Plant Powered Nutrition

Rev up your training with smart plant-based ingredients, says nutritionist Louise Pyne

Plant Powered Nutrition

The greenery growing all around us isn’t just pretty to look at: many of these horticulture heroes could also benefit your running routine. From holistic herbs to wild flowers that grow in your garden, these plants all have super powers that could help you go that extra mile.

Some plants work by improving your immune system so you feel on top form to train, while others help to reduce inflammation to fight pain and speed up recovery time post-workout. We share some of our favourite plants for better running.

Plant Powered Nutrition

1. Dandelion

Dandelion is high in potassium which could help replenish lost electrolytes after running, and it’s also a great source of iron to help offset fatigue. “Dandelion leaves are also a mild aperient and will gently encourage the bowel motion which is useful if you suffer any constipation,” says Steve Kippax, a western and Chinese herbalist, and author of Health In Theory And Practice.

Plant Powered Nutrition

2. Arnica

Muscle soreness is pretty much inevitable once you push past your plateau, and making sure to rest and adequately give time to heal muscles will speed up recovery time. You might already use a foam roller or a tennis ball to provide relief to the tiny muscle fibres that create tension in the back, hips and legs, but have you ever thought about using arnica? “Arnica montana is a mountain plant commonly found in the Alps. It is the best remedy for bruising and can be used as a lotion or cream rubbed into aching muscles,” says Steve. After sliding into a steaming hot bath, pat yourself dry and apply arnica cream to sore areas: you’ll be amazed how quickly the pain starts to disappear.

Plant Powered Nutrition

3. Matcha

If you usually gulp down an espresso pre-workout for its energising properties, try swapping to matcha tea. This powdered form of steamed and dried green tea-leaves has less caffeine yet more antioxidants, and its impressive nutrient makeup will help to fuel you with bags of energy to train, minus any jittery effects. “Moreover, matcha tea is nutritionally equivalent to about 10 cups of regular green tea. It contains special antioxidants that help the body to mop up harmful free radicals which are associated with cell degeneration and damage,” says Steve.

Plant Powered Nutrition

4. Peppermint

Experiencing GI distress on a run is one of the most frustrating woes runners can face, but whether you suffer gas, indigestion or nausea – peppermint could help to offset digestive problems. “Peppermint has been used for digestion as a cooling tonic. It can alleviate nausea and sickness as well as helping bloating and discomfort. It also has a mild relaxant effect and will ease edginess,” says Steve. Add it to your daily diet and sip on peppermint tea for best results.

Plant Powered Nutrition

5. Lavender

 Sleep is one of the best ways to help your body to recover after exercise, and studies show that fatigue dampens down the body’s immune system. This means that the less you sleep, the more susceptible you are to illness. Sleep loss can also increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol which could negatively impact running performance. Experts recommend around 7-8 hours of snoozing time each night, but if you have trouble nodding off, lavender could help you to fall asleep faster. “Lavender is one herb that has been traditionally used to aid sleep. It has a high volatile oil content which has been suggested aids sleep, whether as a lavender pillow or putting lavender sprigs or essential oil into a bath,” says Steve.

Plant Powered Nutrition

6. Turmeric

This fragrant, golden spice is a common ingredient found in Indian curries, but it also contains a special medicinal antioxidant compound called curcumin which could help to beat internal inflammation. “There are different sorts of turmeric that are specific for certain areas of the body. It can be bought as an over-the counter remedy, or you can get the fresh root and add it to curries, soups or stews,” says Steve.

Plant Powered Nutrition

7. Aloe vera

Summer running has a lot going for it. Lighter mornings and evenings means you have a longer window to get outside, but taking your workout outdoors during the warmer months also leaves you more susceptible to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Of course there’s some sensible steps that you can take to minimise the risks. Pick routes lined with shaded trees, run early in the morning or in the evening when the weather is cooler, choose appropriate summer apparel, and accessorise with sunglasses, a cap and sunscreen. And if you do suffer a bout of minor sunburn, aloe vera is the ultimate healing plant to help soothe soreness. The inner leaves of the spiked plant contain a sticky gel which helps to relieve any itching, stinging and redness. “Aloe vera can help to heal sunburn. It is a good plant to have in the kitchen – break off a stem and the inner latex becomes accessible and can be applied neat directly onto the affected area,” says Steve.


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