I can’t breathe!

I went out for a 5k run this weekend and I noticed that I was struggling with my endurance and speed. It was a hot, humid day and as I ran I kept wondering what could be wrong. I felt like I was getting no air.

I was running on a residential street when a car decided to run a stop sign, cutting me off. I ended up breathing in a lung full of exhaust, and that’s when it hit me. I ran home and did some research.

I was shocked to learn:

The lung damage from running in the middle of the day when smog and air pollution are at their highest has been equated to smoking.

I have never smoked in my life, so the thought that my lungs might be less than perfect because of the fact that I like to run during the day comes as a real shock. Since I can’t change where I live (a big city), I am going to try to combat this nutritionally as well as practically (by running earlier in the morning).

Through nutrition, I can support my immune defenses as well as my gastrointestinal and liver functions to give my body a chance of fighting the toxins that I am constantly breathing in.

As our body’s main filter, the liver is responsible for eliminating not only the toxins that we eat, but the ones that we inhale. The following tips will help me support this important organ.


1. Water and good hydration help flush toxins out of the body. You can find out more about your specific hydration requirements as a runner here.

2. Avoid foods that are processed or high in chemicals. They contribute to the toxicity of the body. These include food colourings, nitrates and nitrites (used in cured meats, such as bacon, ham, balogna, and salami), artificial flavours, sulphites, and MSG.

3. Boost your consumption of chlorophyll-containing greens (lettuces, spinach, chard, kale) as well as coniferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, horseradish, rutabaga, turnip, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, daikon, bok choy, radish, spinach). These will help increase your antioxidants. Make sure you wash these vegetables well.

4. Vitamin A provides immune support and tissue protection. (Foods include: sweet potatoes, mangoes, spinach, cantaloupe)

5. Beta-carotene reduces the negative effects of many chemicals, especially air-borne ones. (Foods include: carrots, kale, spinach, cilantro, fresh thyme)

6. Zinc and manganese are immune strengtheners that aids in protecting cells from pollutant toxins in the air. (Foods include: pineapple, romaine lettuce, chard, shellfish, pine nuts)

7. The amino acid L-cysteine helps neutralize the by products of smog and smoking. (Foods include: eggs, milk, onions, broccoli, garlic)

8. In general, fiber helps detoxify the liver and colon, boosting our body’s ability to neutralize aggravating air-borne toxins.


  • small red beans
  • berries
  • red kidney beans
  • pinto beans
  • artichokes
  • prunes
  • garlic
  • green tea
  • tomatoes

To learn more about breathing technique, here is a Runner’s World article. And another article on how to breathe from Men’s Health.