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Go faster and recover better with a helping hand from Mother Nature

Trail running can be anything but a walk in the park. That’s why paying close attention to what you put in your stomach before, during and after running can mean the difference be- tween a stellar performance and a flop. While there is no shortage of quality sports nutrition-products on the market these days, runners looking for more “au naturel” options will be pleased to learn that the latest research shows that there are some surprising whole food and drink options that may boost your runs. Here we break down the best choices for before, during and after a hard trail run.

BEFORE RUNS > Choosing the right foods and drinks before a big run can keep your energy levels up so you don’t prematurely throw in the towel.

EAT BEETS / Research from St. Louis university found that subjects who ate about 1 1/2 cups of beets 75 minutes before exercising ran at a faster clip and felt less exertion than those who didn’t. Why? Ruby-red beets contain nitrates to help you smoke competition. Researchers believe that the nitrates in beets widen blood vessels, which increases blood flow to working muscles. Nitrates may also improve how efficiently your muscles use oxygen during activity.

Fuel up: About 60 to 90 minutes before a hard run, chug 
this tasty drink: In a blender, mix one cup coconut water, one medium-sized cooked and cooled beet, one medium-sized peeled orange, a chopped frozen banana, four dried pitted dates, two teaspoons fresh ginger and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon until smooth. Add more coconut water if the mixture is too thick. Or try drinking a glass of homemade or store-bought pure beetroot juice along with your pre-run snack.

DRINK A SLUSHIE / In a study on running in the heat, Australian scientists found that runners who fueled up with a frosty 10-ounce slushie made with a blend of sugar water and crushed ice beforehand could run 19-percent longer before exhaustion than those who drank cold sugar water minus the ice. An icy drink helps drop your body’s internal temperature, making a run in the heat more tolerable.

Fuel up: If you’re about to run in sultry conditions, risk the brain freeze and blend some fruit juice with ice and enjoy.

DURING RUNS > If you’re running for an hour or less, a pre-run snack is probably all you need. If you’re out on the trail for an hour or longer, keep fuel in your tank with one of these:

EAT RAISINS / Researchers from the university of California Davis had participants run for 80 minutes then complete a 5k time trail while consuming either just water, water and carb-rich chews or water and raisins. The runners who consumed raisins or sports chews ran the 5k, on aver- age, one minute faster than when they ingested only water (no difference between the chews and raisins). Raisins contain high amounts of fast- digesting sugars that can be quickly and efficiently burned for energy.

Fuel up: Try taking in 1/3-cup of raisins every hour during long runs, which supplies about 40 grams of carbohydrates. Remember to drink water at the same time.

EAT HONEY / A Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that cyclists who consumed 15 grams (about a tablespoon) of honey, dextrose (a form of sugar) or a placebo containing no carbs every 16-ki- lometers of a 64k effort were able to go faster and produce more power with the honey or dextrose (no significant differences between the honey and dextrose). research suggests consuming sugar blends, such as honey, which contains both fructose and glucose, can be more effective at ramping up performance than sports gels or chews with just a single sugar source.

Fuel up: try squeezing out a couple of honey sticks for each hour of exercise. Or try mixing honey and water in a gel flask. On hot runs, add a pinch of sea salt.

EAT BABY FOOD / Your ticket to a better (and tastier) run might be found in the baby-food aisle at the supermarket. Here you’ll find pouches of 100-percent pureed fruit blends like mango, banana and orange. With just a few squeezes, you’ll suck back the necessary carbohydrates and antioxidants to keep up the pace.

Fuel Up: Bring along two pouches of pureed fruit snacks for each hour you plan to be pounding the dirt.

After Runs > Following a hard workout, you can bounce back quicker by flooding your body with a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and fluids to replace spent energy stores, jump start muscle repair and rehydrate.

DRINK TART CHERRY JUICE / Studies show that tart cherry juice can help the body recover faster following intense exercise. For example, a recent British study found that runners who consumed the juice following a marathon experienced improved muscle- strength recovery and less inflammation. researchers suspect cher- ries’ antioxidant payload helps stamp out exercise-induced oxidative muscle damage.

Fuel Up: Recover with this smoothie: in a blender, zip together one cup pure tart cherry juice, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, two tablespoons ground flaxseed, one tablespoon cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice.

EAT MILK AND CEREAL/ Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin fed volunteers a bowl of whole-grain cereal and non-fat milk or a sports drink after two hours of moderate endurance exercise and found them equally adept at replenishing muscle-glycogen stores, the main fuel source for exercise, and increasing protein synthesis, an indication of muscle repair. Cereal and milk provide a dynamic duo of carbs and protein to promote recovery.

Fuel Up: pour a cup of skim milk into a bowl of nutritious whole- grain cereal such as kind peanut Butter Whole Grain clusters post run. Top with a handful of antioxidant-rich dried cherries to up the ante.

EAT GREEK YOGURT AND COTTAGE CHEESE / Before bed, eat a high-protein snack. According to a 2012 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, those who had previously exercised during the day and then took in some protein a half hour before bedtime significantly improved their muscle protein synthesis (which helps repair, build and strengthen your running muscles) than when no protein was consumed. The protein provided to the volunteers was casein, the same type found in dairy products such as cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, which contains about twice the protein as traditional yogurt.

Fuel Up: Scoop a cup of plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese 30 to 60 minutes before catching some zzzs.

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