Some foods are rich in certain nutrients or properties that can make them ideal for athletes to consume on a regular basis. That being said, these foods will only have a noticeable impact when the diet as a whole is already adequate to support performance and recovery needs (mainly sufficient calorie and protein intake).
Dont' focus on specifics until the basics have been implemented. Let’s check out these ‘superfoods’ and assess the potential benefits that might give you an edge on the competition -
1. Beetroot Juice
Beet juice is the latest craze flooding the sports nutrition world. Beets contain a lot of inorganic nitrates. These compounds are the precursor to a very important signalling molecule that our body needs to function - Nitric Oxide. Nitric oxide serves multiple functions related to increased blood flow, gas exchange, mitochondrial biogenesis and efficiency, and strengthening of muscle contraction.
A meta-analysis showed a 15% increase in time to exhaustion during an endurance event when 500ml beet juice was consumed pre-exercise. Drinking more than 500ml seems to provide no additional benefits.
A word of warning though – many people find this beverage hard to stomach!
The hype surrounding berries is real. Not only are they high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and Manganese, but they a dense source of antioxidants.
Research suggests that antioxidant supplements may be able to assist exercise performance by reducing the excessive exercise-induced oxidative stress response. Antioxidant substances may also help neutralise free radicals and thereby prolong skeletal muscle integrity and prevent a decline in performance. Blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries are noted as the best picks in terms of nutrient composition and density.
A superfood that tastes amazing, it's a win-win.
Forget quinoa, oats are the real superfood. Oats should be a staple in every athlete's diet. They are high in protein (13.1g/100g), high in fibre (10.1g/100g), high in micronutrients and contain a high amount of all essential amino acids.
A perfect, yet rare, combination for recovery. As athletes energy needs are relatively high, consuming an adequate amount of fibre is critical to aid digestion and nutrient absorption from the large volumes of food entering the digestive system.
Athletes on periods of restrictive eating, such as weight cuts in boxing, would also find tremendous benefits in oats ability to increase satiation and reduce hunger. The beta-glucan content of oats, as well as other non-essential components, show a positive effect on appetite control and enhanced immune response, plus improvements in blood lipid profile and glucose control. The list goes on.
There is a reason why bananas are the go-to for pre-exercise and intra-workout carbohydrate sources. They offer a far cheaper alternative to sports drinks but provide the same benefits. The natural sugars include fructose and glucose, which provides a fast-digesting yet sustainable energy boost. This helps maintain glycogen levels during all forms of exercise, as well as increase blood sugar concentrations that are accessible for energy needs.
Although excess fructose intake should be avoided, stimulating fructose metabolism stimulates rapid fluid and solute absorption in the small intestine and helps increase exogenous carbohydrate oxidation during exercise.
Milk in all forms (cow, goats, or soy) acts as a great recovery aid post-workout due to its great ratio of protein and simple sugars, whilst having a low-fat content (opt for low-fat varieties). A high protein food is ideal post-workout as protein synthesis is significantly elevated and glycogen stores are in need of repletion.
Current scientific recommendations for post-workout nutrition are a high-quality protein dosed at 0.4–0.5g/kg of lean body mass and a simple carbohydrate source at 1g/kg body weight. Low-fat milk is also ideal for athletes competing in multiple events per day, as dietary fat post-exercise should be avoided because of its ability to prolong nutrient absorption. The quantity of milk needed depends on the type of exercise, gender, and bodyweight of the athlete.
Per 500ml glass:
Cow milk – 16g protein, 25g carbohydrate, 5g fat
Goat milk – 16g protein, 22g carbohydrate, 6g fat
Soy milk – 15g protein, 10g carbohydrate, 10g fat
More expert nutritional advice from Pitchero
Help keep yourself conditioned to perfection when you take to the pitch this weekend with the Pitchero blog. Read our expert adivce on faster recovery after a match and how to kill a pre-match hangover.