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Putting the “Super” in SuperFoods: Which are worth the hype for athletes?
We all know the term superfood. We also know that after a few months of excitement, a journal publishes research that debunks the hype surrounding that food of the month. As athletes, our nutrition is essential to unlocking peak performance and the idea of a food that packs a punch and gives us an edge is hard to resist. We often look to other athletes for their nutrition secrets, but what secrets do superfoods really hold? Find out which superfoods are actually beneficial to athletes below:
“It’s all about nutrition. You can train, train, train all you want, but I always say you can’t out-train a bad diet.” — Joe Wicks
Here are the 8 most powerful superfoods for athletes.
Used by nutritionists and food bloggers alike, kale hit its stride in 2012 — stealing plates, hearts, and stomachs in all of its formats: As a replacement for boring old salad lettuce, steamed with butter, or as chips. So what’s the real deal with kale as a superfood for athletes?
→It’s a dark leafy green — the universal sign for a vegetable packed with nutrients.
→It’s antioxidant-rich, reducing inflammation.
→It is full of vitamins A, B6, and K, iron, and calcium.
→It reduces cholesterol. It’s high in protein.
All of these are wins for any athlete. We want to eat nutrient-rich foods that offer essential vitamins and minerals. Reducing inflammation is a bonus, especially after a massive session, and kale is high in protein but low in calories meaning you can load up without overindulging.
Known as an ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds soared in popularity in 2013/2014, around the same time as vegetarian and vegan diets. So, we already know that chia seeds are high in protein (hence being a top choice for vegan and vegetarian diets), but how else does it benefit athletes?
→They’re great for endurance because they contain protein, fiber, and fatty acids.
→They’re easy to add to anything because of their mild flavor.
→They provide long-lasting energy with few calories.
→They contain more antioxidants than blueberries.
The chia seeds’ simplicity and benefits make them a hard superfood to ignore. Pop them into a smoothie, add them to a salad, or use them as a binding agent in baking, and you can reap the benefits.
Quinoa gained popularity between 2006 and 2014. Why? It’s one of the most complete foods, containing all nine essential amino acids! This is excellent news for athletes. Besides being a near-perfect protein source, quinoa contains iron, potassium, magnesium, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, and B vitamins. In short, it’s loaded with good stuff and fits a gluten-free diet. Quinoa provides long-lasting, clean energy, can reduce inflammation, and helps with muscle recovery post-workout.
Eating seaweed is in right now, and there might be no better sea organism than the blue-green algae spirulina. In fact, there are tons of supplements hitting the market that seek to capitalize on what this superfood has to offer (for how to best use vitamins and supplements in your diet, check out this blog post). So, what’s in store for athletes?
→High in protein — comparable to eggs.
→Boosts endurance energy and reduces overall fatigue.
→It increases power and oxygen uptake.
→High in antioxidants.
→Contains fatty acids and all essential amino acids.
Studies indicate spirulina might help repair muscle damage (helping you build after a training session) and be an essential ingredient for optimizing your body composition and making a healthier gut. Finally, research has been done about spirulina’s ability to boost your immune system and fight off diseases and viruses. Spirulina is a superfood worth keeping an eye on as an athlete.
Sweet potatoes are a clean, complex carbohydrate excellent for endurance (much like these other endurance training tips) and contain a healthy dose of vitamins C, A and E, which help boost your immune system and keep you in the gym. They offer a lot of energy that burns slowly throughout the day, replacing your glycogen stores. Plus, sweet potatoes are cost-effective and can be cooked in various ways, so you can prepare many meals featuring this high mineral, high vitamin vegetable without getting bored.
First dubbed a superfood on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2004, it feels like açai berries were the first of the superfood crazes. Even now, you can’t visit any tropical destination without finding some kind of açai berry smoothie bowl. So, where does their value lie?
→They are rich in antioxidants — even more so than blueberries.
→They contain fatty acids.
→They are high in fiber, contributing to feeling full.
→They help with recovery after workouts by rebuilding muscles and through cellular regeneration.
The thing with açai berries is that it isn’t just açai berries that are great. All dark, colorful berries will offer similar benefits, including raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. They add a touch of natural sweetness to any smoothie without adding a ton of other sweeteners and are a great solution to reducing muscle soreness after working out.
By the way, CBD is also a great way to reduce muscle soreness from working out alongside a full suite of other benefits. Find out more in this blog post.
We all know millennials can’t afford houses because they buy avocado toast, so what’s with the hype behind this superfood craze besides being delicious and trendy?
→They are full of fiber.
→They have all the good fats you need for performance.
→They make you feel full and are good for your heart.
→They contain a ton of vitamins and minerals.
The avocado trend came to fruition between 2004 and 2013, with imports to Canada growing by 300%. They taste great, keep you full, and provide a fleet of benefits, so it’s no surprise that they’re a superfood that has withstood the test of time.
Another benefit? You can use avocados to make a healthy mousse. Here’s a recipe for a protein-loaded, avocado-fluffed dessert to give you a boost.
Coconut oil claimed superfood status in 2015 but rose in popularity as early as 2011. Why? It was said to boost HDL, the healthy type of cholesterol, and was used as a healthy alternative to other cooking oils. Plus, “oil pulling” allegedly helped clean your teeth, and Bulletproof Coffee hit the stands as the ultimate keto, post-workout beverage. While it was debunked in 2018 as a superfood, there are still a few ways athletes can benefit from this food. Here’s why:
→It contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which help the body burn fat.
→MCTs also provide faster energy.
→It boosts your stamina.
While coconut oil should be used like you would other oils and fats for cooking, there are some benefits when it comes to losing weight and delivering energy.
Do you use any of these superfoods in your diet already? Are there others you swear by? When it comes to achieving peak performance, you can't be too careful with what you put in your body. After all, nutrition is half the battle. Make sure you don't just hop on the bandwagon with superfood fads. Do your research and give it some time to see what studies support — or debunk — the latest trend.
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