What to eat for peak sports performance? The 15 Essential Superfoods to maximise your nutrition whilst helping your food taste amazing.
1. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, dating back to the Aztecs. chia seeds gave the Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle. (1)
Chia seeds are an essential addition to the athlete's’ diet, boosting endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reducing inflammation.
Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium as well as an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. As an athlete, being able to recover quickly, reduce inflammation is important in injury prevention and can increase workout intensity over a period of time. (2)
What makes Chia Seeds unique is that they are hydrophilic. This means that when in the contact with water, they form a gel-like substance. Consequently, chia seeds are excellent in the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to level out blood sugar and maintain energy/endurance. (3)
Wilson, S.R., Chia Seed Health Benefits.
Illian, T.G., Casey, J.C. and Bishop, P.A., 2011. Omega 3 chia seed loading as a means of carbohydrate loading. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(1), pp.61-65
Reyes-Caudillo, E., Tecante, A. and Valdivia-López, M.A., 2008. Dietary fibre content and antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds present in Mexican chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seeds. Food Chemistry, 107(2), pp.656-663.
Cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium as well as also being rich in potassium, iron, polyphenols, flavanols, theobromine, and proanthocyanidins.
Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions including:
- Synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids
- Muscular contraction and relaxation
- Cardiac health
- Bone building
- Improves blood flow
- Plays a key role in the metabolism of (ATP)
- Critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions.
Consequently, cacao offers a long list of health benefits including reducing heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and brain function, lowering stress, relaxing muscles, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much more.
Myburgh, K.H., 2014. Polyphenol supplementation: benefits for exercise performance or oxidative stress?. Sports Medicine, 44(1), pp.57-70.
Rowlands, D.S., Rössler, K., Thorp, R.M., Graham, D.F., Timmons, B.W., Stannard, S.R. and Tarnopolsky, M.A., 2007. Effect of dietary protein content during recovery from high-intensity cycling on subsequent performance and markers of stress, inflammation, and muscle damage in well-trained men.Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(1), pp.39-51.
Baker, L., 2013. Effects Of dietary constituents on cognitive and motor skill performance in sports. Sports Sci, 26, pp.1-6.
3. Coconut water
Low in calories, naturally fat and cholesterol free, more potassium than four bananas, and super hydrating. It has fewer calories, less sodium, and more potassium than a sports drink. (1) Many people underestimate the importance of water to the body. Water is critical to the balance of all the body's systems, including the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and muscles.
A 2% drop in body water can cause a small but critical shrinkage of the brain, which can impair neuromuscular coordination, decreased concentration, and slow thinking. Dehydration can also reduce endurance, decrease strength, cause cramping, and slow muscular response.(2)
Cinnamon is also an anti-inflammatory, improves cardiovascular health, increases metabolic rate, helps control and regulate blood sugar, and has anti-microbial effects.
Turmeric helps prevent joint inflammation and will regular consumption can help reduce pain as well as being antiseptic.
Ginger has been found to be a beneficial anti-inflammatory, due to its high levels of gingerol, making it a great natural remedy for headaches, minor body aches and even some cases of arthritis.
Black pepper has the ability to increase the production of hydrochloric acid that the stomach needs to help in digestion.
Bananas are an excellent complex carbohydrate to consume 30 minutes before a race, one banana contains approximately 467mg of potassium, an energy-supplying electrolyte which provides protection to the cardiovascular system. They are also high in vitamin B6, bananas help to support sleep, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), and white blood cell formation.
6. Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil is a medium chain fatty acid, which is more readily converted to energy by the body, so it is also less likely to be stored as fat and can help you lose weight when compare with other cooking fat sources. Coconut oil is also a natural antiviral and antibacterial, which supports a healthy immune system.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato are a great source of carbohydrate as they have a low gylcemic index and will help you pack a good training session with energy whilst helpingl in preventing inflammation, which aids in recovery. One of the best sources of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes raise our blood levels of vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin and is best absorbed when eaten with some dietary fat.
A study published by the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology confirmed that beet juice can vasodilate blood vessels while you're resting and working out. Beets are a nitrate-rich food -- allowing for more pumps during a workout. Nitric oxide is a compound that's composed of nitrogen and oxygen.
It was found that beet juice increased blood plasma nitric oxide levels -- widening the blood vessels for a greater blood flow throughout the body. The greater blood flow puts less stress on the heart during intense workouts, which allows for a longer workout and greater muscle pumps.
Eating foods high in antioxidants is critical for athletes, who can suffer up to 200 times the free radical damage compared to their less active counterparts. The highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit: Blueberries, being very rich in antioxidants like Anthocyanin, vitamin C, B complex, vitamin E, vitamin A, copper (a very effective immune builder and anti-bacterial), selenium, zinc, iron (promotes immunity by raising haemoglobin and oxygen concentration in blood) etc. boost up your immune system and prevent infections. Once your immunity is strong, you won’t catch colds, fever, pox and all such nasty viral and bacterial communicable diseases.
Almonds a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, riboflavin, monounsaturated fats and protein; almonds are nutritional powerhouses. A small handful of almonds a few times a week can be helpful in lowering cholesterol, and preventing heart disease. Almonds are useful in nervous system and muscle recovery. Other tree nuts are also beneficial, such as cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
Garlic is a little powerhouse when it comes to supporting your training. As a source of dietary fibre and protein. It is a rich source of energy as it provides around 150 calories for 100 gram of it. It is also a source of Vitamin-C and provides a lot of essential minerals like calcium, iron magnesium and potassium.
Not only that, Garlic helps in the metabolism of iron in the cells as it helps in producing ferroportin which provides a passage for iron and helps it to pass out from the cells and so much more.
People who consume oats regularly are less likely to become obese. The soluble fiber content of oats forms a gel in your digestive system, causing you to feel full longer and eventually helping you with weight loss. The gel that forms inside you also traps bad cholesterol and helps minimize its absorption into your bloodstream.
You need calories to give you the energy you need for your workout. Oats are a good source of carbohydrates to do this job. There are studies that when someone consumes oats about an hour before exercise, metabolism is altered in a positive way and results to an enhanced performance during the training.
More than often, we use dates to naturally sweeten our food, and yet, they could with their own benefits to support your training. Dates are loaded with fiber. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, just one pitted date contains 1.6 g of fiber, or 6 percent of the recommended daily intake.Though the fiber in dates has the ability to lower cholesterol levels, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel report that dates have better results at lowering triglyceride levels, which is another type of fat in the blood.
Ounce for ounce, crickets provide more than twice the protein of beef. Plus, that protein is the best kind, containing all nine essential amino acids. Crickets also pack nearly five times as much magnesium as beef. A Harvard study review from last year suggests that increasing your magnesium intake may cut your risk of heart disease by as much as 22 percent; plus, according to researchers in Japan, you could lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by about a third. Then there's iron: Crickets have more than three times as much of this muscle-aiding mineral as beef does.
Avocados are full of healthy fats that help to reduce our inflammation, boost the absorption of certain vitamins (fat-soluble ones), and are actually a high fiber food. Avocados are a good source of carotenoids, vitamin K, vitamins B5 & B6, vitamin c, folate and potassium. Avocados promote bone and heart health, and help manage blood sugar. Adding avocados to smoothies can make them light and fluffy and boost the fiber, vitamin content, and help to keep you satisfied longer.
Photography by: Charleh Dickinson
Model by: PT Josh Golding
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Author: Charleh Dickinson