If you’re an athlete, you probably already know the basic rules of sports nutrition. But nutrition for athletes can go beyond those basic rules. Superfoods can bring a long list of benefits to your game: they can help with post-exercise recovery, can help to reduce pain and inflammation from an injury, and boost your energy levels and brain power. The five superfoods listed below are natural, nutrient-dense foods that can make healthy additions to your grocery list.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It has been credited with helping to prevent a long list of diseases because of its potent antioxidant properties. But it can also have a huge impact on athletic performance. Its active ingredient, curcumin, has been shown to inhibit inflammatory markers in muscle tissue, and to enhance muscle repair post-exercise. Turmeric is an ingredient in yellow curry, and can easily be added to stir-fries, Indian dishes, even juices and smoothies.
Chia seeds: By now, most of us are very familiar with chia seeds. Sports supplement companies have started to add the seeds into their products and many of us have tried chia seeds in some form. But what is it about the seeds in particular, that could benefit your athletic performance? Well, the list is long. Chia seeds are little power houses of nutrition. Chia seeds contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamins A, B, E, and D as well as other key minerals. These nutrients help chia seeds to provide sustained energy, reduce inflammation and joint pain, and accelerate post-workout recovery.
And because chia seeds contain a high level of fibre, they can absorb up to thirty times their weight in water, helping to prevent dehydration. There are many way to include these little gems into our diets: add them to cereal, sprinkle them on a salad, blend them into a smoothie or mix them into yogurt. The ideas are endless.
Sea vegetables (aka seaweed) have been a part of Asian and Pacific diets for thousands of years. Common varieties include nori (most commonly seen in sushi), wakame (seaweed salad) kombu (often used in soups, like miso), and dulse (can be eaten as a snack). Sea vegetables contain iron, vitamin C and iodine and a wide variety of trace minerals. They are reputed to be antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral. Seaweed is also a very good source of protein and B12, two nutrients vegetarian athletes in particular have difficulty finding.
With all of these benefits, try to add these to your next grocery trip. Ideas to incorporate seaweed into your meals include using sheets of nori as a wrap in a sandwich, rehydrating wakame and adding it chopped into salads, or adding kombu to a soup.
Spirulina and chlorella
Spirulina and chlorella: Freshwater algae such as blue-green algae (for example, spirulina) and green algae (chlorella) are exceptionally high in nutrients. A quick search of the internet brings up several articles by sports associations speaking of the benefits of both of these superfoods. By weight, spirulina contains a very high level of protein and all of the types of amino acids that we need. It also contains fibre, magnesium, iron, potassium and B12. Chlorella has similar characteristics. Its antioxidant characteristics have been shown to positively impact aerobic performance and exercise fatigue. Although studies are ongoing, these two supplements are showing signs of being beneficial to a myriad of athletic performance elements, as well as helping to optimize overall health.
Matcha tea: There are many reasons why athletes should consume green tea on daily basis. Green tea provides power, energy, quick recovery and improved neurological function. Matcha green tea also provides a high dose of antioxidants, which helps with the metabolization of fats for fuel late in workouts, beneficial for endurance sports. The high levels of antioxidants are due to the presence of a high density of catechins, particularly the catechin ECEG. ECEG provides antioxidant levels 25-100 times higher in quality than vitamins C and E.
This caffeine source also helps to boost athletic performance. Research has shown that green tea is far superior for athletes than other sources of caffeine due to the ample provision of antioxidants and its availability in natural form, free from added preservatives.
When trying any of these superfoods for the first time, some caution should be taken. As with any new foods, be careful not to try anything new just before a big race or competition. Start by introducing the superfood in small amounts, and learn how your body responds.