Foods to Improve Blood Flow

By Briana Bruinooge, RD, CSSD, CPT

Updated January 14, 2024
This post may contain affiliate links.
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Have you ever felt your toes tingle or your calf cramp up when you’re halfway to the top of a mountain peak? Poor blood flow to these areas of the body could be contributing to muscle cramps or a numbness feeling in your toes or fingers. By eating foods to improve blood flow, your body benefits from reduced inflammation in your muscles and a reduced feeling of fatigue.

We naturally have short-term inflammation in our bodies from exercising. Reducing inflammation, especially on strenuous backpacking trips or multi-pitch rock climbs, can help your muscles recover faster to take on your next strenuous day. Not only does better circulation benefit your muscles, but it also strengthens your heart and lungs.

Have you ever hiked at high altitude and found that difficulty breathing prevents you from hiking higher? Eating foods to improve blood flow can help when altitude changes are significant.

Before your planned trip in the backcountry, focus on eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and various herbs and spices to improve blood flow. Now let’s translate this dietary lifestyle into feasible backcountry meals.

Eating Fruits and Vegetables to Improve Blood Flow

The following list includes fruits and vegetables that can improve blood flow.

  • Dehydrated dark leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Dried cherries, blueberries, raspberries
  • Citrus fruits- fresh clementines and oranges if it’s feasible to bring with you, or try squeezing lemon/lime into your water at the start of your adventure.
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Eating Nitrates to Increase Blood Flow

Leafy greens and beets are rich in nitrates (NO3-), which convert to nitrites (NO2-) and then nitric oxide (NO) in your body. Nitric oxide increases vasodilation, which increases the diameter of blood vessels and allows for better blood flow to your muscles. Nitrates are naturally occurring in vegetables. Nitrites are found as additives to meats. Nitrites are concerning in this aspect when instead of converting to beneficial Nitric oxide, they convert to carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines form when nitrites in meat are exposed to high heat.

What’s the hype around beet juice?

In various studies with athletes drinking concentrated beet juice to improve circulation, athletic performance for both resistance training and endurance training was improved. Combining hiking and carrying a heavy pack when backpacking through the mountains causes your muscles to fatigue quicker. Nitrate foods such as beet juice have also improved exercise tolerance at high altitudes by moving more oxygen to your tissues. So when you’re nearing that peak at 10,000 feet in altitude, concentrated beet juice such as BeetElite or bringing a beet powder like Humann Super Beets added to your water would be a great choice to begin your strenuous adventure.

Eating Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Reduce Inflammation 

Healthy fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and fish.

  • Try to eat fish at least twice weekly or supplement with a fish oil pill if necessary for the pre-adventure everyday lifestyle. When going out in the wilderness, bring a few salmon and tuna packets. Look for meals that include flaxseed or chia seed in them.
  • Combine cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and pistachios with sesame sticks to make a delicious trail mix.
  • Choose walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds in dry-food meals for the longer wilderness trekking days.

Eating Herbs and Spices to Improve Blood Flow

Herbs and spices contain numerous antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.

Great additions to flavor foods and improve blood flow:

  • Cocoa: Try 72 % cocoa dark chocolate chunks in your trail mix.
  • Turmeric with black pepper: Grab an Indian-style meal with curry, many of which contain turmeric and black pepper. These ingredients will reduce inflammation and increase healthy blood flow to your entire body.
  • Ginger or Garlic: Try dehydrated foods seasoned with ginger for a fresh taste or garlic for a savory taste.
  • Cinnamon: Next time you bring peanut butter with you on a trip, sprinkle cinnamon on top to add more flavor and anti-inflammatory properties.

Another option for spices in the backcountry would be to bring your favorites in a ziplock baggy or spice kit to dash on top of your planned meals.

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Keep it up at home and on the trail!

Keep exercising and eating foods that fuel your daily adventures and prepare you for your longer outings in the backcountry! Seek out a sports dietitian to help guide your individual nutrition needs and fitness goals.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
    Backcountry Foodie Foods to Improve Blood Flow blogger and registered dietitian nutritionist Briana Bruinooge

    Briana Bruinooge, RD, CSSD, CPT is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She works closely with teenage and above adults to match nutrition intake with optimal athletic performance. Briana enjoys trail running, gravel biking, and hiking and skiing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Her longest trail run has been a 50K in Maine. She understands that matching athletic performance with nutrition needs is not an easy task, and she is here to help. Check her out at nenutritionexercise.com

    References:
    • Mosher, SL, Sparks, SA, Williams, EL, Bentley, DJ, and Mc Naughton, LR. Ingestion of a nitric oxide enhancing supplement improves resistance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res 30 (12): 3520–3524, 2016.
    • Tom Clifford, Bram Berntzen, Gareth W. Davison, Daniel J. West, Glyn Howatson, and Emma J. Stevenson. Effects of Beetroot Juice on Recovery of Muscle Function and Performance between Bouts of Repeated Sprint Exercise. Nutrients 2016, 8, 506.
    • Whitfield, J., D. Gamu, G. J. F. Heigenhauser, L. J. C. Van Loon, L. L. Spriet, A. R. Tupling, and G. P. Holloway. Beetroot Juice Increases Human Muscle Force without Changing Ca2+-Handling Proteins. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 49, No. 10, pp. 2016–2024, 2017.

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