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How Pumpkins Improve Your Running

By Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., Runner’s World
11/16/2013 8:25:44 AM

Now that the buckets of trick-or-treat spoils, licorice bats, and candy corn have been emptied, it's time to talk about the real nutritional treasure of the season: pumpkin. I'd be remiss if fall passed me by without singing the praises of my favorite gourd. (Doesn't everyone have a favorite gourd?) Luckily, pumpkins are everywhere this season, and in the grocery store, you're sure to have seen pumpkin soup, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin ale, and more.

But does pumpkin offer any health benefits? And if so, can you get these benefits from pumpkin-flavored donuts, or do you have to dive into a can of the real thing?

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If you were to look at the nutritional content of pumpkin, you'd be convinced this is a pretty impressive gourd. Seriously. It's packed with Vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that leads to better eyesight (deficiency is the leading cause of nonaccidental blindness) and better immune function. Vitamin A deficiency is also associated with decreased resistance to infection, which means low intakes of Vitamin A (and other antioxidants) can easily sideline training. This is because athletes in heavy training are already at risk of supressed immune function, which can lead to upper respiratory tract infections.

A daily intake of 900ug retinol activity equivalents (RAE) for men and 700ug for women is recommended, and a 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin easily supplies 100 percent (or more) of your daily need. In addition to being rich in Vitamin A, pumpkin is also rich in dietary components such as certain alkaloids and flavonoids, as well as palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (like inflammation-fighting omega-3s).

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These hard-to-come-by components mean that the nutrient-dense pumpkin offers plenty of important health benefits, including anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, as you'll see below, fresh and canned pumpkin are excellent sources of electrolytes and carbohydrates, which together can keep you hydrated and help you to avoid hitting that mid-run wall.

So at the end of the day, grab the pumpkin-infused donuts or pumpkin-flavored ale if you must, but for the best health boost, opt for foods with actual pumpkin in them. Items like pumpkin soup, pumpkin souffle, and mashed pumpkin offer optimal doses of the holiday gourd, while lower-fat versions of pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie will taste good while giving you nutrients Check out some delicious and healthy recipes on the link below, and bon appetit!

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