Pumpkin and butternut provide impressive amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
They’re simple to prepare, and their status as “nutritional superstores” makes them an ideal post-run food, says sports dietician Suzanne Girard Eberle, the author of Endurance Sports Nutrition.
A bowl of butternut soup or a dish of butternut mash after a chilly run will help you warm up, rehydrate and guard against infection.
Winter squash is also low in kilojoules (400 per cup) and satisfying to eat.
After a chilly run, it’s nice to come home to a warm and healthy dish.
For runners, winter squash may be the perfect recovery meal. Studies suggest that in the hour after exercise, the body is more susceptible to viruses due to a weakened immune system. One cup of winter squash provides 145 percent of your RDA of beta-carotene and a third of your daily need of vitamin C. These potent antioxidants combat free radicals released during exercise that can compromise your body’s natural defences.
Beta-carotene is also converted by the body into vitamin A, which keeps the mucous membranes working properly. These membranes cover the inside of the mouth and nose, acting as the body’s front lines against infection.
Winter squash serves another important post-run function: aiding in rehydration. Most varieties are 89 percent water, and acorn squash boasts 896 milligrams of potassium per cup (nearly double that of a banana). Potassium, an electrolyte lost through sweat, helps regulate fluid levels in the body. “We sweat more than we think when we run in the cold,” says Eberle. “The abundance of water in squash is a good way to rehydrate after a winter-weather run, when we’re less likely to replenish with a cold drink.”
Moreover, refuelling after a chilly run warms you up by clicking on your internal thermostat. Digestion generates heat in the body, a process called thermogenesis. Your body temperature drops while running in the cold, so eating warm carbs, like a bowl of butternut soup is as good as curling up in front of the fireplace.
Choose squash that’s firm and heavy, has a dry, non-shiny rind, and is free of cracks or bruises. If the rind is shiny or easily nicked, it was picked too early.
Keep whole squash in a cool, dry place (not the fridge) for up to three months; refrigerate cut squash wrapped in plastic for up to two weeks.
Squash can be steamed, boiled, sautéed or microwaved, but baking is the best way to preserve nutrients:
- If you cook squash whole, puncture it several times. Or cut it in half, remove the seeds, and drizzle with olive oil.
- Place in a dish, cut-side down.
- Add 1cm water, cover, and bake at 200 degrees until tender (about 45 minutes).
- Spoon out the flesh and discard the skin, which is inedible.
- To save time, cut the squash into cubes before baking for 15 to 25 minutes.
- If you’re really pressed for time, buy pre-cut pieces and microwave until tender (eight to 15 minutes).
- Sprinkling the squash with your favourite spices before or after you cook it to bring out its natural sweet flavour.
Alternatively, roast with olive oil, carrot, garlic and onion. Serve as a side, or blend with some orange rind for a delicious, winter warming soup.