We know some of you might love a pumpkin spice latte once October rolls around, but our farmers’ markets and grocery stores are stocked full of great fall produce that can give your run – and your health – a little more kick. (No offense, coffee.) If you want to boost your endurance and your immune system this season, consider some of these in-season fruits and veggies recommended by Dietitian Matt Dengler of RxRD Nutrition, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Enjoy!
An apple a day. That’s still solid advice.
If you haven’t been apple picking in western North Carolina, treat yourself to an afternoon of family fun with some delicious and healthy side benefits. (In most years there’s even an apple festival!) If rolling up US 321 isn’t in your schedule, you can find apples almost anywhere right now. They are accessible, fairly inexpensive, and there’s a variety of tastes and textures to suit most anyone. Seriously, apples go way beyond Red Delicious and Granny Smith.
“They are a good way to put carbs in your body,” says Dengler, noting apples are strong in flavonoids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. (To keep the doctor away, of course.) Yes, apples can fight cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and an ingredient called quercetin helps you fight soreness by reducing lactic acid buildup. Fuel up 30-60 minutes ahead of your hour-long workout, or afterwards. Apple sauce is a great go-to energy snack before exercise; an apple is best after. The fiber in a whole apple — skin and all – can upset some stomachs if eaten before a workout.
We got the beets.
Beets are one of the best ergogenic aids for endurance, says Dengler. That’s shorthand for a substance that enhances your physical performance, stamina, and recovery. Here’s how: Beets are filled with nitrates, which helps more blood, and therefore oxygen, flow to your muscles when you’re exercising and recovering.
“The more blood we can get to muscles, the more they can exert,” says Dengler. If beets aren’t on your usual dinner menu, be creative. They’ll still do their good work in a beet root salad, blended into a smoothie, roasted, or as a juice. Beet root powder is also a good add-in for your smoothies or sauces.
Not sure how to manage a handful of bulbous beets? You can forego the peeling and slicing, and the purple fingernails that come with task, by choosing golden beets, or picking up pre-cooked beets available in most refrigerated produce sections.
Broccoli … and bona fide substitute.
This one may or may not be seasonal, depending on whose list you read, but broccoli is readily available in the fall. It’s full of antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K, quercetin, and folate. Vitamin C and quercetin help prevent sore muscles after intense workouts, while K and calcium strengthen our bones.
If broccoli isn’t your thing, kale is a close cousin. Kale can help reduce inflammation because it’s loaded with antioxidants like beta carotene, says Dengler. Kale also packs a punch with high amounts of vitamins and minerals like vitamin K. One serving of kale delivers around 700% of your daily recommended intake of K! Kale also contains calcium, which, along with vitamin K, is crucial for bone development. It also has 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C in just one serving. You can sneak some kale into your next smoothie, salad, or even a roasted veggie tray.
Potatoes. More than just a starchy side.
The humble potato in its many varieties is a quick-energy superfood to keep in your cupboard or on your plate for several meals a week. “Red, russet, purple, or sweet, you can’t go wrong with a potato,” says Dengler. They’re full of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, B6 for energy, and three times as much potassium as a banana. They also have a lot of antioxidants, even if you don’t eat the skin.
Potatoes have a high glycemic index, which means the carbs get into your bloodstream faster and can be used for energy quickly. If you want to slow it down a little and make that energy sustain itself for longer distances, add some fat and protein like a little butter, sour cream, bacon, chili, etc. But go easy, of course. And sweet potatoes don’t have to be “sweet” with brown sugar or marshmallow toppings. Cumin and a pinch of salt will change your mind about how to serve this quintessential fall staple in NC. Heck, it’s the state’s official vegetable, with more than 40% of the nation’s supply grown right here.
Decorative and delicious.
You’re not out of your gourd to want to eat your squash instead of just decorating with it. Butternut, spaghetti, and pumpkin all make great dishes when you cook them fresh and serve them up with a little butter and brown sugar or cinnamon. They’re full of vitamin A and keratin, too, which are great cancer fighters. They are high in vitamin B and C, hold more potassium per serving than a banana, and have lots of fiber to help you feel fuller, longer.
“B vitamins help the creation of energy,” says Dengler. “It’s going to form that ATP, and that’s going to sustain energy.” Too tired after a good workout to think about baking one from scratch? Don’t be. They are some of the easiest foods to cook. Slice, sprinkle with butter or olive oil and salt, and bake for 45 minutes. Or poke holes in them and throw them in the microwave for 10 minutes (you may need to roll it over and add time). How easy is that? And that spaghetti squash is worth a try in place of pasta, with sauce or in a lasagna.
Enjoy some recipes from great NC-grown foods, but do it soon – winter is coming!