Five tips to increase adaptogen intake

Dubbed the ‘superfood 2.0’, adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stresses and improve strength and recovery. With our sceptic’s hat firmly on, here are five foods rich in adaptogens that have other health benefits too.


Ginseng has long been known to reduce perceived levels of fatigue in a similar way to coffee. It has been used throughout the centuries by Chinese and Indian soldiers to increase mental alertness and improve resistance to stress. Historical anecdotes aside, ginseng was proven to improve physical and mental alertness in the Chinese Journal of Physiology.


As well as aiding strength and recovery, nootropics are cognitive enhancers that are used to enhance memory, creativity and productivity. Although these mostly materialise as supplements on the wrong side of the web, some natural herbs offer similar benefits. One of those is bacopa monnieri, which originates as a marsh plant but is used to deal with stress in traditional Chinese medicine. Scientists writing in Phytotherapy Research found that it could help animal subjects deal with stressful situations, but it’s as yet unclear if that translates directly to human brains.


Traditionally used to improve vitality, rhodiola has been demonstrated to reduce fatigue in a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. In good news for runners, the researchers tested participants before and after exhausting exercise, in which rhodiola was shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect and protect muscle tissue during training. Available from health food shops, just blend it into your morning coffee for
a top-up first thing.


Feeling a bit flat during your New Year training programme? Jujube berries are reputed to boost energy levels and aid in recovery, as well as alleviating symptoms of anxiety. It was also noted in a 2015 study published in Pharmacognosy Review for its promising “anticancer effects”, though we’d be incredibly wary of any natural or alternative remedy to life-threatening diseases like cancer. When it comes to picking up your energy for a frosty winter run, though, jujube berries could be worth a look.


According to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, holy basil improves levels of cytokines associated with immunity. Exercise, for all its benefits, reduces immunity, so this is a way of helping to keep colds at bay.

Science news.jpg

Check out more health and science news in the Feb/March issue of Trail Running - out on January 4

Why festive fuel is great for runners

Don't feel guilty about loading up on Christmas day. Here's why THE biggest meal of the year is good for us runners.

Credit: Alamy

Credit: Alamy

World leader
Brussels sprouts are packed with such a huge range of vitamins that they truly can claim to be one of the world’s best super-foods. But preparation is the key – no boiling, ever!

Basic fuel
Potatoes contain fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 content, which coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support heart health. Of course, cooking them in goose fat may affect this!

Drink to this
Red wine is surprisingly healthy (in moderation). It’ll lower cholesterol, it contains antioxidants that help protect your heart, and there have been a host of studies which suggest it fights colds. 

Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which produces serotonin and plays an important role in strengthening the immune system. It also helps you doze off in the afternoon and, as we well know, sleep is good.

Five a day
You won’t need reminding that carrots and broccoli are good for you. Who doesn’t know that? Great sources of vitamins and minerals, they are also antioxidants, adding to heart health. 

Super food
Cranberries are mightily impressive with their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Indeed, there aren’t too many foods around that are quite so impressive.

Nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them just about the best thing on the table. Ignore chocolate cake and opt instead for these beauties.

Pour on the gravy
Right, let’s establish one vital factor from the off: gravy must be homemade, do not use store-bought powders and the like as they are bad for you. Homemade, however, is not. Hooray!

Food fight: Banana flavour Energy Gel v. A real Banana


Renee McGregor, registered dietician, sports nutritionist and author of Training Food, compares the nutritional content and energy boost offered by Stealth Real Fruit Energy Gels in comparison to real fruit.

Banana flavour energy gel

The artificial sweetener used here – Stevia – gave the gel an unpleasant flavour. There are also a lot of ingredients in this gel for something that is so-called ‘natural’, and, while it claims to have no added sugars, it does contain maltodextrin and fructose. Fructose is a carbohydrate and a ‘simple sugar’.

A real Banana

A medium banana provides 80kcal and 25g carbs. In comparison, the gel contains 87kcal and 22g carbs, so there is little difference between the two. Bananas clearly only contain natural sugars, such as sucrose, fructose and glucose, all fuels easily processed for energy.


‘While I can understand that some individuals may enjoy the taste of the Stealth Real Fruit Banana Energy Gel,’ says Renee, ‘I can’t find any reason to choose this over real fruit, unless you’re looking for a more portable energy boost.’

Top 5 reasons why vegans run faster

Endorsed by many celebrities and professional athletes alike, the vegan diet has risen in popularity in recent years, leaving many meat-eaters questioning whether their diet is allowing them to reach their full athletic potential. If you're at all familiar with the world of endurance running, chances are you will have heard of the 'living legend' that is Scott Jurek. Heralded as one of the greatest distance runners in history, many are dying to know - what is his secret? You guessed it, he's vegan.

And here's why you should be too...


1. It's good for you!

Plant-based foods are not only rich in antioxidants, but you'll be glad to know that the high-fiber consumption also promotes healthy bowel movement. 'But what about protein?' I hear you cry. Contrary to popular belief, vegans can easily get enough protein, iron and calcium. In fact, the average meat-eater eats far over the recommended amount of protein and far under the recommendations for fiber. These can be found in natural foods like veggies, beans, lentils and non-dairy milks. The only supplement you'll need is b12, which can be found in tablets and nutritional yeast. Your vitamin consumption will be through the roof, you'll feel more energised and find that those hard workouts are suddenly much easier and you'll have more in the tank for longer runs. 

2. Dairy is unhealthy 

Some suggest that dairy may not be as healthy as the consumer may think. Evidence is contradictory as to the extent that it benefits bone health and prevents osteoporosis. It is full of trans fat and studies suggest that it may raise the risk of cancer. Those worried about calcium deficiency without dairy are misinformed. Vegan sources of calcium are not only found in a much healthier format, but exist in an array of foods, such as: dark leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified soy milk and tofu, to name a few. Trans fats are only found in animal products and take more energy to breakdown, often stored as fat rather than converted to useable energy, leaving less energy for running. Unencumbered by this, vegans benefit from more instant energy that is ideal for tempo (HIIT) or strength training. 

3. Cut out the junk 

While there is vegan junk food, it is harder to come by and generally more pricey. Thus, you are much less likely to eat those familiar unhealthy junk foods like chocolate, ice cream, sweets, biscuits and fast foods. That's not to say that the vegan diet is completely strict and joy-less - lots of foods like dark chocolate and flapjacks can still be eaten, along with a few 'accidentally vegan' consumer favorites like oreos and skittles. Vegan options make ideal race fuel, choices like bananas, nut butter, potatoes and energy gels mean that it is still possible to achieve a burst of energy while eating smart. 

4. Keep in shape 

Have you lost all hope of losing those last few pounds, with ideal race weight seeming a million miles away? A vegan diet will make it easier to lean-up and speed-up, eliminating the extra body fat weighing you down. Swapping saturated fats for healthy alternatives like avocados and nuts, while upping your intake of veg will undoubtedly reap rewards. A plant-based diet is proven to reduce the risk of diabetes and improve cardiovascular health. Hence, a vegan diet can sharpen your PBs and power up those running muscles. 

5. Save money 

Evidently, your weekly grocery list will start to be dominated by veg and fruit. Since you will be spending significantly less money on food, you can dedicate more cash to better running gear and race entries. Great for you and your pocket! Picture yourself speeding along those trails in the latest high-tec trail shoe, sipping on your new swanky hydration pack and with a pair of trendy sunglasses perched on your nose. Heaven. 

A word of warning - like all diets, veganism can be done wrong and make you unhealthy. It is essential that the vegan diet is tackled with an awareness of the importance of a balanced diet and individual caloric needs. 

If you'd like to learn more about vegan running then check out The Vegan Society's article here, or discover Vegan Runners Uk's growing community. Interested in the bigger picture? Read here how being vegan reduces carbon footprint. 

Written by Kate Milsom, a bona fide vegan runner. 


Jo Morrison, health impact coach, says, “Juicing floods the body with essential vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be absorbed within 15-20 minutes of consumption and without overloading digestion. Always have a supply of beetroot, celery and cucumber; University of Exeter research found that nitrate contained in beetroot makes exercise less tiring. Celery and cucumber aid hydration, and coconut water has an isotonic effect – replacing fluids and minerals lost when the body exercises.” Try Jo’s top three juices for runners – for more, visit



  • Mint

  • Pineapple

  • Apple

  • Celery

  • Cucumber

  • Beetroot (fresh, uncooked)

  • Slice of lime {skin removed)

  • Avocado

  • 1tsp protein powder

Add the above to a blender and blitz together for a quick energy boost packed with minerals.



  • Apple

  • Chunk of ginger

  • Slice of lemon

  • Small piece of turmeric

Make up a batch, pour into ice trays and put in the freezer – then take one out daily, melt in a glass, and enjoy. Ginger and turmeric are anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, amongst other things, so may assist with any aches and pains sustained after training.



  • Half an avocado

  • Banana

  • Slice of pineapple

  • Passion fruit

  • Ginger

  • Cup of almond milk or coconut water

  • 1tsp protein powder

  • Blueberries

  • 1tsp maca powder

  • 1sp manuka honey

Blend these all together until smooth. Contains muscle-replenishing protein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory elements.


Paleo may not be stealing the limelight as it once was but protein is still the cool kid in the nutritional playground. More and more research into this vital macronutrient confirms its effectiveness at not only repairing muscles but maintaining healthy function of your organs, bones and skin. Keen to capitalise on the trend are brands touting protein-rich products, the foremost among which are protein bars and beef jerky or biltong. We asked Sarah Danaher - MSc, dietician and lecturer at St Mary's University - to cast her expert eye over these meaty snacks.



Power Pack[1]_preview.jpg

These Naked Ape bars are a high-protein paleo snack, made from biltong, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. With 52.7g of protein per 100g, and wheat and gluten free, they’re ideal as a pre- and post-run snack. It contains a good blend of protein from the beef and nuts, and quickly absorbed carbohydrates from the dried fruit, as well as healthy fats and antioxidants.

British Beef Jerky product image_preview.jpg

Jerky (dried beef) is often eaten as a snack by endurance athletes because of its high protein content. Each 50g
pack provides 36g protein. This biltong is dry and chewy, so great if you’re not in a hurry to eat and want to give your jaws a workout! These are mostly protein, so for pre-run fuelling or a post-run recovery snack, be sure to add some carbohydrate, such as a banana.


Both of these bars pack a protein punch. Biltong can be tough to eat, however, the dried fruits in the Naked Ape Bar added moistness. The flavour combination of biltong, dried fruits and nuts worked surprisingly well, too. 


Protein is increasingly being recognised as one of the most - if not the most - important nutrient for endurance athletes. Not only does protein build muscle and protect lean muscle from the catabolic effects of aerobic exercise, it's also crucial for a healthy immune system, digestive system and proper maintenance of skin, hair and nails. If you're exercising regularly, your protein requirement will increase in turn - that's according to research from the Journal of Sports Sciences.

You can source most of your protein from a healthy and balanced diet, but for an efficient and convenient hit after training - or just for a sweet treat - protein bars can be a great supplement. We recruited Caspar Rose, CEO of Fresh Fitness Food and nutritionist, to assess the nutritional content of the 7 best on offer.


273kcal | Protein: 20g | Carbs: 27g | Fat: 9g

High in protein and definitely tasty – but this CLIF bar is perhaps more suited to weightlifters than your typical runner. Its whey protein can be difficult to digest, so it might not be ideal post-run when your body prioritises central nervous system (CNS) functions – like getting your breathing back to normal – over digestion.



202kcal | Protein: 10g | Carbs: 23g | Fat: 9g

Flavour-filled sultanas, cranberries and dates in this dairy and gluten-free bar from Chia Charge are not only easy to digest but provide a natural source of sugar to replenish depleted glycogen stores after a long run. Chia seeds – you’ve heard how amazing they are, right? – are high in calcium, too, an important mineral for protecting bone health.



255kcal | Protein: 10g | Carbs: 25g | Fat: 12g

Although 10g of natural protein is enough to kick-start repair of muscles after a training session, it’s the carbohydrate profile which makes this Tribe bar such an effective post-run snack. A delicious mixture of honey, berries and banana fuel you up with this crucial macronutrient.



174kcal | Protein: 10g | Carbs: 22g | Fat: 4g

The hemp protein in this Paleo bar – which contains all 20 essential amino acids, vital for muscle repair – combined with energy-boosting dates, creates a great post-run pick-me-up. It’s a quick source of energy to ensure optimal recovery and refuel – the delicious taste is just an added bonus.



352kcal | Protein: 19g | Carbs: 31g | Fat: 17g

A swift one-two punch of energy sources in this delicious bar makes it perfect for soothing flagging muscles and accelerating recovery. Dates and honey provide an instant hit of natural sugar, while the oats and toasted buckwheat contain slow-digesting carbohydrates to drip-feed your muscles with energy. To ensure this bar is crawling with protein, we’ve added Mophagy cricket powder – as a sustainable food source, it’s the green way to get your fill!



Chop 10g of dates and cover with 15ml of boiling water before mixing them up with a fork. Add in crushed walnuts, oats, cricket protein, coconut oil, honey, vanilla essence, salt and toasted buckwheat, then mix thoroughly. Set the mixture in a tray before cutting out bars and cooling.


207kcal | Protein: 15g | Carbs: 15g | Fat: 9g

Whether you’re looking for a pre-run boost or a light post-workout snack, this pocket-sized bar from Pulsin' is the perfect balance of carbs, protein and healthy fats. The combination of whey and pea protein is easily absorbed and simple to digest, which makes this a far more convenient and versatile snack than other bars.



292kcal | Protein: 12g | Carbs: 22g | Fat: 16g

This ProteinSnack bar isn’t just a great source for muscle recovery – it’s packed with nutrient-rich goji berries, providing the antioxidant defence that runners need as part of a well-balanced diet. Also, its crunchy Brazil nuts provide selenium, an enzyme that helps off-set free-radical cell damage resulting from endurance running.



No, we're not just pitting a regular chocolate bar against something created by sports nutritionist - that would be a tad one-sided. Mars created their very own protein bar last year - in addition to a Snickers protein bar - and in one move gave the world hope that exercise and chocolate could live harmoniously. But how does the new product stack up as fuel for running? We tasked Alexandra Cook, BSc PgDip and registered clinical and sports dietician, to compare it to a regular protein bar.



Mars Protein image_preview.jpg

Mars don’t compromise on taste, but it comes at a price, with an ingredients list as long as your arm. Nutrition values are similar to the Max bar, but Mars use a blend of fast- and slow-acting proteins, which some believe can aid longer-term recovery due to a slower digestion rate. The sugar content is quite high for a snack, and is derived from a lot of questionable ingredients. 

Max Protein Bar - White Choc & Raspberry image_preview.jpg

This bar is purer than the Mars product, with only nine ingredients listed, all of which are recognisable and can be clearly tasted, including oats, dried fruit and nuts. The whey protein content is high at 17g. The body easily absorbs this protein, stimulating muscle repair. The dried fruit and juices provide the sugar and fibre, together with 23g of carbohydrates, for a great recovery snack. 


Both products have a good carbohydrate and protein balance, however, the Mars is sweet and essentially a glorified chocolate bar. The Max bar has wholesome ingredients and tastes less manufactured, so is a wiser nutritional choice. 


Dedicated speed and power training is far more demanding on your musculoskeletal system than regular running. You’ll realise this the day or so after your first couple of sessions – we guarantee your legs will be sore. This soreness isn’t a bad thing, as inflammation and subsequent recovery are what stimulates muscles to adapt and become stronger. However, this recovery has to be fuelled, and the key ingredient is protein. You can also manage the inflammation by ensuring your diet is rich in omega-3 oils, found in oily fish and seeds. It’s important to make the distinction between managing inflammation and preventing it, though. Inflammation is essential for adaptation, so you don’t want to actively try and prevent it by taking painkillers or icing. If you’ve got sore legs, one of the best things you can do is go for an easy cycle. Another reason why protein is essential is that you’ll probably be trying to combine your speed and power work with endurance sessions. Known as concurrent training, the endurance workouts can have a detrimental effect on speed and power gains. But, by providing your body with adequate protein, these negative effects can be reduced.


British Cycling’s dietician Nigel Mitchell says, “Day-to-day hydration is as important as that during training and racing. Drink plenty of water and monitor your urine colour; aim for straw-coloured. For shorter sessions up to an hour, you can get away without drinking,
but re-hydrate little and often. For longer sessions, also drink little and often; set a reminder on your watch. A great DIY sports drink is 50% pineapple juice, 50% water and a pinch of salt.”