There’s a solid reason why everything from sour candies and cereals to antacids and energy gels come berry-flavored. It’s a crowd-pleasing, sweet flavor. But besides the undeniable deliciousness of artificially-flavored “berry” foods, the real deal is one of the best foods for runners. Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries—as well as their less-common but still-stellar siblings, acai and gooseberries—are all jam-packed with nutrition and are remarkably versatile.
Any and all of the types of berries are a boon for your body and brain, and support for your fitness goals—offering plenty of reasons why runners should get more of them in their diets. Here, all the benefits of berries and how they promote your overall health and performance.
What nutrients will you get from berries?
According to 2021 data from the American Society for Nutrition, a mere 7 percent of Americans eat enough of one very important carbohydrate: fiber. While whole grains and vegetables are strong sources of fiber, fruit—something that 80 percent of American adults don’t eat enough of—is also a major vehicle for this important nutrient. Not only does fiber keep us full, but it also aids in digestion, supports heart health, and lowers risk for several chronic diseases, according to research.
“Berries are among the best sources of dietary fiber in the fruit category,” explains Michelle Hyman, RD, a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss in New York City. “They also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients. Some varieties, such as strawberries, are even surprisingly great sources of vitamin C.”
The nutritional value of berries differs slightly based on the type, but each one packs mega health benefits. Here, the nutrition facts per 1-cup serving of some of the most common raw berries, according to the USDA.
Strawberry nutrition facts:
- 53 calories
- 1 g protein
- 0.5 g total fat
- 13 g carbohydrates
- 3 g fiber
- 8 g sugar
- 98 mg vitamin C
- 27 mg calcium
- 254 mg potassium
Blueberry nutrition facts:
- 86 calories
- 1 g protein
- 0.5 g total fat
- 22 g carbohydrates
- 4 g fiber
- 15 g sugar
- 15 mg vitamin C
- 9 mg calcium
- 116 mg potassium
Blackberry nutrition facts:
- 65 calories
- 2 g protein
- 1 g total fat
- 14 g carbohydrates
- 8 g fiber
- 7 g sugar
- 32 mg vitamin C
- 44 mg calcium
- 243 mg potassium
Raspberry nutrition facts:
- 78 calories
- 2 g protein
- 1 g total fat
- 18 g carbohydrates
- 10 g fiber
- 7 g sugar
- 39 mg vitamin C
- 38 mg calcium
- 226 mg potassium
Cranberry nutrition facts:
- 46 calories
- 0.5 g protein
- 0 g total fat
- 12 g carbohydrates
- 4 g fiber
- 4 g sugar
- 14 mg vitamin C
- 8 mg calcium
- 80 mg potassium
What are the health benefits of berries?
Getting your five-a-day of fruit and veggies from any source has been linked to lower risk of mortality, per a meta-analysis published in March 2021 in the journal Circulation. But berries specifically offer a slew of health benefits:
1. They’re an all-natural anti-inflammatory
Fruit as a whole category is known to fight inflammation, Hyman says, “which may be of benefit for individuals that participate in high-intensity training like running.”
Vitamin C, quercetin (a flavonoid), and manganese function as antioxidants in the body, adds Mary Stewart, RD, a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas. This and the anthocyanins (polyphenols) that lend the vibrant color to berries makes them especially powerful at combating chronic inflammation caused by stress, unhealthy food choices, and lack of or too much physical activity.
2. They might help you perform better
In addition to being anti-inflammatory, berries offer antioxidant properties that can help combat fatigue and promote recovery, explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based nutrition expert and avid runner.
Research suggests that blueberry powder supplementation can stave off the blood lactate response in running, potentially allowing you to go longer or at a higher intensity without fatigue, Largeman-Roth says. (Full disclosure: The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council funded the study.)
3. Berries help increase satiety
Berries, one of the best carbs for runners, are also among the most filling ingredients to add to your post-workout snack or smoothie—that’s thanks to their fiber content. Raspberries and blackberries are particularly potent in fiber, “a key nutrient for weight management, gut health and reducing risk of chronic disease,” Stewart says.
Berries of all kinds feed your gut with soluble fiber, which not only helps keep you fuller longer than, say, potato chips, because its slower to digest, but also blocks the absorption of some of the fat and cholesterol in your bloodstream.
4. They lower risk for chronic diseases
Research proves that eating berries three times per week or more may lead to lower risk for type 2 diabetes and heart attacks. Adults who fall into the “overweight” and “obese” categories who eat 1 cup of blueberries each day for six months report notable improvements in heart health, reports a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2019.
5. They support your immune system
All berries come packed with vitamin C, no supplementation required, and strawberries are an especially good source. (A cup of strawberries actually has more vitamin C than an orange, according to the National Institutes of Health.)
“Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps support a healthy immune system and protect cells from free radical damage,” Largeman-Roth says.
6. They may reduce risk for certain cancers
Speaking of free radicals, the antioxidants in berries, such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and resveratrol, has been correlated with lower risk for several cancers, including breast cancer, cancers of the GI tract, and oral cancers. This may be in part due to the antioxidants’ ability to “detoxify” carcinogens that may harm DNA during the cancer development process.
10 ways to add berries to your diet
Crank up the color and the nutrition of any meal of the day with these unexpected ideas from Hyman, Stewart, and Largeman-Roth:
- Pop a few berries into ice cubes to use in regular or sparkling water
- Stack inside a grilled cheese sandwich
- Make a sweet-and-savory pizza with ricotta cheese, prosciutto, berries, arugula, and fresh herbs
- Stir together a berry pan sauce for pasta with a splash of olive oil, plus equal parts berries and Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt
- Create fruit chia jam by heating frozen berries with a spoonful of chia seeds, then refrigerate until gel-like
- Fold them into pancake or waffle batter
- Puree frozen berries and coconut water or nut milk for a DIY sorbet
- Stir berries into yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal
- Snack on a smashed berry and nut butter tortilla roll-up
Just keep in mind: “As with any food or beverage, portion size is key. Berries are a high-fiber food and although this is a great attribute when evaluating the nutrient density of a food, consuming too much fiber too fast can lead to digestive discomfort, like bloating or constipation,” Stewart says. “If you’re new to consuming berries, start with a small serving of ½ to 1 cup and drink plenty of water.” Also, begin by incorporating berries into your diet after workouts, rather than before until you know how your digestive system responds.
The bottom line on the benefits of berries
“Athletes, including runners, may experience exercise-induced oxidative stress and, therefore, consuming adequate amounts of anti-inflammatory foods like berries, will support in recovery,” Stewart says.
If it fits your budget and you can find them, stock up on organic berries, Stewart suggests. That’s because strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are consistently ranked among the highest fruits in terms of pesticide residue, per the Environmental Working Group. “This can be significantly improved by buying organic produce,” Stewart adds.
Whether you buy them fresh or frozen, organic or non-organic, the goal is getting in your two to four servings of fruit per day, with berries being a top choice.
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