Why Runners Should Eat These Vitamin E-Rich Foods To Boost Immunity

Boost your recovery with this key antioxidant.


“Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in the body,” Holley Samuel, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a runner, tells Runner’s World. Antioxidants like vitamin E help protect your body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are compounds found in cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light and can damage cells.

The antioxidant effects of vitamin E benefit many of your body’s systems, from immune health to hormones to cognition, and may reduce your cancer risk, Samuel says.

In addition, vitamin E is essential for heart health. “Vitamin E plays an important role in cardiovascular health by helping widen blood vessels and prevent blood clots,” Dr Megan Meyer, a science communications consultant and runner tells Runner’s World.

Vitamin E may be especially beneficial for runners, so we found out everything you need to know about this nutrient, including how to know if you’re deficient and which foods are high in vitamin E.

How Foods High in Vitamin E Help Runners
Runners generate oxidative stress thanks to prolonged or intense exercise, which can damage muscle fibres and proteins and may contribute to fatigue, per research in the Journal of Sport and Health Science. “This isn’t a bad thing, so long as runners recover properly with adequate fueling and sleep,” Samuel notes.

Recovery requires more than just rest, though. You also need to eat right, and vitamin E is one component of a nutrition plan that supports recovery. “Consuming adequate vitamin E in the diet can help reduce the oxidative stress that heavy training can cause,” Samuel says.

Another way vitamin E helps recovery? It fights off infections, which runners may be vulnerable to after very intense exercise, according to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. In fact, the highest concentrations of vitamin E can be found in immune cells, and research published in IUBMB Life notes that it’s one of the most effective nutrients for immune function.

Why You Need to Get Enough Vitamin E
Insufficient vitamin E intake can lead to muscle and nerve damage, and it can compromise your immune system. A few more severe signs of vitamin E deficiency include loss of sensation in the arms and legs, weakened muscles, impaired body movement control, vision issues, and greater susceptibility to illnesses or infections.

Meyer notes that vitamin E deficiency is rare in healthy folks. “Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, deficiency is usually linked to conditions where fat is not absorbed or properly digested,” she says. These conditions include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, Celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Talk to a doctor or registered dietitian if you notice any symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency, as they can help you determine if the underlying cause is one of these conditions.

Underfueling, whether intentional or not, can also lead to vitamin E deficiency if your diet lacks vitamin E-rich foods or adequate fat to absorb it. “This is a common issue in the endurance community for athletes of all levels,” Samuel notes, pointing to the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes healthy fats.

10 Foods High in Vitamin E
To keep your vitamin E stores at healthy levels, aim for 15 milligrams daily or 19 milligrams if breastfeeding. Samuel says that food sources are your best bet for filling up on this vitamin, rather than supplements, because whole foods offer many nutrients — not just vitamin E — and help you score the benefits of a well-rounded diet.

These vitamin E-containing foods can help you meet your optimal intake:

1. Almonds
“Almonds are an antioxidant powerhouse,” Meyer says. One ounce of dry-roasted almonds contains about 7 mg or 45 percent of your daily value (DV) of vitamin E. Eat them raw or use them as a crunchy topping for yoghurt, Meyer suggests.

2. Sunflower Oil
While sunflower oil is a less common cooking oil, it’s one of the highest vitamin E-containing options, Meyer says. One tablespoon contains about 6 mg or 37 percent of your DV of vitamin E.

3. Avocado
Avocado offers vitamin E (about 4 mg or 21 percent of your DV in one avocado) and fat to help with absorption. Add sliced avocado to your sandwiches, soups, and tacos, or use it in place of mayonnaise.

4. Broccoli
Not all vegetables provide vitamin E, but broccoli does. One cup of raw broccoli contains nearly 1 mg of vitamin E. Eat it as a side, mix it into your salads, or incorporate it into stir-fry dishes.

5. Mango
This tropical fruit offers 1.5 mg or 5 percent of your DV of vitamin E in every 1-cup serving. Fresh mango tastes great on its own, but it also lends a sweet, fruity flavour to yoghurt and smoothies.

6. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter contains about 3 mg or 19 percent of your DV of vitamin E in two tablespoons. Make an old-fashioned PB&J, add to your post-workout smoothie, or pair it with apple slices for an easy snack.

7. Wheat Germ
You can add wheat germ to yoghurt, salads, and cereals for some healthy vitamin E. A ½-cup has more than 9 mg or 16 percent of your DV. Wheat germ has a great nutty flavour and healthy fatty acids.

8. Hazelnuts
Like other nuts, hazelnuts provide vitamin E (more than 4 mg or 29 percent of your DV in 1 ounce) and healthy fats to help with the absorption, Samuel notes. Add toasted hazelnuts to salads, roasted vegetable dishes, or eat them solo.

9. Asparagus
This veggie offers a bit of vitamin E (1.5 mg or one percent of your DV per cup), though you’ll want to add a healthy fat to boost absorption. Samuel suggests sautéing or roasting the asparagus in avocado oil. You can also pair asparagus with eggs to get fat and protein, too.

10. Pumpkin
Earthy, mildly-sweet pumpkin contains nearly 3 mg or 26 percent of your DV of vitamin E in two cups (cubed). Try roasting pumpkin, mashing it, and using it in place of oil when baking, or creating a pumpkin puree soup. Pumpkin seeds also have a relatively high amount of vitamin E (about 1.5 mg in a ½-cup), and you can sprinkle those on salads for crunch.

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