Sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s meat,” legumes are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which can help keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. As far as plant foods go, most legumes are relatively high in protein and are a good source of slowly assimilating complex carbohydrates. This is great for providing a more stable and longer lasting supply of energy to working muscles. Add them to chilis, stews, and soups, or have them in your salad at lunch to stay full and satisfied well past the three-o’clock slump. Try kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils, and any of the other varieties you see on grocery store shelves.
Nuts are a very rich source of nutrients, including polyunsaturated fatty acids, vegetable proteins, fiber, vitamin E, potassium, folate, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, phosphorous, phytosterols, antioxidants, and arginine. Though they’re considered a fatty food, the fats in them can actually benefit fat loss. Some good options include almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and pistachios. Be careful not to go overboard with your nut consumption, as they are calorie-dense. Try eating one or two handfuls per day, and opt for unroasted, unsalted varieties to net the most benefits.
One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a great protein option to have in your diet. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are important building blocks of cell membranes and may help athletes recover from strenuous exercise thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. They’re a great addition to a fat-loss plan.
Low in fat, high in protein, and loaded with essential minerals, mollusks can be a good addition to an athlete’s diet. Three popular and nutritious mollusk choices are clams, oysters, and mussels. Clams, in particular, lead the way for all foods in heme iron content. Heme iron – found only in meat, poultry, fish, and seafood – is iron bound to a non-protein compound that is much more easily absorbed by the body than free iron. Clams are also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and copper. These three nutrients may help maintain good blood status for delivering oxygen to working muscles. Along with copper, mollusks are also rich in zinc and selenium. These minerals are necessary for the proper functioning of the body’s immune system and its antioxidant defenses. Mollusks can be cooked in a variety of ways, including steaming, stewing, roasting, baking, broiling, sautéing, poaching, and frying.
Whole-grain foods can provide hard-training athletes with a more stable and longer lasting supply of energy to power their workouts. Whole-grain foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids. Some examples of good whole-grain foods include rolled oats, Ezekiel bread, quinoa, kamut, barley, spelt, brown rice, and various ancient grains, which are more nutritionally dense than wheat.
Vegetables like watercress, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are known as cruciferous vegetables. These veggies are high in fiber and calcium, rich in vitamins C and K, are very low in calories, and are a good source of phytonutrients. Eating cruciferous vegetables is a good way to take in important micronutrients without taking in a lot of calories. What’s more, the powerhouse combo of vitamin K and calcium helps maintain a high bone density to help athletes avoid injuries. Try to get three or more servings of these vegetables each week.
This superfood has been around for centuries. A key crop for the Aztecs, it was used to provide long-lasting energy for running messengers. Just a small handful is extremely filling since the tiny seeds expand in the stomach to create a gelling effect, providing you with a sustained released of energy. In fact, just one ounce of these powerhouse seeds packs 4.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids and 4.4 grams of protein! They’re also a good source of calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. Try adding them to your protein smoothies, stir them into a yogurt parfait, sprinkle them on a salad, or combine them with a scoop of protein and milk (or your favorite substitute), let stand for 10 minutes, and enjoy them as a clean pudding-like treat.
Allium vegetables, such as garlic, chives, onions, scallions, and leeks, are a flavorful way to add health-promoting, immune-supporting nutrients to a training diet. The benefits of garlic and other allium vegetables may come from their abundant flavonoids, like quercetin, and also from their sulfur-containing compounds. Allium vegetables may be more beneficial when uncooked, so to get the most benefit, try adding them to salads, salad dressings, and other raw recipes.
Dark berries are packed with antioxidants, which can help boost recovery post-workout. Berries are also a good source of dietary fiber. You can find blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries in most supermarkets, and more exotic options like bilberries, mulberries, and lingonberries are also becoming increasingly available. It’s interesting to note that frozen berries often pack as much nutrition as fresh ones, so if berries are out of season in your area, you can still reap their benefits by visiting the freezer section of your local supermarket.
It’s not often that a natural food actually benefits nutritionally by being cooked and processed, which seems to be the case for tomatoes. It appears that even though some vitamin C content is lost when tomatoes are heated, their antioxidant power is increased during the process. Researchers have found that the antioxidant lycopene, which is the pigment that makes tomatoes and other fruits like pink grapefruit and watermelon red, is made more bioavailable to the human body after heating. Make tomato sauces, pastes, and salsa staples in your diet to benefit from this powerful antioxidant.
With these superfoods as part of your training diet, you can optimize your recovery and performance to reach your goals faster, so add them to your plan today!