Runners love a cup of pre-race joe for the pep it puts in their step. “Research shows that the caffeine in coffee can enhance physical endurance and stamina, making a long run or ride feel easier,” says Molly Kimball, R.D., sports dietitian with Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
Try it iced or hot a half hour before a gym sesh, but if it upsets your stomach, push it back to an hour. Not crazy for coffee? Iced or hot green tea works too. Feel free to add milk, but skip the sugar, which can negate the caffeine kick.
Sore muscles often feel rewarding after a hard workout, but intense aches just plain hurt. The fix? Ginger. Consuming half a teaspoon of the raw root or ground herb lessened next-day muscle soreness by 25 percent in one study, likely because ginger contains pungent pain-relieving chemicals such as gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone.
Research in the Journal of Pain suggests that it can even be more effective than popping NSAIDs. Drop a few slices of fresh ginger into your tea while it’s steeping or use ground ginger in a marinade for chicken or pork.
An apple a day…Okay you know the drill. But add this to what apples can do: The fruit is bursting with a substance called quercetin, which can improve energy metabolism to increase endurance. In one study, taking quercetin supplements helped untrained cyclists ride 13 percent longer.
While you’d have to eat a ton of apples for the same dose of quercetin used in the study, it can’t hurt to make the fruit your snack of choice, as they may help keep you going on long rides or runs.
A (virgin) bloody Mary just may be the best fuel for spin class. Drinking five ounces of tomato juice for five weeks reduced free-radical damage from an intense cycling test, per new research in Nutrition Journal. Researchers credit the lycopene, an antioxidant that soaks up tissue-damaging compounds. The result? You’ll feel so good you’ll be ready to kick butt again in class tomorrow.
Salad isn’t only good for your thighs: People who ate three ounces of delicate, spicy watercress for eight weeks daily before strenuous exercise had less post-workout muscle damage. The veggies pack a wallop of nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamin E to flush waste out of muscles and speed up repair, say researchers in the British Journal of Nutrition.
You’ll probably get the best results after long-term use, Kimball says, although the study did show a similar effect when watercress was eaten just two hours pre-workout. Stock up on any green—kale, Swiss chard, arugula—and consider adding a splash of olive oil, as fat enhances the absorption of beta carotene and other nutrients.