How to Make One of Nature’s Finest Post-Run Foods Taste Amazing

I don’t like watermelon.

There’s something about its weirdly sweet flavor which is just, well, so watery.

But my kids love it.  They beg for it.  They would eat nothing but watermelon for dinner if I let them.

So every summer, I buy watermelon, cut it up for the kids and I eat none of it.

Then the other day, I got the latest copy of Nutrition Action, an awesome monthly publication created by the dedicated people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

You know, the food lobbyists for the people, yo!

CSPI created scores for fruit by calculating the percentage of the recommended daily intake of seven major nutrients plus fiber and carotenoids.

What are carotenoids? you might ask.  Carotenoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and veggies their bright colors.  They act as antioxidants in the body fighting inflammation and protecting against disease.  Well-known carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein.

Watermelon was scored second highest on the Nutrition Action list, right behind guava (which amazingly was twice as high).  Two cups of watermelon has a score of 302, while an apple only weighs in at 34 with a difference of only 10 calories.

The publication makes it clear that all fruits are good for you so it isn’t necessary to only eat guava and watermelon while shunning apples, but adding a few more fruits that are higher on the list is probably a good idea.

Watermelon, in all its watery voluminousness, is also great for helping you feel full without costing a lot of calories.

But I don’t like watermelon!

So maybe I’ll try to find a guava.

Okay, I didn’t try too hard to find that guava, because I came home with a watermelon.

Later that night, my husband cut it up for the kids as usual and I decided to figure out a way to like watermelon.

At a dinner party years ago, some friends served mango for dessert dressed with a little lime juice and salt.  It was a delicious combination so I thought I’d try it with the watermelon cubes.

Complete transformation!

The salt cut the sickly sweet taste of the watermelon and it became fresh and tart with the lime juice.  I ate my 2 cup serving and then went back for seconds!

It’s the perfect combo to eat cold out of the fridge after a hot, sweaty run.  Two cups of watermelon provides 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and almost no fat.

But the vitamin and mineral content is where watermelon is a superstar for runners.  It provides 34% of your RDA of vitamin A, 42% of vitamin C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.  And when you sprinkle a little salt on top, you are helping to replace the sodium you just lost in your sweat.

Natural glycogen and electrolyte replacement at its finest!

The carotenoid content of watermelon is also quite high, providing more than 20% of what you need in a day for optimal health.  So it’s not just great after a run, but any time of the day.

One thing to remember is that carotenoids are fat-soluble, so sprinkling some sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds on your frosty, limey, salty cubes is a great addition to make sure that all of those micro-nutrients are being absorbed well in your body.  It’s also a good idea to get some protein with your carbs post-run, so those seed sprinkles are doing double-duty!

So often we runners like to over-analyze and over-complicate things.  We buy gels and powders and goos and gadgets that are supposed to make every facet of our fitness optimized to the nth degree.

Yet sometimes, we just need to take a step back and look for the simple choice right in front of us: whole, unprocessed food straight from nature.


The 411 on 4:1 Ratios for Recovery

Most runners know that you should probably eat something after a run.  I usually want food even before a shower (much to my family’s disgust) and head to the kitchen as soon as I come through the door.

If a run is more than 60 minutes long, your body is primed for recovery as soon as you stop.  What you eat in the next 30 minutes to two hours is far more likely to replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores and repair micro muscle damage instead of being stored as fat.

So what’s the best choice?  There are plenty of sports nutrition companies out there ready to fill that need and take your money.  Some are great whole food choices (Picky Bars, Lara Bars) and some are full of unpronounceable ingredients. But is it really necessary or important to eat a $2 bar or blend a multi-ingredient kale smoothie with a scoop of expensive protein power to get the best recovery?

Nope.  This might sound shocking, but you can just eat real food.   It’s true.

What kind of food?  The science says the best way to replenish your glycogen and begin the muscle repair process is to fuel yourself with carbs and a small amount of protein.  Some claim the ratio should be 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein, others say it’s 3:1, and others are somewhere in between.  In fact, the exact ratio might not matter so much as long as you are getting some of each.

Here are some great combos of whole foods (plants only, of course!) that are great for recovery after shorter runs:

  • A medium apple with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter:  270 calories, 24g carbs, 8g protein, ratio of 3
  • 25 almonds and 4 unsulfured dried apricots:  216 calories, 24.6g carbs, 5.7g protein, ratio of 4.34
  • 4 tablespoons hummus, 12 baby carrots: 203 calories, 22.8g carbs, 5.2g protein, ratio of 4.3
  • 1/2 cup chickpeas: 134 calories, 22.5g carbs, 7.5g protein, ratio of 3
  • 1/2 cup jasmine rice, 2/3 cup green peas (add some soy sauce for salt and flavor): 210 calories, 24.5g carbs, 8g protein, ratio of 3.06
  • 1 medjool date and 1 ounce (1/4 cup) of cashews:  226 calories, 26.5g carbs, 5.7g protein, ratio of 4.6
  • banana with 2 tablespoons almond butter:  290 calories, 29g carbs, 8.3g protein, ratio of 3.49
  • 2.5 cups kale and 1/2 a white onion, sauteed in veggie broth, with 1/2 cup white beans:  201 calories, 39g carbs, 11.8 protein, ratio of 3.3 (love this for lots of volume without too many calories!)

If you can time your run to end right before a meal, your meal will be your recovery fuel.  This is a great tool in avoiding too much snacking if you are trying to get or stay lean for racing.  Here are some easy and simple light meals (or large snacks for longer runs) that work well:

  • Medium sweet potato with 2 tablespoons almond butter:  320 calories, 39g carbs, 9g protein, ratio of 4.33
  • 1/2 cup (measured dry) oatmeal, 1/4 cup walnuts, 2 tablespoons (about 12) dried tart cherries: 420 calories, 47g carbs, 11g protein, ratio 4.2
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread (I like Dave’s Killer Bread), 2 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter, and 1 tablespoon all-fruit jelly:  475 calories, 61g carbs, 18g protein, ratio 3.38
  • 2 oz (measured dry) whole wheat pasta, 1/4 cup tomato sauce, 1 cup broccoli, 2/3 cup green peas:  381 calories, 68g carbs, 15.6g protein, ratio of 4.3
  • 1/4 (measured dry) cup quinoa, 1/2 cup pinto beans, 1 cup broccoli, 2/3 cup green peas: 378 calories, 69.4g carbs, 21.3g protein, ratio 3.25

I could go on forever!  If you don’t want to be bothered by grams and ratios, the easy shortcut to remember is “nuts with fruit” and “beans and greens.”  (Broccoli, peas, and kale and other green veggies have a huge percentage of protein per gram.) It doesn’t need to be complicated or exact.  In fact, the simpler it is, the better, both for your body and for convenience.

Does that mean that I never use packaged bars?  Sometimes I do.  But I don’t like relying on them, especially when it’s just as easy to eat real whole food.

What whole food combos do you like for recovery?