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Power Up Your Performance with Greens!

If you are training for your next marathon, or even just trying to enhance your running speed or stamina, add more dark, leafy greens to your diet!

Yes, I said “greens,” not “protein” as you might have expected! Protein is certainly an important part of a runner’s diet with respect to building, repairing and maintaining muscle. But, so often, when I look at a client’s diet log, I see that they are loading up way too much on carbohydrates and protein, but leafy green vegetables are sorely overlooked!

Leafy green vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse that should be an essential part of any runner’s diet! When we don’t eat enough leafy greens – particularly when we are intensely training – not only do we lose the minerals inherent in the greens themselves but we also compromise our ability to effectively absorb and assimilate the nutrients in the protein that we are eating!

Fortifying your body with nutrients before a workout, and being able to replenish lost nutrients and electrolytes after a workout, is essential for ideal performance and health. Gear up with greens and you will see a difference not only in your energy and vitality but also in your health and running performance!

What’s so great about greens?
When you look at the nutritional makeup of greens, you will immediately see why they are so important to your diet if you are running or working out regularly!

Greens are high in:

  • Calcium: provides bone strength and repair
  • Iron: creates hemoglobin and deliver oxygen-rich blood to our tissues
  • Phosphorous: works with calcium to help produce, maintain and repair bones
  • Zinc: uses dietary protein to regenerate muscle, also helps boost our immune system
  • Vitamin A: helps support growth and repair of muscle and build the immune system
  • Vitamin C: antioxidant, reduces damage to body from physical training
  • Vitamin E: antioxidant, reduces stress to body
  • Vitamin K: helps with blood clotting and heart health
  • Folic acid: works with b12 to bring oxygen to our tissues and helps with muscle repair
  • Electrolytes magnesium, sodium and potassium: essential to replenish lost electrolytes after a workout
  • Fiber: important for optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients

Perhaps even more important than all of this is that leafy greens contain chlorophyll, which along with iron and folic acid, helps cleanse and oxygenate the blood and bring blood to our tissues. Although we may love running and it may help us relieve stress, in actuality running is a kind of stress on the body (albeit a good one). Chlorophyll literally energizes the blood, which leads to better performance and a reduced level of fatigue.

In addition, greens help improve liver function, improve skin quality, clear congestion, lift your spirits, reduce symptoms of depression, increase energy and vitality and, some even say, help prevent cancer.

As runners and athletes, how can we afford not to have greens in our diet?

Which vegetables are “greens”?

Greens vegetables include kale, spinach, cucumbers, celery, parsley, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, romaine, bok choy, collard greens, watercress, beet greens, dandelion, mesclun, arugula, endive, chicory, wild greens as well as sprouts such as broccoli, pea, alfalfa and sunflower sprouts.

While most are familiar with the iron rich properties of spinach, kale is my absolute favorite leafy green! Kale is four times higher in vitamin C, one and a half times higher in vitamin A and K, and three times higher in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin than spinach!!!

All greens have nutritional benefits, though, so you can’t make a wrong choice when it comes to greens. Just add more to your diet!

How can you get more greens in your diet?
Getting enough greens in our diet is tricky, but with a little creativity it is an easy thing to do! Adding more greens does not mean that you have to overhaul your diet all together.

Here are my 3 Rules for Powering Up Your Training Diet with Greens:

    1) Have a salad for lunch or for dinner: Don’t feel like you have to eat a bowl of pasta or a turkey sandwich and make a salad the main event! Have a raw spinach salad (2 cups has 6 grams of protein) and top it with avocado, protein-packed hemp seeds and heart-healthy walnuts, or have a Caesar salad topped with salmon (ask them to hold the white croutons which will do nothing for you nutritionally). Have fun with this. Experiment and find what you like.
    2) Have a healthy portion of greens at dinner: Instead of the traditional formula of salmon with a side of rice and perhaps a small portion of some sort of vegetable, have salmon with tons of sautéed spinach, grilled Brussel Sprouts and/or steamed broccoli.
    3) Aim for having a green smoothie for breakfast 3 times per week. Green smoothies are a delicious, protein- and nutrition-packed way to start your day! Not only will they leave you feeling light and will not tax your digestion while you are running, but other than juicing there is no other way to get the sheer amount of greens into your diet (on the days you don’t have one for breakfast, have one for an afternoon or after workout snack.) Additionally, it is easy to add chia, hemp, bee pollen, maca, green grasses and all of the other beneficial nutrition-boosting ingredients to your smoothie creating an even more nutritious superfood meal! And kids love ’em!
Recipe: Power Me Up Green Smoothie

3 handfuls raw spinach or 3 stalks of Locinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale)
1- 1 ½ cups almond milk (or milk of your choice)
1 frozen bananas (you can also add berries)
1 tbsp ground chia seeds or hemp protein powder (or both!)
Optional: maca, flax seed oil, or green grass powder

Put all of this in the blender and blend! This is my favorite breakfast to have before a demanding workout. Not only does it leave me powered up nutritionally, but it also leaves me feeling very light and full of energy!

Written by

Katherine Pennington is a diet and lifestyle coach, writer, and founder of Be in Balance, which helps women and men lose weight, reduce stress and achieve more balance in their lives. Katherine is also an avid runner and marathoner and also advises athletes on how to fuel for maximum performance and health.

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One Response to "Power Up Your Performance with Greens!"

  1. Amparo says:

    My favorites are:
    Power Me Up Green Smoothie – this has been an amazing discovery for my running, I feel energized and healthy.
    Kale Avocado Salad – Delicious!
    I can’t wait to try the Grilled Brussel Sprouts!

Leave a Reply to Amparo Cancel reply


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