One time, after a particularly lovely fall run on a trail near my high school in Highlands, N.J., my awe at the fall colors and my
cross-country-practice-fueled hunger led me to singlehandedly consume an entire bag of candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins.
I wish I could say my tastes and I have both matured since then. The truth is, only my metabolism has, leaving me scrounging around for foods that help me celebrate my favorite season without bursting out of my running shorts.
My solution: Actual pumpkin. Canned or fresh. In everything from oatmeal to soup to brownies. It’s filling and nutritious, and registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield, part-time faculty in Sports Nutrition at George Washington University, confirms my belief that it might just be the perfect fuel for runners.
I already knew pumpkin was packed with vitamins C and A — 300 percent of your daily value of the latter. I didn’t know how delightfully carbolicious it was. Scritchfield says 90 percent of pumpkin’s calories come from carbohydrates, the gasoline that fuels runners. Scritchfield also says one serving of canned pumpkin also provides five grams of fiber, plus a host of vitamins and minerals.
“Most important to athletes is the vitamin E in pumpkin,” Scritchfield says. “Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which the body uses as a first line of defense against cellular damage. Exercise increases free radical production, and the vitamin E in pumpkin can help zap those free radicals before they cause damage.”
Canned pumpkin also provides iron, vitamin C, calcium, and, of course, that whopping serving of vitamin A, which Scritchfield says “helps with vision — especially in darkness so you can see the trail better if you get caught running at sunrise or sunset!”
Scritchfield says she likes to bake his pumpkin banana bread which offers the carbohydrates, protein and vitamins runners needs while keeping fat low (the banana and pumpkin can replace some of the fat).
Below are a few of my own favorite pumpkin recipes and ideas to get your fall fix without consuming your weight in corn syrup:
- Pumpkin oatmeal, a la Hungry Girl, who also offers recipes for pumpkin dip and pumpkin fudge. Hint: For baking you can also substitute pumpkin for oil in chocolate-based recipes like brownies.
- Pumpkin soup. Again, Hungry Girl offers a kick-butt recipe that’s easy enough for an everyday lunch and provides tons of leftovers.
- Pumpkin lasagna; just sub a layer of pumpkin for the red sauce and cheese it up as you normally would.
- One I haven’t tried, but that looks fabulous: Hungry Girl’s healthy pumpkin pie recipe (What can I say? The girl knows her pumpkin!)
- And of course, my own my fabulous (if I don’t say so myself) pumpkin-dark chocolate muffins. Best pre-run snack or breakfast ever!
- I’m even thinking about putting it in a post-long-run smoothie this week with some nonfat Greek yogurt, milk, vanilla and sweetener. I’ll let you know how that works out for me.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Please, please expand my fall-foods repertoire and share it by posting a comment below!
Want more great recipes and sports nutrition advice? Check out Scritchfield’s Web site.
Want free trail-running shoes? You’ve got one more day to enter my giveaway! Enter by posting a comment sharing your best trail-running story at the bottom of this post by the end of the day Thursday.