Whether you’re a CrossFitter, endurance athlete, runner, calisthenics pro, or even a stay at home mum fitting in whatever activity you possibly can, there are an abundance of foods available to help push you through that gruelling WOD, refuel after a major event, improve muscle growth, and to recover, nourish, and energise your body for the rest of the day ahead.
Here are my top 5 favourite foods that will rocket your athletic performance sky high…
5 Foods to Boost Your Athletic Performance
Okay, we all know that these little pear shaped fruits are incredibly delicious, and I’m sure that most of you also know that avocados are packed full of super healthy fats – but did you know that avocados were high in potassium and in fact help to balance out our potassium to sodium ratio. Why is this important?1
Well, your body doesn’t store electrolytes and so has to monitor the levels of salt and potassium within your bloodstream. Your body uses what is called a ‘Sodium-Potassium Pump‘ to keep your fluids in balance within your body. It does this by sending sodium ions from areas of high sodium concentration to areas of low concentration of potassium ions and vice versa. An imbalance in your sodium to potassium ratio can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), heart arrhythmias, thirst, water retention, and muscular weakness and cramps.2, 3
Eat half an avocado a few hours before your workout in order to utilise the healthy fats for energy once your carbohydrate stores deplete. Be careful not to eat avocado for a little while after your workout though as it can lead to lower absorption of carbohydrates and proteins.
Beetroots are not only high in anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and carbohydrates but also the crystalline compound betaine. Betaine protects the cells within your body from stress, promotes healthy inflammation levels, and aids joint and liver health. Betaine also promotes the synthesis of creatine which helps to improve your muscle strength, growth, and power. It also lowers levels of lactate within your muscles thus delaying the onset of muscle fatigue, increasing your stamina, and allowing you to go harder, faster, and for longer.4
Beetroots have been found to be high in inorganic nitrates which are known to dilate your blood vessels, lower your blood pressure, and increase the delivery of oxygen to the cells within your body thus enhancing the efficiency of your athletic performance.5
It’s best to consume your beets as a juice to benefit from higher levels of betaine and to consume both before and after your workout.
3. Blue-Green Algaes
Blue-green algaes, like spirulina and chlorella, are plant-like organisms that can be found in salt water areas and also ,less frequently, in large fresh water lakes. They are high in dietary protein, B-vitamins, vitamins C and K, chlorophyll, calcium, iron, and also magnesium.
So why are they great for athletic performance? Well, the dietary protein found within blue-green algaes can be broken down into amino acids easily by your body (better than that processed whey stuff), chlorophyll can reduce inflammation and muscle fatigue after your workouts, and calcium and magnesium can help to regulate your body’s muscle and nerve function therefore preventing muscle fatigue and cramps.6
But the most notable benefit of taking a blue-green algae supplement is the increase that it gives your athletic stamina. It does so by supporting your body’s ability to preserve glycogen stores, decreasing the carbohydrate oxidation rate, and also using your fat stores more efficiently as an energy source by increasing the rates of fat oxidation. A study found that runners whom consumed spirulina before their run were able to run at an average of 30% longer than if they hadn’t.7
The best way to consume blue-green algaes is by adding them into your smoothies or juices as they do quite literally taste how pond scum smells. Always be sure to purchase from a trusted brand whose spirulina and/or chlorella is free from heavy metals – my favourite brand is Naturya.
Yes that’s right – music to your ears no doubt – the holy and super tasty raw cacao is one of the best natural athletic performance enhancers on the market today. Raw cacao contains high levels of antioxidants, magnesium, polyphenols, flavanols, theobromine, potassium, and iron.
When people tell you that there’s a lot of caffeine in your chocolate and that’s why it gives you that little bit of pep – they’re wrong. Although chocolate does contain caffeine the amount is rather minimal. It is the compound theobromine that stimulates your nervous system and acts much alike to caffeine, in fact it is far better at making you feel alert than caffeine is and with a much better mental clarity too.
But what is really interesting to know is that after consuming dark chocolate there is a decrease in plasma glucose oxidation within your body, and as plasma glucose inhibits the oxidation of fat it means that a decrease in these levels aids in burning fat. There is also an increase in muscle glycogen utilisation in the latter stages of steady-state exercise meaning that muscle fatigue was postponed and athletes had an increase in their overall stamina.8,9
5. Chia Seeds
We have all heard of chia seeds – and who doesn’t love a good chia pudding every now and then for breakfast? But did you know that this tiny little seed was a favourite of the Aztec warriors and the Tarahumara people? For those of you that don’t know – the Tarahumara are a Mexican Native American tribe of super runners renowned for running ultra marathons (think 50-100 miles) just for the fun of it, and we’re not talking road running but running up huge mountains! And what was a staple of the Tarahumara diet? Yes you guessed it – chia seeds!
Chia seeds are hydrophillic simply meaning that they love water, so much so in fact that they can hold up to 12 times their own weight in water, thus extending your time period of hydration and keeping your stamina going for longer. In addition to this chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help to support your brain and nervous system. They are also high in dietary fibre, protein, and antioxidants.
Often or not I find that adding just one tablespoon of these tiny powerhouses into my water, before a run or workout, gives me all the fuel I need for at least an hour. Try mixing yours into a pre-workout shake, make your own energy gels, or even freeze that beloved chia pudding into ice pops during the summer! If you’re wanting to take some with you on a run then mix them into your water bottle or try mixing even amounts of cacao, chia, and nut butter into compact bite-sized balls.
So what do you think? Do you add any of these foods to your pre and post workout meals? Or maybe you have some to add to the list? Why not leave a comment using the comments box below.
- Mercola, J.. (2013). 8 Fitness-Boosting Foods and Nutrients. In Peak Fitness. Retrieved from http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/08/30/fitness-boosting-foods.aspx
- Likness, J.. (2013). The Skinny On Salt!. In Bodybuilding.com. Retrieved from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/likness14.htm
- Mercola, J.. (2014). To Protect Your Heart, Your Sodium to Potassium Ratio Is More Important Than Your Overall Salt Intake. In Mercola.com. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/08/25/sodium-potassium-ratio.aspx
- Stoppani, J.. (2014). Jim Stoppani’s Expert Guide to Betaine. In Bodybuilding.com. Retrieved from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/jim-stoppanis-expert-guide-to-betaine.html
- Weitzberg, E., Lundberg, J.O.. (2103). Novel aspects of dietary nitrate and human health. In Annual Review of Nutrition, 2013;33:129-59.Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23642194
- Shah, R.. (2013). Chlorella: A natural supplement to enhance sports performance?. In Healthy Three. Retrieved from http://www.healthy3.co.uk/chlorella-natural-supplement-to-enhance-sports-performance/
- Kalafati, M., Jamurtas, A.Z., Nikolaidis, M.G., Paschalis, V., Theodorou, A.A., Sakellariou, G.K., Koutedakis, Y., Kouretas, D.. (2010). Ergogenic and antioxidant effects of spirulina supplementation in humans. In Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2010 Jan;42(1):142-51. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20010119
- Stellingwerff, T.,Godin, J., Chou, C.J., Grathwohl, D., Ross, A.B., Cooper, K.A., Williamson, G., Actis-Gorettaa, L.. (2013). The effect of acute dark chocolate consumption on carbohydrate metabolism and performance during rest and exercise. In Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2014, 39:173-182. Retrieved from http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/apnm-2013-0152#.Vg_2TflVhBc
- Wolfe, R.R.. (1998). Metabolic interactions between glucose and fatty acids in humans. In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998;67(suppl):519S–26S. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/3/519S.full.pdf
- Jackie-Dikos, R.D.. (2010). Fueling the Runner: Spirulina and Chia. In Running Times. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/rt-web-exclusive/fueling-the-runner-spirulina-and-chia