Food For ... Stress - She Runs Eats Performs

Episode 38

Published on:

7th Jan 2021

Food For ... Stress


Running, especially long distance/endurance running is a stressor to the body, which is often associated with GI distress. GI distress is an area we discuss in detail in Ep3 when discussing Digestive Distress and again in Ep23 where we focus on Runner’ Gut.

Some stress can be outside our control, so to help us limit the stress we experience it is important to address the stressors that are WITHIN our control.

From a health and nutritional view point as a runner, our aims for this episode are to consider some foods that may help limit the stress load on the body and also help us cope with the stress we cannot control.  

Show Notes


Our non-nutrition approach to supporting running related stress load – sleep, yoga and pilates. We also introduce the 4 foods we are spotlighting in this episode.

·     Mackerel

·     Red Bell Peppers

·     Mushrooms

·     Dark Chocolate



It is the Omega 3 Fatty Acids contained within Mackerel (and other oily fish) that are thought to help reduce the effects of stress and Omega 3 FAs are already very well known for their anti-inflammatory properties.

The metabolism of Omega 3 FAs results in the production of DHA and EPA and it is these metabolites that are thought to help reduce the effects of stress by exerting their influence on cortisol (the chief stress hormone) either directly or indirectly.

A study in 2010 showed that EPA/DHA could blunt the increase in cortisol found after intense exercise. The proposed mechanism of lowering cortisol was the ability of DHA/EPA to reduce the production of a very potent inflammatory molecule (cytokine)known as interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-6 can stimulate the HPA-Axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) leading to increased cortisol levels. So, controlling inflammation is a critical goal in reducing excess cortisol.

A more recent study, completed in 2012, which revealed another target of EFAs. This study proposed that substances called pro-resolution molecules (including lipoxins, resolvins, and protectins), are used by the body to turn OFF chronic inflammation. EPA and DHA have a major influence on enhancing production of these molecules, therefore are potentially influential in reducing chronic inflammation and thus cortisol levels.

We can see from both these studies, it appears to be the influence of DHA and EPA on inflammation that helps diminish cortisol levels, thus reducing the stress response


Red Bell Pepper       

Stress leads to the overstimulation of the adrenal glands as requirements for the stress hormones (especially cortisol) are required. This energy intensive process uses up significant amounts of certain nutrients, especially vitamin C, Magnesium and Vitamin B5. As a result, these nutrients may become depleted. For a runner, these depletions may lead to an increased risk of injury, illness (URTI/UTI), low energy, poor recovery and ultimately poor performance.

Bell peppers are a good source of Vitamin C. All bell peppers have a vitamin C content but red bell peppers have the highest content. For example, red bell peppers contain 190mg per 100g of pepper whereas green bell pepper contains 128mg/100g.

By adding red bell peppers to your diet on a regular basis may help to increase the body’s vitamin C status. This could help reduce the effects of low vitamin C levels caused by stress.



Mushrooms, especially Shitake, Maitake and Reishi have played an essential role in Asian medicinal traditions for many centuries. As the scientific evidence increases regarding their health benefits, they are becoming more and more popular in the western world as a food source as well as being used therapeutically for health.

We have discussed mushrooms and their healing properties in other Episodes including Ep14 when discussing the immune system.

We have included mushrooms today because they are a rich source of vitamin B5 otherwise known as Pantothenic Acid. B5 could be insufficient in times of stress due to the overstimulation of the adrenal glands.

One of the principle functions of B5 is the synthesis of coenzyme A (CoA), which is important in the metabolism of FATS/PRO/CHOs for energy production. So, for a runner, low B5 availability could lead to low energy, fatigue and poor recovery from training.

Also, the Vit B5 content of mushrooms varies depending on the mushroom variety. For example when comparing dried mushrooms, Shiitake contains the highest amount with a content of 7.93mg per 100g followed by Maitake with a 3.67mg Vit B5 content/100g.

Fresh, raw mushrooms sees oyster mushrooms having a 2.4mg content of B5 with the button mushroom varieties having 1.54mg/100g. This may not sound a lot but then we only require approx. 5mg of B5/d….although the need would potentially be higher in times of stress.


Dark Chocolate

With regards to Dark Chocolate, we are thinking about its Magnesium content. Magnesium is required in over 300 biochemical processes within the body including the metabolism of the macronutrients and the production of energy. For us as runners Magnesium is also required to maintain bone health and is integral in muscle contraction/relaxation.

If stress is high and we have compromised Mg levels then our running performance will suffer.

Dark chocolate COULD be part of an overall strategy to increase Magnesium  intake alongside other magnesium rich foods.

When considering which dark chocolate to purchase, ensure it contains at least 70% cacao solids….aim for at least 80% if you can.

A good quality 100 gm bar of dark chocolate would contain approx 170 mg of magnesium. This is a reasonable amount of Magnesium per 100g, however we would not advocate you have this amount of chocolate per serving. A serving of around 2-3 squares, so approx. 30mg would be recommended, which would be approx. 55mg of Magnesium.


A summary of the key nutritional properties of these 4 foods

1.    The principle nutritional properties of Mackerel in supporting the reduction of the health effects of stress are the Omega-3 Fatty Acids, more specifically DHA and EPA, which are known to reduce the effects of stress by exerting their influence on cortisol.

2.    The principle nutritional property of Red Bell Peppers in reducing the effects of stress is Vitamin C. This nutrient is depleted in chronic stress due to the over stimulation of the adrenal glands, so we must replace it to help avoid any detrimental effects to our health or our running.

3.    The principle nutritional property of Mushrooms in reducing the effects of stress is Vitamin B5. Like Vitamin C it is required by the adrenal glands in high amounts during times of stress, therefore other processes requiring B5 may suffer leading to health issues.  

4.    The principle nutritional property of Dark Chocolate in diminishing the effects of stress is its magnesium content. Magnesium is also depleted in times of stress and as it is required in so many bodily/enzymatic processes and is needed by a runner for energy, muscle contraction and relaxation and optimizing bone health.


Our menu and recipe ideas

Food ideas for Mackerel: fishcakes, smoked mackerel pate,

Food ideas for Red Bell Pepper: stuffed peppers, roasted peppers with garlic, roasted pepper soup    

Food ideas for Mushrooms: chestnut and mushroom soup, mushroom pate, portobello mushrooms with goat’s cheese, mushroom risotto, mushroom moussaka

Food ideas for Dark Chocolate: as it is, chocolate coated strawberries and cherries, chocolate coated flapjacks, cacao trail mix, chocolate and almond butter cups


Our 1-Day Menu Suggestions

Breakfast – Sauteed Mushrooms with Spinach and Egg on Rye Bread

Lunch – Roasted Red Pepper and White Bean Soup

Evening Meal – Mackerel Fish Cakes with Rocket Salad

Snacks – Smoked Mackerel or Mushroom Pate on Oatcakes, Red Pepper Hummus with Carrot Sticks, Cacao, Goji Berries and Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix, Cherry and Chocolate Drizzle Flapjack

Related Topics:

High Stress Poor Performance

Healthy Woman Healthy Runner Lifestyle Essentials

Download your FREE GUIDE Top Running Snacks and Nutrient Timing


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and

advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact

your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.

Together they host RUNNERS HEALTH HUB. A place for like-minded runners who are looking for simple ways to support running performance, energy, endurance, and general great health.

We are excited to be able to share our expertise, experience and short cuts with you. We hope you'll join us again. If you'd like to know more about us and She Runs Eats Performs please check out our TRAILER.

If you're ready to make learn more about how you may introduce easy nutrition into your running and training plan join our Easy Nutrition For Healthy Runners Online Programme for short videos, recipes, downloads and LIVE training and Q&A.

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Happy Running!

Aileen and Karen  

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About the Podcast

She Runs Eats Performs
for mid-life female runners of all abilities
Are you confused about the science around nutrition for runners? Listen in to learn about the WHY, HOW, WHAT, and WHEN of eating to fuel your running performance.

We are here to help you translate sports nutritional science, into easy to apply tips and plans, helping you enjoy peak running performance. We focus on the FEMALE FACTORS every mid-life woman needs to know to be a healthy runner.

About your host

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Aileen Smith

Nutritionists, Educators, Podcasters, Runners and Friends

We have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living. She Runs Eats Performs for female runners of all abilities who are looking for simple ways to improve their running performance and their health with nutrition and lifestyle.
We enjoy sharing our nutritional expertise, reviewing the latest sports science and most of all helping you to take easy action so you can enjoy your running life to the full.
We are here to help you achieve great health and good shape whilst staying injury-free with easy-to-understand sports nutritional concepts and easy-to-implement tips and plans.

Aileen and Karen are BANT and CNHC Registered Nutritional Therapists.