The Fruits (& Vegetables) of Summer
Always a concern for runners but even more so during the heat. Fruits and vegetables, being 90-98% water, contain between ¼ cup to 1 cup water per serving.
Calories are how we measure energy and fruits give us simple unadulterated carbohydrates, i.e. pure energy!! Don’t be confused with the simple carbohydrate moniker. By simple, we mean monosaccharides, which are the only kind of sugars found in fruits- fructose!! Fructose is usable immediately for energy making it the runner’s magic elixir.
Vegetables contain mono and polysaccharides which is the primary reason they are not recommended for immediate fuel for a run. They also contain only 25% of the energy of fruit per serving and have about 2 grams of protein per as well. This nutrient relationship, however, makes vegetables the perfect refueling food!
Fiber represents mixed blessings for the runner. While we know we need it to keep our GI tract running smoothly, we also don’t want it to keep the gut running during a race or even a daily run! What most people don’t know is that fiber also helps control the rate at which sugar leaves the stomach. This control of ‘gastric emptying’ keeps energy from dumping all at once into the bloodstream causing huge swings in insulin deployment. In other words, fiber is integral in controlling our blood sugar levels, not just keeping us ’regular’.
Fruits and vegetables are both excellent fiber sources- they just have different kinds.
Fruit has soluble fiber which means it dissolves in the stomach and creates a gelatinous mixture that flows slowly forcing glucose (sugar) to enter the bloodstream in a controlled fashion. This delay in gastric emptying allows the athlete to have immediate energy without bonking 30 minutes later.
Vegetables have insoluble fiber meaning they do NOT dissolve in water thus pass through the aqueous environment of the gut intact. These solid particles provide a surface for waste to collect and is the source of the mystery of our fecal matter, i.e. why is it different when I eat X? Insoluble fiber is necessary for good health but recommended for consumption AFTER a race/run not before. This before time frame differs for everyone and needs to be determined during your training.
Fruits and vegetables both have some of the characteristics of so-called superfoods. This term, however, is not used by dietitians or other nutrition scientists. It was first coined by the food and beverage industry in the beginning of the century as part of a marketing campaign to reinvigorate the sale of common foods and to introduce new exotic foods/juices to the American public. By calling them ‘functional’ foods which evolved to the sexier ‘super’ foods, a buzz began among the non-scientist food gurus popping up all over. These pseudo health professionals took the bait and hyped products from chia seeds to blueberries. Claims have been made about these foods ranging from cancer cures/prevention to arthritis pain mediation and even beauty enhancement. Consequently, the superfoods category has become a billion dollar global industry. The European Union outlawed the term for use in selling any food in 2007.
That being said, fruits and vegetables do have some special chemicals that research has shown promote good health. But that should not be news to anyone- mothers across the globe have been telling their children to eat their fruits and vegetables for centuries!!
Enjoy the sweet gifts summer gives us of abundant fruits and vegetables! They not only power our workouts but they enrich our lives with good health!