Food is the fuel that helps athletes perform their best. Without it, endurance, strength and overall performance will be down. If you want to get the most out of your workouts and athletic capabilities, your diet should be a top priority in your fitness efforts.
As your body puts out energy through exercise and training, you need to replenish those lost nutrients, which can be done by choosing the right foods. Here are 14 of the best foods for athletes to optimize their performance at the gym or on the field.
Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are just a handful of the delicious berries that are rich in antioxidants, which need to be replenished after physical activity. Darker berries contain phytochemicals and other protective elements that prevent oxidative stress that occurs in the body during strenuous activities. They also preserve muscle strength as you age, so they’re good for the long term.
This oily fish is packed with lean, muscle-building protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduces the inflammation that can happen with continual athletic activity. It is also a natural artery cleanser, helping to prevent heart disease, which can affect even the most active people. Get creative and enjoy salmon in burgers, salads or pastas to get the recommended eight ounce serving per week.
Vegetarians and meat eaters alike can get their fill of plant-based protein by eating beans and legumes. Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans… the varieties are endless! You can add them to a salad or cook them into a stew or chili. Unlike meat, beans and legumes don’t have saturated fat and contain fiber, which will help you feel fuller longer.
Not all carbs are bad! In fact, they’re an important part of the athlete’s diet. While the body burns fat and protein, it must first convert them into carbohydrates, making the body work harder. Straight carbs act as a fuel for the active person. Keep in mind that pasta contains fiber, which can cause gastrointestinal stress, so don’t overdo it before a big event where you’ll be competing or playing. Whole grain pasta typically contains less sugar than white pasta, which can also help athletic performance.
Bananas are a low-calorie, excellent source of natural electrolytes, which need to be replaced after a workout or sporting event. They’re also high in potassium, which makes them the perfect post-event snack. Eating one banana will help you regulate your fluid intake (since you’re drinking more water before, after and during physical exertion). It will also protect you from muscle spasms or cramps.
Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, as well as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to boost your athletic abilities. They also contain high levels of vitamins A, K and B6, and calcium and iron, all of which protect the body against inflammation. Iron also means more oxygen being supplied to working muscles. Kale contains carotenoids and flavonoids, two power antioxidants, and fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.
Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats, making them a mainstay in athletes’ diets. Eaten with carbs, they help level out your blood sugar and sustain the carbs over a longer period of time, rather than burning them off right away. They’re also easier to digest and don’t upset your stomach. Another plant-based protein, nuts are rich in fiber and antioxidants like vitamin E. The anti-inflammatory nutrients found in nuts makes them great for bone health, which is needed by every athlete. They also lower the bad cholesterol, which is good for heart health.
Milk (Even Chocolate Milk!)
Milk is loaded with carbs and protein, which makes it a great post-workout drink for muscle recovery. The caffeine found in chocolate dilates the blood vessels, helping them to relax after a workout. Interestingly enough, when carbs and protein are consumed together, muscle tissues repair themselves more quickly than they do when consumed separately!
Radishes, watermelon, bell peppers, spinach, celery, dates and oranges are just a handful of the refreshing foods you can eat to replenish your lost fluids. If you’re tired of downing water bottles (not that you shouldn’t), opt for one of these snacks to feel refreshed after exercising.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, both antioxidants that remove free radicals from your body. They lower blood pressure, which is important for athletes to their heart health when participating in sports. They’re high in vitamin and mineral content and contain the levels of potassium, iron, manganese and copper athletes need for healthy muscles.
Oatmeal is an excellent source of energy carbs for athletes and is high in fiber, helping you feel fuller, longer. It’s 100 percent whole grain, helping to lower your risk of heart disease. If you’re looking to gain weight, oatmeal is a delicious way to help you achieve your goal weight. Be sure to choose steel-cut oats as opposed to instant oats. The instant oats have a higher glycemic index, which will cause your insulin levels to spike, causing you to end up storing the carbs as fat.
Whey protein contains the essential amino acids. Quickly absorbed by the body, it lacks fat and cholesterol, which makes it an ideal formula for athletes to consume. Whey contains the levels of protein and amino acids necessary to rebuild muscles and protects against muscle breakdown.
Flaxseed, Olive and Coconut Oil
The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil have anti-inflammatory properties, which athletes need when putting so much stress on their bodies. Flaxseed oil contains omega-3s, which is also anti-inflammatory, to help recover quickly with bumps and bruises. It also contains fiber and protein. Coconut oil is filled with medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can help with your endurance during a grueling workout. The MCTs in coconut oil can also help with metabolism and energy from fat.
An antioxidant-filled fruit, cherries aid in preventing muscle pain after running. It reduces inflammation, which is what causes such striking pain. Many athletes consume cherry juice as another way to lower exercise-based muscle damage, which can help reduce soreness.
Poor eating habits will eventually lead to poor performance. As you can see from the foods mentioned, athletes benefit most from foods high in protein, vitamins and fiber to enhance their performance. Whether you’re a recreational or competitive athlete, your body needs the right nutrients to fuel itself during high-intensity activity. These foods provide the restorative, energy-boosting properties necessary to stay healthy while putting your body through exercise or other endurance activities.