As an endurance athletes you need to pay a lot more attention to your diet than the average person, due to the demands you are making on your body which increases your need for a wide range of nutrients.
To optimise your performance, recovery and general health, I strongly recommend that you eat a wide range of whole foods and limit your intake of processed and packaged foods. The following foods are nutritional powerhouses that should be included in all athletes diets.
Eggs provide a complete protein as they contain the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce themselves. They are the building blocks of muscular growth. Whilst egg yolks have a high concentration of omega-3 fats. Omega-3s are thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Free range and/or organic eggs are have the highest concentration of nutrients due to their diet and foraging. Happy chickens lay superior eggs.
A medium sized banana provides around 30g of total carbohydrates providing a quick energy boost whilst the 1.5 grams of protein supports muscle growth and repair. Bananas also contain many important vitamins and minerals including potassium magnesium which play important roles in muscle contraction during exercise and electrolyte balance. The vitamin B6 contained in bananas helps the body release energy from nutrients and the vitamin C is essential for a strong immune system.
Beetroot contains high levels of nitrates which is converted in the body into nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide helps to increase blood flow by relaxing and dilating your blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and providing oxygen to our skeletal muscles. A 2012 study showed that a 6 day period of Nitric Oxide supplementation using 500ml of beetroot juice led to enhanced time-trial performances in cyclists. Beetroot is also high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fibre, and essential minerals like potassium and manganese.
Most people are aware that spinach is high in iron (remember the Popeye cartoons). Iron is exceptionally important to endurance athletes as it is required in the body for red blood cell production. Red blood cells transport oxygen from our lungs to our working muscles. Studies have shown that enhanced red cell volume increases exercise performance. Spinach is also high in vitamin K which is vital for bone health and contains vitamins A, C & E which are all essential to supporting our immune system and reducing oxidative stress. Like beetroot, spinach also contains nitric oxide.
Oats are a nutritious whole grain that provides a rich source of beta glucans, a form of soluble fibre that assist with removing fat and cholesterol from the bloodstream. They also contain all but one of the B vitamins (no B12) which are essential for energy production. Another benefit of oats is their protein content, one serving of oats contains as much protein as one egg. Finally oats keep you feeling full and curbs appetite by slowing the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream. They also keep you regular. Traditional rolled oats or steel cut oats are the best
Yogurt is a great food for athletes because it's high in protein for workout recovery, calcium for bone strength, and vitamin D for calcium absorption. It also contains probiotics (good-for-you bacteria), which aid digestion and promote gut health and is rich in vitamin B12, which helps athletes prevent fatigue. Avoid low fat and flavoured yogurt as they are often high in added sugars and do not satisfy hunger as well as the full fat versions.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent complex carbohydrate source making them low on the glycaemic index which means they are digested and absorbed gradually providing longer lasting energy for training and recovery. They contain more of the antioxidant beta carotene than any other fruit or vegetable and are an excellent source of iron. Anthocyanin and other colour-related pigments found in sweet potato are equally valuable for their anti-inflammatory health benefits. One medium potato provides us with over 200% of our daily value of vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a key role in the health of our eyes, skin, skeletal and soft tissue.
Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and trout are good sources of lean high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains iron, and vitamin B12 which are important for optimal athletic performance. Omega-3s act as potent anti-inflammatories, which can help lessen pain and soreness caused by intense exercise. Plus, salmon is also high in vitamin D, an important nutrient for maintaining strong, healthy bones. Canned salmon is also a great source of calcium providing you eat the bones.
Nuts contain magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese, healthy fats, fibre, phytochemicals, minerals, and antioxidants important for health. Each variety of nut has a different nutrient profile. Almonds for example offer the most protein, fibre, calcium, vitamin E, and niacin whereas cashews provide more iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium than any other tree nut.
Many athletes often avoid nuts due to their high fat content, however research has shown that people who eat nuts may be less likely to gain weight over time than non nut eaters. To avoid any unwanted weight gain stick to a daily serving size of 30-40g.
Berries such as Blueberries, Raspberries and Cherries are high in antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E which protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity and can prevent recovery, deteriorate muscle regeneration and cause aging. Blueberries make a great recovery snack because of their anti-inflammatory properties and studies have shown they can reduce post exercise muscle soreness. They are also a great source of fibre.