You have most likely heard of superfoods, an up and coming buzz word in the nutrition world. When I think of superfoods, my mind often goes to exotic items such as beet juice or cherry juice, which have been shown to increase endurance and speed-up recovery. However, you don't have to look for these unfamiliar foods in order to have enhanced performance as an athlete. There are everyday superfoods right around us and probably already in your pantry or fridge.
According to the dictionary, a superfood is "a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being." There is no one superfood or supplement that will turn you into an olympian, and eating superfoods does not in any way make up for hard training. However, choosing superfoods over processed foods will definitely help you to get the most out of your workouts and help you live a long, healthy life.
I could list a countless number of superfoods, but there are a few that really stick out and make me perform at my best. Below are my favorite superfoods that I routinely include in my diet for maximal performance:
- Berries: I love all kinds of berries - strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and even cranberries. Berries have antioxidants (important for disease prevention), carbohydrates (important for energy), and fiber (important for digestion). You will find at least 2 types of berries in my grocery cart most weeks, fresh and/or frozen if they're out of season. We currently have an abounding raspberry plant in our backyard that even in October is producing cups of berries every week. We also have black raspberry bushes near us that we picked throughout the summer as well.
Someone else with four paws likes raspberries too... We have a few cranberry bushes in our yard as well, so I have been harvesting those and finding ways to use them. Cranberries are another great superfood, in the form of cranberry sauce or juice or even cookies! Pictured below are dark chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies (which are so good I have made them twice now).
- Peanut Butter and Almond Butter: Most nuts are considered superfoods and can be enjoyed many ways (we go through a lot of trail mix in this house!), but they are even more versatile in butter form. Peanut butter and almond butter provide healthy fats (important for energy and physiological processes in the body), protein (important for muscle repair and other body functions), fiber, and many vitamins and minerals. We usually have 3 to 4 different kinds of nut butters open at a time for variety (I eat it at least twice a day and I like to switch it up each time). Almond butter can be expensive, but I find it cheapest at Trader Joes. We love Teddy peanut butter, but Trader Joes has a crunchy peanut butter with flax and seeds that I love as well.
- Greek Yogurt: Yogurt is an excellent source of protein and probiotics (important for gut health). Greek yogurt is strained making it thicker with a greater concentration of protein and less lactose (which some people are sensitive too - think lactose intolerance) than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt is a great post-workout snack because it is easily portable and high in protein. When purchasing yogurt, you want to look for brands without a lot of added sugar. I like to buy plain yogurt and add fruit, honey or maple syrup to sweeten it up. For on-the-go, I love the maple and pumpkin yogurts shown below. Green Mountain Creamery in Vermont has excellent flavors and is very low in sugar. Chobani also has low-sugar varieties that taste great.
- Avocado: Another one of my favorite superfoods is avocado, mostly because it is the main ingredient in guacamole! Seriously though, avocados are an excellent source of healthy fats and very high in many vitamins and minerals. In addition to making guacamole, avocados can be used in sandwiches and salads. I add avocado to my wrap at lunch almost every day. Avocado is also a great substitute for processed foods such as mayonnaise.
- Wild Salmon: Similar to avocados, salmon is high in healthy fats - primarily omega 3's which are important for fighting disease and inflammation. Most salmon found in groceries stores is farmed salmon, which is not as good for the environment. Look for wild salmon for sustainability and to get the most nutrients. We love grilled salmon and cooking salmon in parchment paper in the oven. It can also be enjoyed in salads and sandwiches. Salmon is a great alternative to meat or poultry.
- Whole Grains: so many choices - oats, brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc. You can find out about my love for oats at this post, but there are lots of other whole grains as well. Whole grains are a top source of carbohydrates, which are #1 for fueling endurance athletes. They also contain protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. "Refined" grains (or "white" rice/bread/pasta) has the bran and germ removed from it, and unfortunately that is where most of the important nutrients live. Quinoa is unique in that it is also a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids required by your body to live. This means you can eat quinoa without any other protein and meet all your daily needs. I wouldn't recommend this, but it is important for vegetarians and makes quinoa that much better. I frequently make this Mexican Quinoa dish, which is very yummy. Top with avocado and you have double the nutrition! We usually top it with cheese in the form of cheddar shake too (note cheddar shake is not a superfood, but I wish it was!).
Other superfoods not listed above that I eat on a regular basis include eggs, kiwi, bananas, sweet potatoes, and lean grass-fed beef (a #1 iron source - important for athletes especially females).
What are your favorite superfoods!?