If you workout, are an athlete that plays sports or live an active lifestyle then you will benefits from superfoods that can enhance your athletic and gym performance. You are already have a very different mindset and set of goals compared to the majority of the population that lives an ever increasing sedentary lifestyle. The added demands of this active lifestyle also require that you continually help the body with what it needs to perform at higher and higher levels. While supplements are very popular with the athletic, weight and endurance training crowd, they should be seen as just that – “supplements” – defined as “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.” In this case, dietary and nutritional supplements can enhance the results of proper diet/nutrition and exercise. The game changer here is that you can introduce everyday foods into your diet that do more than just provide calories – they may also provide helpful micro-nutrients that can enhance your overall active lifestyle and performance (hence termed superfoods). Let’s start with this list of the top 5 functional superfoods for enhancing athletic performance.
Beets are loaded with many important vitamins and minerals but there are also some key micro-nutrients that bring the modest beet root and its leaves to the top of the list of superfoods for athletes. For starters, if you are buying your beets whole, use the leaves as you would kale and chard (they are bitter and work well if cooked in some good extra virgin olive oil). Then tackle the beet root itself.
Beets are loaded with many important vitamins and minerals but the two micro-nutrients that absolutely stand out and make them a super-food are the naturally occurring nitrates and betaine found in beets. Nitrates are converted into nitric oxide (NO) by the body which is an important factor in regulating many critical activities. These include dilating blood vessels, helping with erectile dysfunction, lowering systolic blood pressure and increasing exercise performance – including better endurance and better muscle pumps for those training with weights. Beets are also a rich source of betaine which can help reduce inflammation and improve exercise performance.
The challenge with beets is the preparation and handling. In their raw form they are quite firm and most of all, they bleed their bright red colour. Be careful when peeling, cutting, cooking and eating them because it can get messy. You can juice your beets, grate them raw over a salad or slice and steam them. Pickled beets are also easy to find in grocery stores (though they often contain some added sugar) and bottled beet juice and beet powder are also now making the health food store rounds. If you are a gardener, beets are pretty easy to grow from seeds and will be ready in about 3 months. Eat beets regularly.
Nutrition facts for beets
Avocados (sometimes called alligator pears or apple of the winter) contain many nutrients that have performance and health benefits, including potassium, folic acid, vitamins B6, C, E, and K. Unlike most fruits, the avocado contains a minimal amount of carbohydrates (and those to almost all fiber) but is very high in fats. This should not scare you off as these are the much espoused “good fats”. The combination of the high amount of fiber and monounsaturated fat can help improve cardiac markers (cholesterol levels and triglycerides) but this combination may also be playing a role in making those who eat avocados feel fuller. This increased satiety would mean that you consume fewer calories, therefore making it easier to lose weight.
Guacamole is a great way to eat your avocados if you are making it at home, with fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime juice – ingredients that could be considered superfoods in their own right. A good way to cook an avocado is to cut it in half, remove the pit, season it lightly and grill it on a barbecue. I prefer to just scoop out the creamy flesh and eat them as is with a sprinkle of good sea salt and freshly squeezed lime juice. If you can’t find avocados in your grocery store you can get avocado powder (never tried it myself) and avocado oil (excellent product). Eat avocados regularly.
Nutrition facts for avocados
I have already written about Chia seeds and their many benefits in an in depth post. In summary, they pack quite the nutritional punch regardless of their tiny stature and deserve to be on this top 5 list of superfoods. Chia seeds are rich in essential minerals and vitamins and are a good source plant based fat. Their high fiber content and the ability to provide bulk by absorbing water make them a very versatile item to incorporate into common foods like cereals, yogurt, puddings, meatballs and homemade protein bars. Eat chia seeds regularly.
Nutrition facts for chia seeds
In popular culture broccoli is the epitome of the dreaded vegetable that no one (and especially kids) likes to eat. It may not be the sexy superfood du jour but I suggest making broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables a regular part of your superfood rich diet.
Eating broccoli provides our body with vitamin C, folate, fiber, polyphenols and antioxidants. This cruciferous vegetable also contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Sulforaphane can help maintain cellular health with possible anti-cancer benefits. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) can help regulate estrogen levels in the body (it is not going to give you the results of a pharmaceutical anti-estrogen drug).
When it comes to the preparation of broccoli, I would suggest rethinking the popular belief that everything is better raw. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower contain goitrogens that can block the production of thyroid hormone. For most people, a small amount of raw cruciferous vegetables are probably ok but the next best option is to steam your broccoli (and other vegetables). This method has been shown to retain the most nutritional components that are found in broccoli. I like to add some good sea salt and walnut or olive oil on my steamed broccoli. Fresh and frozen broccoli are very easy to find in grocery stores but there are also some broccoli powder products that could also be used if needed. Eat broccoli regularly.
Nutrition facts for broccoli
Popeye was onto something with spinach, which rounds out this top 5 list of super foods. It may not get you his huge forearms overnight but this leafy green is must eat superfood for athletes. For starters, spinach is loaded with several vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, potassium and manganese. Spinach is also a good source of nitrates – which also make beets a star superfood. Studies in mice show that the naturally occurring nitrates in spinach can help improve muscle strength by increasing the CASQ1 and DHPR proteins which are involved in the homeostasis of calcium in the muscles. Bodybuilders and weight training enthusiasts love spinach. My preferred preparation is to thoroughly wash the spinach, then steam it, and similar to broccoli, add some good sea salt and walnut or olive oil as a dressing. If you are a gardener, spinach like many leafy greens is pretty quick and easy to grow from seeds and tolerates cooler weather well. Apart from fresh and frozen spinach, you can also find this vegetable in cans and powdered form. Eat spinach regularly.
Nutrition facts for spinach
There are many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other foods that can be classified as “superfoods” and this is by no means a definitive list. Feel free to add your favourite superfoods in the comments below. I think that incorporating just a handful of such nutritious and functionally beneficial foods can provide both long term health and athletic performance benefits. Eat your superfoods regularly.