Benefits of Pumpkin | How to Fuel With Pumpkin

Fall is the season of pumpkin everything. Whether it’s tasting that sweet PSL you’ve been waiting to get your hands on, baking pumpkin bread as the weather cools, or drinking a postrun pumpkin beer, you can’t escape the season’s orange mascot.

And why would you? For runners, there are many benefits of pumpkin that aren’t just embracing the fall flavor. It can be an excellent source of fuel, nutrients and hydration.

Here’s what you need to know about the fall veggie.

[The 2021 Runner’s World Calendar features gorgeous photos, monthly motivation, and tips to inspire your running all year long.]

🎃 What Is Pumpkin?

Pumpkin is a winter squash that is technically a fruit because it has seeds, but is considered a vegetable, based on the nutritional breakdown. There are many different types of pumpkins, not just the standard orange, smooth-skinned one that sits on many front porches during the fall.

“The pumpkin you carve on Halloween is not the same pumpkin you find in canned form in your local grocery store. The one you eat and find in canned form is called sugar pumpkin,” says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, and a spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nutrition-wise, a serving of ½ cup of fresh pumpkin provides:

“Pumpkin adds that nice fall flavor we all know and love to both sweet and savory recipes,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN and owner of Once Upon a Pumpkin. “You could definitely say it’s a fall superfood!”

Another bonus: it’s an affordable source of nutrients.

“Pumpkin is relatively cheap, especially when in season during fall and winter,” says Ehsani. “Buy a fresh sugar pumpkin or purchase it in canned form. Either form is highly nutritious.”

🎃 Why Is Pumpkin a Great Food for Runners?

Given the nutrients that are packed in pumpkin, it’s an obvious choice for runners to add into their diet, whether it’s fresh or canned. Specifically, the vegetable’s iron content is a major bonus for runners.

Pure Pumpkin

“Runners have higher needs of iron, iron deficiency is common amongst runners, especially amongst women runners. Since pumpkin contains iron, pumpkin is an ideal vegetable for any runner to incorporate,” says Ehsani. “Whenever incorporating a food rich in iron, it’s recommended to pair the food also rich in vitamin C.”

For example, if you add pumpkin puree to your morning oatmeal, add an orange, strawberries, or a glass of OJ (foods high in vitamin C) to your breakfast to better absorb the iron in the pumpkin.

And don’t forget the seeds. “Pumpkin seeds also contain some iron, so be sure to sprinkle those on your pumpkin oats, too!” Ehsani adds.

Pumpkin, like other fruits and veggies, can also help runners hydrate. Because runners sweat often, you have an increased need for fluids—and while drinking water is always important, you can also boost your hydration by eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies, which are high in water, Ehsani says.

🎃 Why Is Pumpkin Considered a Superfood?

Pumpkin is key for keeping your immune system in top shape. because it’s high in vitamin A.

“Runners and other endurance athletes are more susceptible to respiratory infections, so by incorporating more foods that support a healthy immune system, their body will be set up to fight off infections,” says Ehsani. “Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, another nutrient that supports a healthy immune system, so don’t throw out those seeds after you cut up your sugar pumpkin. Roast those seeds!

🎃 When Should You Fuel With Pumpkin?

Because pumpkin is a high-fiber food that takes the body longer to digest, Ehsani recommends eating pumpkin to refuel after your runs. To prevent any GI issues, runners should limit high-fiber foods about two-and-a-half to three hours prerun, especially if you are more prone to getting an upset stomach during your run.

To prevent any GI issues, runners should eat low-fiber, easily digested foods to give you energy before a run, such as applesauce, pretzels, a few pieces of watermelon, or a sports drink.

Postrun, pumpkin can also replenish lost electrolytes and prevent muscle cramps.

“Since runners lose electrolytes through sweat during each run, it’s great to replenish with some potassium rich pumpkin post-run,” says Ehsani.

Adds Michalczyk, “Pumpkin is great because since it’s super high in potassium, it can definitely help prevent muscle cramping in runners. And the carbohydrate in pumpkin can help with muscle recovery ”

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🎃 Pumpkin Recipes for Runners

Here are five amazing sweet and savory pumpkin recipes from Michalczyk to get some pumpkin into your running diet.

Pumpkin Apple Baked Oatmeal

This pumpkin apple baked oatmeal is a warm and cozy breakfast that is perfect all fall long! Make it ahead of time and enjoy slices all week with nut butter on top! Store baked oatmeal in the fridge in a covered container for up to a week. The cold pieces taste great, too!


Instructions 🗒
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×9” baking pan, set aside.
In a small whisk together the oats, flax seed, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg, almond milk, pumpkin puree, and vanilla until combined.
Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until completely combined. Let sit for about 3-4 for the oats to absorb some of the liquid. Fold in the pealed diced apples
Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Slice the remaining apple into very thin slices and arrange like a fan on top of the oatmeal, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is set and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool.
Drizzle with almond butter and top with extra low sugar granola, or pecans if desired!

Pumpkin Cookie Protein Balls

Pumpkin cookie protein balls are the perfect post workout or midday snack packed with protein and fiber. Super easy to make with simple ingredients, you’ll love having these to snack on!


Instructions 🗒
In a medium sized bowl combine all ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. The batter will be thick!
Use a cookie scoop to portion out mixture and roll into balls using your hands.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or freeze for longer.

Healthy Pumpkin Smoothie Bowl

This healthy pumpkin smoothie bowl is super smooth and spiced just right for the season! Made with simple ingredients and sweetened naturally, you’ll love this smoothie bowl as a fun snack or breakfast.



Instructions 🗒
Combine all the ingredients together in a blender and blend on high-speed. If using a Vitamix, you will need to use the tamper tool to push the frozen pumpkin puree and banana down so that it blends together.
Blend until smooth, pour into a bowl and top with nut butter, granola, and pumpkin seeds! Enjoy!

Fall Buddha Bowl with Pumpkin Tahini Dressing

Maggie Michalczyk

Fall buddha bowls bring together the best flavors of the season into a nutritious and filling meal that is easy to put together. The pumpkin tahini dressing ties all the flavors together perfectly!


Pumpkin tahini dressing:

Instructions 🗒
Portion cooked quinoa into two bowls.
Add frozen or cooked butternut squash to a sauté pan with olive oil. Saute halfway and add spinach. Turn down to low heat and sauté until spinach is just wilted.
Add butternut squash and spinach on top of quinoa.
Wash and chop the apple. Add to the bowl, along with the cooked delicata squash
Over low heat sauté the pumpkin seeds for 30 -45 seconds until just toasted (no oil is required).
Add the toasted pumpkin seeds and pomegranate seeds to the bowl. Top with parmesan cheese and additional source of protein if desired.
To make the dressing whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl except for the water. Slowly add in water 1 tbsp at a time and whisk to thin out the dressing. I find I need about 3 to 4 tbsp of water to get the desired consistency.
Add a dollop to each bowl and enjoy!

** Delicata squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry the skin — no need to peel it off as it is edible! Cut the ends off the squash and cut it in half length wise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place it seed side down and cut into half moon shapes. Toss with 1 tbsp olive or avocado oil and salt and pepper and cook for about 15 minutes until soft on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Pumpkin Ginger Bisque

This recipe is Michalczyk’s favorite pumpkin soup for fall. It’s thick and creamy, packed with flavor and nutrition and absolutely perfect for when the weather gets a little chilly.


Instructions 🗒
In a large pot heat olive oil and add the garlic and shallot. Stir until fragrant.
Add vegetable broth, and pumpkin puree, and butternut squash and stir to combine.
Add lemon, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.
Blend soup using an immersion blender or transfer ( 1 cup at a time) to a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix) to achieve the creamy blended texture.
If blending in a blender, add back into the soup pot and let simmer for about 5 more minutes.
Grate the parmesan cheese into the soup pot and add extra pepper if desired.
Add to bowls and garnish with greens, sage, extra cheese, pomegranate seeds or toasted pumpkin seeds!

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