaiian pizza).
- Bake it as a dessert. Put slices in a baking dish, drizzle with a little bit of honey and lime juice, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes until it starts turning slightly brown.
- Dip slices in melted dark chocolate and refrigerate for a simple snack or dessert.
- Grill it on skewers with shrimp.
- Add chunks to your morning oatmeal.
- Pair it with slow-cooker chicken or pork with fried rice.
- Four words: pineapple upside-down cake.
- Raw, on its own—the most refreshing treat after a sweaty long run.
- While we don’t recommend it as a recovery drink, pineapple is also synonymous with piña coladas, so cheers to that.
Slice It Right
Convinced in the power of the pineapple? Great. Now let’s go over the proper steps for cutting one. (You could also go precut if you’re really looking for convenience).