Adding spices to your foods not only boosts flavor without adding extra calories but also adds a lot of health benefits from which every runner can take advantage of. These include: antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
Here are a few of my favorite spices, along with ideas for incorporating using them as running fuel.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man, with recorded use in China and Egypt dating back to 2500 BC. Cinnamon was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to help boost appetite and treat indigestion. Chinese medicine uses cinnamon to treat colds, cramps, and indigestion. The spice is produced from the bark of the cinnamon tree and contains antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that are associated with health benefits, such as reducing the risk of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and cardiovascular disease. Studies suggest that consuming 1/2-1 teaspoon of cinnamon a day may provide additional benefits for people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing fasting blood sugars, and lowering systolic blood pressure. Every runner can benefit from cinnamon’s cardiovascular benefits. Fuel options: Sprinkle cinnamon into your granola, smoothie, or morning oatmeal; add cinnamon to cookie, muffin, dessert, or bread recipes.
Ginger is known to help relieve stomach issues and lessen the effects of colds. It’s rich in inflammation-fighting compounds (gingerols, shogaols, and paradols), which experts believe may help reduce arthritis pain and reduce soreness after intense workouts. Ginger is associated with treatment or prevention of stomach aches, asthma, toothaches, and high blood pressure. A recent study showed that people who took ginger capsules daily for 11 days had 25% less muscle pain when performing exercises that strained muscles, compared to a group which took placebos. Personally, ginger is one of my favorite spices to use when I have nausea or an upset stomach. Fuel options: Add grated or finely chopped fresh ginger to your stir-fry or incorporate powdered ginger into your cookie, muffin, or quick bread recipes or morning oatmeal.
Capsaicin, a strong compound in hot chili peppers, boosts metabolism and may increase fat burning. It also helps suppress hunger and sustain satiety. Chili pepper is a great source of vitamin A and a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, manganese, and dietary fiber. Capsaicin may also lower the risk of ulcers by boosting the ability of stomach cells to resist infection by ulcer-causing bacteria. Fuel options: Add chopped fresh chili pepper to chili, stir-fry, or salsa; add powdered or flaked chili pepper to soups, marinades, or pasta sauces.
Coriander seeds come from the cilantro plant. It’s full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that provide numerous health benefits. In parts of Europe, coriander has been called an “anti-diabetic” plant. In India, it has often been used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Coriander has also recently been studied in the United States for its effects on lowering cholesterol. Fuel options: Add ground coriander to chili, marinades, spice rubs, and curry recipes.
Turmeric was first used as a spice in India and is often found in Indian curry dishes. Turmeric paste is applied to wounds to speed healing in India, and people often sip turmeric tea to relieve colds, upset stomachs, and respiratory problems. Most of turmeric’s health benefits are associated with curcumin, a compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to help relieve pain of arthritis, injuries, and dental procedures. Turmeric is also being studied for its potential in managing heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Fuel options: Add turmeric to curry recipes, rice, soups, and stews.
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Chapel is a recreational runner and hockey player who enjoys learning and writing about sports nutrition. She is currently working on her MPH (Nutrition) with Liberty University and serves in the U.S. Army Reserve as a chaplain in Columbus, OH.