When it comes to our diets, we endurance athletes need food that packs a punch in the nutrition category. Settling for anything less is robbing our bodies of the fuel and rebuilding blocks that keep us injury free day in and day out. If the phrase "You are what you eat" is true, endurance athletes live that out on a daily basis since we're breaking down our bodies and rebuilding with each glorious run, swim, or bike.
The following 12 foods should be part of every athlete’s diet in one way, shape or form. These foods provide the nutrients necessary to run faster, recover quicker, and feel full of energy all day long. They also contain disease-fighting qualities according to study after study.
These little guys can satisfy those cravings that endurance athletes experience throughout the day. Each serving (about 22 almonds) provides 6g protein, 14g of healthy monounsaturated fat, and 170 calories. Packed with vitamin E, almonds can help heal muscle damage and ward off age-related diseases. One of my favorite snacks anytime of the day.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." It's a true statement through and through. At the "core" of this catchy adage, apples really will help prolong the time between doctor visits. One medium sized apple (3" in diameter) contains 4g of dietary fiber which is 8% of what our bodies need daily! 25g of carbs and 95 calories will aid in fueling a run. Apples contain a significant amount of the flavonoid Quercetin which helps boost immunity in resisting cold & flu bugs. If possible, buy organic and eat the skin in order to get the maximum amount of nutrients.
This potassium-packed fruit may be the most popular among endurance athletes. It seems there is no shortage of bananas waiting on refreshment tables at races of all distances. With 27g of carbs and a healthy dose of vitamin B-6, these yellow wonders aren't just for monkeys. Eat a banana or two before your next race of 10 miles or longer in order to help stave off cramps (thanks to the potassium).
Few foods can stand up to this flowered friend when it comes to overall nutrition. In the vegetable world, green = goodness. Sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in broccoli, has been found to selectively kill cancer cells. As if this is not enough, this cruciferous veggie is high in vitamin C, folate, calcium, and vitamin K (bone-building). Eat up!
Whether you're using it with stir fry, soups, or breakfast (flavor with cinnamon, honey, raisins) brown rice is a carbohydrate heavy-weight with over 45g per 1 cup serving. You're also sure to get plenty of healthy antioxidants with every bite.
Considered a "meat" of vegetarians, this legume is certainly legit. An athlete’s diet is only enhanced when adding the "magical fruit" to the mix. Each 1 cup serving will give you 225 calories, 41g of carbs, 15g of protein, and a whopping 15g (30% of daily need) of dietary fiber! Use in soups, dips, or throw on top of your steamed brown rice.
Add a tablespoon of ground flax seed to your smoothies or salads and you'll be adding a great source of alpha-linolenic acid - a good fat that helps boost immunity, blood flow, and prevents blood clots. Flax has also been known to possibly increase endurance. 60 calories you can afford to consume!
No, that's not a typo! 1oz of this pure bliss contains 17g of carbs and 160 calories. The healthiest (in moderation of course) chocolate should contain at least 60% cacao. The higher the cacao concentration, the bitterer it will be. Partaking of this treat will give you the same phytochemicals found in red wine that are known to fight heart disease by keeping the artery walls clean. Go ahead, eat without guilt!
You certainly can't go wrong by eating this cholesterol lowering food. A ½ cup serving will give you 150 calories, 27g of carbs, 5.5g of protein, and a healthy dose of iron. Add dried cherries and slivered almonds for a flavorful breakfast. Eating oatmeal before any long run or race of over 10 miles has become my favorite pre-race routine as it provides slow-release carbs to the bloodstream. I always feel more than sustained in terms of energy.
A 3 oz serving of this tasty fish will give you a hefty 22g of tissue-building protein, 4g of good fat, and only 130 calories, giving you quite a bang for the buck. Salmon is an incredible source of omega-3 fatty acids which helps guard against heart disease. It's also a great source of vitamin B-12 which aids in brain function. When shopping for salmon, always look for wild caught salmon and stay away from farm raised. I'm partial to the wild Alaskan variety myself.
Again, green = goodness. If it's good enough for Popeye, it's good enough for the endurance athlete. Just a ½ cup serving provides a nice dose of calcium and iron. Spinach is also high in carotenes which help stave off age-related diseases. One study found that 1-3 servings of raw spinach each week can virtually eliminate macular degeneration (the macula is part of the retina in the eye) in elderly patients. Keep it raw baby! Add to smoothies or make a spinach salad by adding walnuts, crumbled bleu cheese, dried cherries and raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
One of my favorite times of the year is blueberry season. Blueberries are one of nature's anti-inflammatories, which mean they're a runner's friend. No need for ibuprofen when you have access to blueberries. These little blue power pellets contain high amounts of antioxidants which aid in blood flow and also provide a nice bit of dietary fiber. Add fresh or frozen berries to that post-run smoothie to help decrease inflammation which causes soreness. You can also add blueberries to your breakfast cereal or whole-grain pancakes & waffles.
Begin working these 12 fantastic foods into your diet and your body will thank you!