It used to be easy to go shopping, but every week there seems to be a new hyped food or magical metabolic elixir vying for a place in your shopping cart.
Forget about instagramable food trends and instead focus on functional foods that consistently produce results both in and out of the gym. Choosing your foods wisely will improve performance, body composition, and energy levels. Here are our tips for the best science-backed foods for athletes, as well as some that we think are overrated.
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Your morning brew is much sweeter now: In a recent study, scientists found that drinking caffeinated coffee before an intense workout like sprinting or weight training improved performance by decreasing perceived exertion and increasing energy. The most effective, scientifically determined dose of caffeine is around 300 milligrams; more than that and you could affect rather than improve performance. In addition, a serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than many other things in your diet, making it one of the healthiest drinks in the world.
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Beetroot (also known as beetroot)
Beets are filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that help athletes recover faster. They’re also a natural source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body, open blood vessels, and deliver more blood, nutrients, and oxygen to muscles, improving performance, recovery, and tissue repair. The researchers tested the effects of drinking beet juice before exercising in sprint sports like running, cycling, BMX, and speed skating. Athletes who drank half a cup (4 to 5 ounces) of beet juice reduced the time it took to get to maximum performance, which meant better acceleration during their high-intensity sessions.
Egg whites are a great low-calorie source of protein, but if you’re still throwing out all the yolks for your morning omelet, you may be missing out. The scientists had the test subjects eat either three whole eggs or five proteins (equivalent to 18 grams of protein each) after a leg exercise. Those who ate the whole eggs experienced greater protein synthesis than those who ate only egg whites, which means more muscle growth. The suggested reason: The nutrients in the egg yolk made the synthesis process easier better than egg whites alone.
Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are great sources of bone-building nutrients like calcium, as well as casein, a form of protein that is high in leucine. The amino acid has been shown to have excellent muscle building potential. A high protein diet like casein promotes fat loss as your body has to work harder to digest. This burns more calories and boosts your metabolism. A 3/4 to 1-cup serving of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt is a great snack any time of the day.
Just as there are probiotic bacteria in your gut that keep you healthy and improve digestion, there are also bad bacteria that can multiply and cause inflammation and disease. To nurture the good while eradicating the bad, consider eating probiotic foods like yogurt, as well as seaweed, which contains a rare carbohydrate that feeds and nourishes the good bacteria. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that a diet high in nori, the type of seaweed used to make sushi rolls, helps the good bacteria in the gut thrive and provides optimal environments for healthy ones Digestion creates. Experts recommend eating around 5 grams of seaweed per day. However, if you do not live in Japan then this is likely to be a major challenge. So enjoy a sushi hand roll or two whenever you get the chance.
For some reason people fear fruits these days, especially bananas. However, a medium-sized banana only contains about 100 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of fiber. Bananas also provide the perfect mix of carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, needed for exercise – more so than any commercial sports drink. In fact, the researchers compared bananas with sports drinks both before and during endurance and high-exertion workouts. While both performance and energy improved, bananas also helped reduce inflammation, which means better recovery after a strenuous workout.
Bone broth is the new post-workout phenomenon – and for good reason. This low-calorie drink is rich in chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, the structural components of joints, as well as collagen, the protein that promotes healthy bones, skin, hair and nails. It also contains a variety of amino acids that promote muscle growth and repair, and some that aid metabolic function, such as glycine, glutamine, and arginine. Athletes can also use bone broth after a workout to replenish fluids and lost electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
Peanut butter powder and low fat peanut butter
Sounds good in theory – peanut butter minus a few calories – and using the powder in your shaker bottle after your workout is a breeze. However, just what you’re removing from peanut butter is the most beneficial of its nutrients: the fat. Regular peanut butter is abundant in heart-healthy fats as well as vitamin E, and choosing a low-fat or powdered version will rob you of those healthy nutrients. Additionally, the fat removed from a low-fat product is usually replaced with sugar, corn syrup solids, or other starchy fillers, so it is ultimately not a low-calorie food at all. So while there are some valid uses for the powdered version – since it has some high quality proteins and other vitamins that you need – stick with the real, sticky thing when you eat peanut butter for the full spectrum of health benefits.
Artificially sweetened products
It is tempting to enjoy sweets with no sugar and no calories, but what are you really putting in your body? It turns out that these brightly colored little packets may be preventing you from reaching your fat loss goals. Numerous studies have shown that artificial sweeteners trigger an insulin response despite the lack of actual glucose (sugar) in food. Continuously inducing this response can lead to insulin resistance, a metabolic nightmare that prevents the body from breaking down fat for fuel. If a lean body is your goal, skip the sugar-free items and get used to drinking your coffee black – or just with a hint of real sugar.
The trend towards a more plant-based diet has made non-dairy yogurt more popular. This sub-in is delicious, but nutritionally cannot be compared to normal yogurt. Non-dairy yogurt can be made with soy, almond and / or coconut milk and contains little to no protein. In addition, manufacturers often add sugar and artificial thickeners to improve the taste and texture of the product. If you’re not allergic to dairy products, skip these alternatives and stick with plain or Greek yogurt, or try Icelandic skyr – it’s a little thicker than Greek yogurt and less spicy.
If you’re drinking almond milk for a protein boost, you’re poking your dick on the wrong donkey butt. While almond milk is high in vitamins and minerals, it only contains 1 gram of protein per serving compared to about 8 grams in a cup of milk. If lactose is your problem, check out some of the new, alternative products that are popping up on the shelves. For example, ultrafiltered milk is normal milk that is passed through a series of filters that remove specific, individual components, resulting in a product with more protein and calcium, less sugar, and no lactose. There is also A2 milk that contains the A2 form of beta casein, the protein that makes up about 30 percent of the protein in cow’s milk. A2 milk is more easily digested, resulting in very few symptoms of stomach discomfort, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Move over butter – MCTs (medium chain triglyceride) claim this point in your bulletproof coffee. Because of their structure, MCTs can be easily digested in your liver, where they have been shown to be thermogenic. Adding coconut oil – that’s roughly 65 percent MCTs – or pure MCT oil to your coffee is believed to accelerate fat loss, increase energy, and improve wellbeing. This may very well be true. However, MCT oil is not a magic weight loss pill, and in fact, overdoing it can lead to weight gain. Ultimately, MCTs are still fats and naturally very high in calories. So be conservative in using them and don’t just rely on them to rid your body of fat.
Commercial acai peels
Acai in and of itself is fantastic and is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, as well as fiber, proteins, and healthy fats. However, an average 16-ounce acai bowl from a restaurant or commercial establishment contains about 41 grams of sugar * – without any toppings or additives. Make Your Own At Home: Buy unsweetened frozen acai berries and mix them with your favorite frozen fruit and a dash of water or milk. Throw in a scoop of protein powder or Greek-style yogurt for a protein boost.
* A small bowl from Planet Smoothie
Is it legitimate or just hype? The verdict is still pending. Researchers haven’t found enough evidence to show that alkaline water – which is high in alkalizing compounds like calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate – can neutralize the acid in your bloodstream so your body can better metabolize nutrients. If you’re looking for better pH, drink bottled water instead, or just toss a little baking soda and / or lemon juice in tap water to make your own alkaline water cheaply.