It’s not just the food we eat that boosts our health and our athletic performance; it’s how we flavor and season it that can have a huge impact on our well-being. We often turn to the superfoods to boost nutrition and to the medicine cabinet to alleviate pain and inflammation, when really the contents of our spice cabinet can do both for us while adding variety to our foods as well. Spices and sports nutrition may seem like different topics, but adding certain spices and herbs to your diet can help your athletic performance and aid in recovery.
For runners, spices can aid in relief from inflammation and GI distress without turning to painkillers or other medicines. Pills such as NSAIDs (Advil and other anti-inflammatories) may temporarily relieve muscle soreness and inflammation, but they can actually hinder recovery and reduce physiological adaptations. Meanwhile, antacids and laxatives, when used too frequently, can alter the natural processes and create a mild dependency on these medications for normal GI function. If you use over-the-counter treatments too much, your body adapts to them, just as it adapts to any other stimulus over time.
Spices are an affordable and accessible way to boost your nutrition and promote better overall health. Most of all, they add flavor to even the simplest of meals, which makes your normal healthy meals taste rich and indulgent without adding extra calories! Add these four spices to your diet to improve your athletic performance, fight inflammation, improve digestive health, and strengthen your immune system!
Ginger is sold both as the whole ginger root in the produce department or as ground ginger powder in the spice aisle. Most commonly, it’s used as a spice in eastern dishes such as stir-frys and in baked goods such as gingerbread. It complements savory/spicy dishes that are seasoned with turmeric and garlic or sweet dishes seasoned with cinnamon and allspice.
Ginger helps settle upset stomachs, which is great for runners who may suffer from GI distress during or after runs. Ginger also alleviates joint pain and the symptoms of arthritis, which makes it a great supplement for masters runners or anyone who experiences joint discomfort. Since the 4th century BC, ginger has been used in the east and the west for medicinal purposes, especially as a digestive aid. A study from the University of Georgia found that adding ginger to your daily diet can help runners reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
Add ground ginger to your oatmeal, season your chicken and brown rice with ground ginger or grated ginger root, or make an Asian stir-fry or an Indian curry for dinner! You even make it into a tea by seeping the root in hot water, which is especially effective for soothing upset stomachs. A little bit goes a long way with ginger, so start small and season to taste!
Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice used primarily in Indian cuisines. Like ginger, turmeric comes from a root plant, although it is most commonly sold in America in powder form in the spice aisle. Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its common yellow color and peppery flavor.
Turmeric is a remarkable anti-inflammatory that is comparable in power and effectiveness to over-the-counter drugs such as Motrin, thanks to its curcumin oils. Turmeric then can help you recover from a workout without taking Advil or other NSAIDs; this is beneficial particularly for runners who experience GI distress whenever they take Advil before a run. People who suffer from Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis may also find that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric relieves some their inflammation and symptoms. Beyond the more immediate help against inflammation, turmeric has been shown to help prevent cancer in people who consume it regularly.
Turmeric works best in spicy and savory dishes. Use it to spice up roasted vegetables such as cauliflower and sweet potatoes, add it to homemade hummus or other dips fo extra flavor, or concoct a healthy curry with turmeric, beans, brown rice, and vegetables.
Cinnamon is my absolute favorite spice, and not just for the flavor. This popular spice is commonly used in sweeter recipes, but can also be used in more savory and spicy recipes such as chilis and curries. Cinnamon mimics sweetness without adding extra sugar, so it’s a great way to indulge your sweet tooth without indulging in too many calories.
Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar, which in turn helps promote satiety and prevent overeating. For runners, regulation of blood sugar can keep your energy up and keep you from bonking during runs. Cinnamon is also full of antioxidants, which neutralize cancer-causing free radicals. An antioxidant-rich diet is great for runners, who can be at higher risk for skin cancer due to prolonged sun exposure from running long distances outside.
One of my favorite ways to have cinnamon is in my morning coffee! I sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top of each cup of coffee instead of using any cream or sugar. It adds flavor to black coffee and gives you a health boost. You can also add cinnamon to your daily diet by adding it to your oatmeal, sprinkling it over fresh fruit, or combining it with savory spices such as cumin and turmeric to season your meat and vegetables.
Garlic is an herb from the same family as onions, shallots, and leeks. It’s a staple in most savory dishes across a variety of cultures and cuisines. Although you can buy it in powdered form, fresh garlic tastes so amazing and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Training, especially for half or full marathons, can weaken your immune system as you log lots of miles and accumulate training fatigue. Garlic strengthens your immune system, so incorporating it into your daily diet can keep you from getting sick as race day approaches. Garlic is also an anti-inflammatory, so add some extra garlic to your meals instead of reaching for painkillers the next time you feel sore from a hard workout.
Garlic can be used in virtually any savory dish. You can crush it, mince it, and mix it with olive oil and vinegar to make a delicious and preservative-free homemade salad dressing. Roasting garlic makes it spreadable and almost creamy, so try roasting it for your next batch of hummus or to spread on fresh homemade bread.
Questions of the Day:
What are your favorite spices and herbs?
Do you use spices to boost your sports nutrition?