by Dietitian Ellen
If I were to ask you to list the foods most commonly consumed by athletes, what would you say? Your list might look something like this: bananas, pasta, chocolate milk, peanut butter (or other nut butters), and bagels.
I’m not sure about you, but by the end of past racing seasons there were times that, if I had smelled another banana, I think I might have vomited. As athletes, we tend to fall into routines. Often, one of those routines is our nutrition choices. Believe me, I am a firm believer in figuring out what works and sticking with it, especially on race days. However, during the off-season we have an opportunity to experiment with some other options and learn about things that might end up working really well.
I have compiled a list of my “Top 10 Super Foods for Athletes.” I will mention each of super foods in this post, but look for more detailed posts for each food in the future. There will be nutritional benefits, recipes, and suggestions for the best time to use each of these foods. Enjoy!
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is a whole grain, high in fiber, and a good source of iron, and it contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It has a nutty flavor with a crunchy texture and is versatile in many recipes. Quinoa cooks a lot like rice, but resembles couscous in appearance. Quinoa is gluten-free, which makes it a great option for those who experience Celiac disease or gluten intolerance. There are quinoa recipes for every meal of the day, and it is a great recovery food for athletes!
2: Chia Seeds
Cha-cha-cha-chia! Yes, this food is the seed from the Chia Pets we all love to adore during infomercials at Christmas time. Chia seed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and calcium. Chia does not have a taste, but simply adds nutritional benefit when added to your food.
Yes, as boring as it may seem, oatmeal is an exceptional food for athletes. A good source of complex carbohydrates and B vitamins, this is the perfect food to give you the right type of energy for a long day of training. Stay tuned for a variety of interesting ways to use oatmeal.
Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse for athletes. Filled with antioxidants, minerals, and fiber, this is a nutrient dense super food with only 40 calories per 1 cup serving. Spinach is not just for salads, there are plenty of ways to sneak this high nutrient food into your daily meals.
5: Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is an athlete’s dream. With two times the protein and typically less added sugar than regular yogurt, this super food will provide the fuel you need to perform at your highest level. Greek yogurt is also a great recovery food, as it’s combination of carbohydrate and protein help to replenish your stores.
Eggs are, of course, a great source of protein, which is important for providing the amino acids necessary to build lean muscle. In fact, eggs are considered a complete protein, which means they contain all the essential amino acids. Because your body cannot make these amino acids, it is important to get them from your diet. Another key benefit of egg protein is that it is easy to absorb in the body. To measure the quality of protein, a biological value (BV) scale is used. Products are scored on a scale of 1-100 (100 being the best). Eggs score a 100 on the scale, which means the egg protein is most easily absorbed and guarantees eggs a place on the list of super foods.
Packed with antioxidants, blueberries are a phenomenal anti-inflammatory food. Anti-inflammatory foods are beneficial for reducing inflammation (soreness) after a tough workout or race. Incorporating blueberries into your daily routine will help to cut down on these unpleasant aches and pains, and may also help decrease recovery time.
8: Sweet Potatoes
Besides being delicious, sweet potatoes contain essential vitamins for athletes, like vitamin C and B6. They also are a low glycemic food, which means the carbohydrate they contain is digested and absorbed gradually. Carbohydrates are the fuel for performing athletes, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. The carbohydrates in sweet potatoes provide energy to your muscles hours after you eat them, which is ideal for long endurance workouts.
9: Aronia Concentrate
Also known as the “chokeberry,” aronia berries contain the highest concentration of antioxidants of any fruit. Aronia is beneficial in increasing circulation, decreasing blood pressure, and improving memory, and it contains many more advantageous characteristics. I suggest adding 2 tablespoons aronia concentrate to a tall glass of water, tea, or a smoothie.
A lean source of protein and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is an athlete’s best friend at the dinner table. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in decreasing inflammation. Experts suggest having lean fish two times per week. Salmon is one of the best fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids!
Stay tuned to learn how and when to use each of these super foods! In the meantime, if you have a specific question about one of the top 10, feel free to email me at ERies@hy-vee.com.
-Ellen Ries, RD, LD