Proper nutrition from real food — as opposed to powders and supplements — plays a meaningful role in your ability to exercise with optimum strength. With a few healthy tweaks to your diet, you can feel an uptick in your daily energy and endurance levels, as well as a positive change in your mental health. Here, three dietitians share their go-to foods for athletes based on their chosen sports.
Whether you’re a Type A CrossFit devotee or take a spin class a few days a week, there are two foods all exercisers should consider adding to their diet, according to Gisela Bouvier, RDN, from Port Charlotte, Florida:
QUINOA FOR BREAKFAST
Although quinoa is cooked like a grain, it’s actually a seed that’s filled with protein — making it a great morning meal to support muscle recovery. Although calorically quinoa is almost identical to other grains, the inclusion of all essential amino acids makes quinoa a complete protein. In a one-cup serving, quinoa provides eight grams of protein and five grams of fiber!
KALE TO STAY HEALTHY
This super dark leafy vegetable is rich in vitamins and fiber. It’s also anti-inflammatory and supports a healthy cardiovascular system.
Lifting weights triggers your body to fight to keep and build muscle. You need to feed these muscles the proper nutrients to make your efforts worth it. “If you work out without being nourished or even without eating, your muscles won’t be ready for the tasks you are demanding of them,” says Danielle Flug Capalino, RD, from New York City. Capalino recommends the following foods for weightlifters:
BANANA WITH ALMOND BUTTER FOR A HEAVY WORKOUT
The almonds provide protein and omega-6 fatty acids to aid in muscle replenishment. The banana provides necessary carbohydrates, fiber and potassium. Potassium — an electrolyte that plays an important role in hydration and muscle contraction — is lost through sweating, and bananas can act as a source of replenishment.
The best way to replenish muscle after a workout is by eating sources of anti-inflammatory protein. Capalino recommends fish, like salmon, after a weightlifting session. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation.
To stay lean, runners may get restrictive with what they eat, but they need calories, too. A study published in Frontiers in Nutrition explains that because “running is a weight-bearing discipline, it is believed that the lighter the body weighs, the better the performance, which is far too simplistic and can lead to dramatic situations of leanness and nutritional deficiencies.”
Julia Levine, RD, from St. Louis, shares what runners, especially endurance runners, should eat during each stage of a workout:
OATMEAL BEFORE A RUN
Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, but because they are the body’s preferred source of fuel, they can be especially helpful when consumed before endurance exercise such as marathon running. Not all carbs are created equal; it is important to choose ones with a low-glycemic index, such as whole grains, to prevent spikes and dips in blood sugars. The high-fiber content of oatmeal causes it to be digested slowly, providing a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream for optimal performance. If you’re competing in a long-distance running race, eat overnight oats, homemade granola or a simple instant oatmeal packet about 1.5 hours prior to the start.
RAISINS DURING A RUN
During the race, instead of refueling with energy gels or gummies, try raisins or other dried fruits as a more natural option. Raisins are high in calories to provide quick energy, and they are also filled with potassium. Keep miniboxes in your pockets for a quick energy boost.
YOGURT AFTER A RUN
After exercise, consuming protein within an hour is necessary for muscle recovery and growth. Greek yogurt is your best choice, as it can contain up to double the amount of protein of regular yogurt. Look for the words “live active cultures” on the label for added probiotics, which can help immunity and digestion. Sprinkle a high-fiber cereal or oats on top for added whole-grain carbohydrates. Although the protein will help build and repair muscle, the carbohydrates will replace your depleted glycogen stores.
With these quick additions to your diet, your workouts can become even more powerful and, in turn, can give you swifter results.