A couple years ago I did a review of the best foods for athletes. Recently, I was reading that review and although I personally follow an entirely plant based diet, I found this top 10 list to still be quite accurate – providing the best for all levels of athletes. Certainly an athletes diet is not limited to these things and I could list100 foods that are ‘top 10’ worthy, but take a look – are you eating these top 10 foods regularly? And if not, is it because of a diet? (And don’t forget…these foods are also excellent for people that do not consider themselves athletes!!!)
#10: Chia Seed
Don’t be alarmed. Chia seed probably should be closer to the top, but given its an “add on” to food, I’m keeping it right here! Chia seed contains omega 3, 6, AND 9 fatty acids. It provides more omega 3 than flaxseed to fight inflammation. It is also high in Calcium which given so many people are not consuming a dairy source (animal or plant based), that’s a huge benefit! It has 11grams of fiber per ounce. That’s half of some peoples recommended amount for fiber! Once you eat chia seed, it forms a gel in the stomach which slows digestion, similar to other starches. So really, you will be satisfied for longer and maintain energy for a longer period. Hence why is it called the ‘running food’ consumed for energy and endurance!
I’m going to lump all ‘green ‘leafies’ into #9 (mainly because they all are beneficial to every single human being on the planet). If you don’t eat vegetables, it’s time to start! Seriously, force them down, it’s worth it. Green leafies contain a huge amount of Vitamin K to help maintain strong bones and form blood clots when needed. It’s an excellent souce of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B6, Copper, Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Zinc. So there are a few B vitamins in there – those are the ones that help produce energy in the body!! You want to eat foods with an abundance of energy creators!
#8: Ground Turkey
Why turkey? Why not chicken or fish? Well, turkey per ounce has 1 more gram of protein than beef and less unsaturated fats. Double bonus! It provides absorbable Iron in the body; therefore, if athletes (or humans!) are low in Iron, they will be low in oxygen in the body – thus – low to zero energy. And the obvious reason for ground turkey is simply that it helps rebuild and repair muscles after activity.
Eat the Newtons! The amount of potassium (and fiber) in figs is unbelievable. And dried figs are even more concentrated with nutrients including Magnesium, Iron, and Copper. They also supply the body with Calcium, Sodium, Phosphorus, and a slew of B vitamins.
But wait?! “What about all the articles out there telling me that dairy is bad?!?!?!?!” First, determine if your source is credible, and second, listen to the facts (and your body). Chocolate milk has a recovery advantage because it can lower muscle protein breakdown after activity and speeds up recovery. Milk is made up primarily of casein and then whey; so it contains all essential amino acids. Winner! It is rich in lysine and therefore acts as a complementing protein for foods lacking this amino acid (i.e. grains, cereals, nuts). We all know it contains lactose, or a form of sugar, that helps facilitate the absorption of Calcium and enhance absorption of Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Zinc. Hmmm. Did the latest trend give those facts about dairy? 🙂 Also, dairy is rich in Calcium, Potassium, and B vitamins. It helps prevent osteoporosis, regulate blood pressure, promote healthy teeth and bones, lower the chance of certain cancers, lower cholesterol, and aide in the functioning of heart cells, nerves, and muscles. Wow.
I feel there should be dramatic music playing when I speak about pasta because so many people find it complete voodoo. It’s exactly the opposite. Whole wheat pasta is an energy rich food. The more al dente the pasta, the more B vitamin rich the pasta will be – awesome. (Please don’t eat pasta raw lol). Pasta, a carbohydrate, is in the starch form so it is easier to digest than other carbohydrate sources. The long lasting feeling of satiety is because pasta is absorbed slower – a total bonus for endurance athletes needing long term muscle fuel. And besides being a major energy producer, it is also rich in Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, and Copper.
Eat any and all berries everyday. Seriously. Blueberries alone contain the most antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals after activity (those are the things that float around your body – all the crap that is released during activity long story short). Berries are rich in Vitamin C which helps produce carnitine – this helps turn fat into energy – double bonus! It contains anthocyanins which may help reduce the damage to muscle cells brought on by training (the muscle damage is was leads to muscle soreness). The antioxidants, flavonoids, and anthocyanins may also boost brain function, reduce inflammation, and ward off muscle cramping.
Who doesn’t love the smooth texture of this beautiful fruit!? It contains heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Those are good ones! It is a source of potassium, folic acid, B vitamins, Vitamin C, Copper, Vitamin A, and Zinc. ti contains enzymes that make the breakdown of fat easier and therefore its easy to digest. Awesome for any human being!
#2: Greek Yogurt
Are you surprised? Greek Yogurt contains 20 grams of protein per 1 cup serving – that’s unbelievable compared to other protein sources. It repairs muscles after longer events when combined with enough carbohydrate. It is easier to digest than regular yogurt because it contains less carbohydrate (lactose). It contains potassium, zone, and B vitamins – energy! Sweet and simple, its a great choice.
#1: Baked Potatoes
I’m betting close to everyone is screaming at this blog right now – potatoes?! Yes. You heard me. It’s one of the most bullied starches and frankly, there is no reason to not eat a potato. Potatoes not only replenish your glycogen stores upon eating, they also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Jackpot! That means a potato will keep you full from the starches and also bulks up the GI track for smooth sailing if you get my drift. Red and purple tinting potatoes provide antioxidants that fight cancer, and aide in muscle recovery. It contains a high amount of Potassium and Vitamin C to protect from cholesterol buildup in the arteries and maintains blood pressure. It contains B vitamins, folic acid, Copper, Magnesium, and Iron – holy cats, sounds like a winner! Honestly, don’t hate potatoes because they are “high glycemic.” They are a beautiful food of the Earth and I promise you will reach a new standard eating any type of potato.
Why are these foods important?! If you noticed, I mentioned what vitamins and minerals are present in these foods. I’m not going to outline what they all do in the body, but I will say this: if you eat a variety of foods, ones that come from this list as well, you can kick all pills you take in the morning. Get your nutrients from food – its the best way and the body knows exactly what to do it with. If you choose a plant based diet, be more careful to ensure all amino acids are obtained every day, and other medical conditions go into play (consult with an RD for all medical nutrition therapy). At the end of the day, you know you need a great supply of energy producers, potassium, and sodium. All human beings do, plus more!, at all stages of life. Take advantage of eating your nutrition – enjoy your food! Happy eating 🙂
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for AltraRunning, Swiftwick Socks, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.