Sitting out the race (or pushing through the pain, only to wind up in agony after crossing the finish line) is a drag, but time spent healing now can save you trouble down the road. And as it turns out, the right nutrition can boost your recovery, so you can hit the pavement again sooner.
Certain injuries are particularly common in distance runners. According to New York–based physical therapist, Rob Ziegelbaum, D.P.T., the most commonly sprained ligament in the body is the ATFL (anterior talofibular ligament), which manifests as ankle pain. It's one of the injuries he sees the most, generally from overuse, particularly without proper training and with improper footwear. (Never run in the wrong sneakers again. This guide highlights our picks for the best sneakers for any kind of workout.) Plantar fasciitis, a cause of common major heel pain, is another big issue often from wearing the wrong shoes or not stretching properly to support the increase in activity. Ziegelbaum recommends a foam roller or frozen water bottle to roll under your foot to help with the pain.
With so many prevalent injuries, it's key to address them from all angles in treatment, including your diet. Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery, calls himself "a food-first kind of guy," seeing nutrition as an important part of preparing for and running a marathon as well as an injury treatment plan. "You put your body through a huge amount of stress, and you have to give it time to heal." That recovery time includes giving your body the fuel it needs. The kind of food you use to refuel matters, says Metzl, "everything from trying to give the body healthy calories to heal, to good nutrients to repair, to hydration."
Many runners worry they'll gain weight if they're less mobile due to injury, but it's important to make sure you're getting enough calories to support efficient repair and rebuild new lean tissue. In fact, certain foods may help boost your recovery. Here's what to put on your plate.
Chicken is a great lean protein source that provides the body with the key amino acids it needs to repair injured tissue and build new muscle. To get the most bang for your buck, opt for boneless, skinless chicken breast. A 3-ounce portion provides 16 grams of protein for about 90 calories and 1 gram of fat. You could also try boneless, skinless thighs—they're usually less expensive, more flavorful, and similar in calorie content. If you're short on time or just don't feel like standing over a hot stove or oven, prepare some chicken in the slow cooker to use throughout the week in salads, soup, or pasta dishes. (Another great choice: These easy chicken breast recipes that come together in less than 30 minutes.)
This strained yogurt is packed with protein and also provides your body with calcium, a mineral that's key to muscle and nerve function as well as bone health. It's especially important for healing bone injuries like stress fractures. Yogurt and other dairy products also give you vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that aids in the absorption of calcium. (You're going to want to devour this vitamin D-rich foods for fall.) The probiotics in yogurt can also help regulate digestion if your stomach feels off from taking any pain meds. Stick to plain, unflavored yogurt to keep excess calories from sugar in check.
In addition to providing a hefty dose of protein (there are about 19 grams in 3 ounces of the wild variety), salmon is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help fight inflammation. It's also a rich source of vitamin D. Enjoy it grilled, baked, seared, or poached.
Metzl recommends blueberries to his patients when they're recovering from a running injury. These little superfoods are packed with antioxidants like anthocyanins that may support recovery and healing. They're also high in fiber (about 4 grams per cup), which is helpful for keeping digestion regular—key if your gut is generally less mobile. Enjoy blueberries on their own, or sprinkle them liberally over oatmeal or yogurt or add them to salads. Not into blueberries? Raspberries and blackberries are also great fiber-rich options.
Turmeric is a spice that's been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It pairs well with garlic and ginger, which have also been noted for their healing effect. Try it cooked into soups or grain dishes, or even added to a smoothie. Just not digging the taste or want a more potent dose of those health benefits? You can also purchase turmeric in supplement form.
Beets (which are just one of the winter superfoods you should be eating) contain betalain, a compound that gives beets their red color and that has been noted for its anti-inflammatory properties. The nitrates in beets have also been touted for their recovery and performance-enhancing benefits. Enjoy them steamed or roasted and tossed with salads or shredded and added to dishes like sandwiches. You can also juice them or throw some into a smoothie. They're also great blended into homemade hummus.