Whatever your level, if you’re an active person select these nutrient-dense superfoods for your best performance!
- Dark green vegetables
Key nutrients: B Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Mineral-rich leafy greens are key foods in any athlete’s diet, providing nutrients for energy production and fibre. The darker green they are, the higher concentrations of antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich vegetables help regulate the body’s inflammatory process. Vegetables such as kale and spinach also contain carotenoids and flavonoids, two powerful antioxidant families that protect cells from free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
Key nutrients: vitamin D and Leucine
Eggs provide protein in a low calorie package. Egg yolks are also a good source of vitamin D essential for bone and muscle health. And there are the BCAA (branch chain amino acids), particularly Leucine in eggs that are vital building blocks for muscular growth, as well helping to promote fat oxidation and endurance.
Key nutrients: potassium, choline and vitamin B6
Potassium is one of the electrolytes lost after intense exercise, so replacing this is vital to aid recovery. Choline is needed for healthy nervous system activity and for healthy cell structure. Vitamin B6 in bananas is crucial for red blood cell production, and assists in carbohydrate metabolism.
Key nutrients: carbs, calcium and protein
A combination of carbohydrates and protein make milk an ideal post exercise muscle recovery drink as consuming the macronutrients together allows muscle tissues to repair faster. Calcium is known for boosting bone health and in a two-year American study looking at the affects of different nutrients on bone density, it was shown that an extra cup of milk a day was found to reduce runners’ incidence of developing a stress fracture by 62 per cent.
- Lean red meat
Key nutrients: iron and B12
The easiest and quickest way to get iron and B12 on board is to eat red meat. Red meat has had a bad press but if you choose organic, or grass-fed, and avoid processed meats, you’ll be sure of getting plenty ‘performance nutrition’! Iron deficiency can result in poor performance, and symptoms include, tiredness, shortness of breath, and elevated heart rate.
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna)
Key nutrients: Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs)
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are all good sources of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and are excellent for heart health, too.
Key nutrient: Amino Acids
Quinoa contains twice as much protein as rice or cous cous, and it’s gluten-free and fibre-rich. This nutrient-dense grain doubles up as a source of low GI carbohydrate and the bonus is that the protein in quinoa has a near perfect blend of nine essential amino acids, which we need to build lean muscle mass and recover well.
- Blackcurrants (New Zealand CurranNZ)
Key nutrient: Anthocyanins
These universal plant pigments responsible for the red, purple, and blue hues in foods have lots of health-promoting qualities. They have a positive affect on blood flow, and studies have found that taking a supplement such as CurraNZ (NZ Blackcurrant) increases lactate clearance, enhances fat metabolism, improves endurance and boosts recovery.
Key nutrients: Vitamin E, calcium and magnesium
Eat a small handful of almonds at least three to five times per week for a top source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that many athletes can fall short on. Almonds also help lower bad cholesterol, whilst raising levels of good cholesterol. Almonds are a great source of calcium and magnesium too, both vital for bone and muscle health in athletes.
- Pumpkin seeds
Key nutrients: Zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, iron
High carb diets may decrease zinc absorption, so topping up levels with a daily handful of pumpkin seeds is the perfect answer! Zinc has an important role to play when it comes to immunity, so very relevant for endurance athletes who train hard, and often compromise their immunity. Pumpkin seeds are also a very useful vegetarian source of iron.