Understanding so-called “superfoods” and what they mean for your training diet.
Superfoods. It’s a buzzword. Google the term and you’ll find thousands of articles listing foods you should be eating because of their super-ness. Periodically, the foods at the top of the list change. Do superfoods live up to all the hype or should they be humbled?
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies (and Beans)
The term “superfood” is (almost always) used to refer to foods that contain antioxidants, which might slow the process of aging and help prevent or delay some damage to cells that could contribute to various diseases.
Antioxidants are found in many foods and supplements and include vitamins such as A, C, and E; some minerals such as selenium and zinc; and phytochemicals, which include carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and lycopene) and flavonoids. Fruits, vegetables, and beans are a good way to get antioxidants and make your diet a little more “super.”
The question is, are there certain fruits, vegetables, or beans that contribute more than others? The short answer is yes; however, each food comes with a unique set of nutrients and antioxidants that can contribute positively to your overall health. In some cases, they might help to enhance your performance as an athlete.
Ultimately, we should consume a wide variety. Have you ever heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”? It may sound cliché, but it has value. Eat across the spectrum of colors to ensure you’re getting an array of nutrients. Although carrots are healthy, eating too many carrots or eating only carrots in place of other vegetables can have negative consequences.
“Eat your fruits and vegetables” sounds pesky and far from exciting, but it really is one of the best things you can do to boost the healthfulness of your diet. Not only do fruits, vegetables, and beans provide the body with essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, but they supply us with much needed fiber. As an athlete, your diet should be adequate in carbohydrate and fruit, starchy vegetables, and beans should be major sources of that much-needed carbohydrate.
Superfoods Put Out Flames
Not literally. But superfoods not only come with antioxidant properties, they might also have anti-inflammatory properties. Although inflammation is not always considered bad, inflammation is a common condition in many diseases. An anti-inflammatory diet includes fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids (such as fatty fish), foods that contain monounsaturated fats (such as an avocado), beans, nuts, whole grains, and herbs and spices.
Superfoods for Superior Training
Sorry, but there are no foods that will miraculously take your training to the next level or prevent injury. The good news is that there are ways to superfood your diet. Shop and eat using these four strategies.
Stock up on produce
Fresh is good but not always best, especially if you live in a location where the growing season is short. Buy fresh when things are in season. If you need time-savers and if your budget allows, buy prewashed and precut vegetables and fruits. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits are also great choices to help keep your home stocked. They’re processed at their peak of season and can be just as nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Plus, they have a longer shelf life so you don’t have to worry about being wasteful when you forget about the head of cauliflower sitting in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. When buying frozen varieties, look for items that come without sauce. When purchasing canned fruits and vegetables, look for lower in sodium or “no salt added” and canned in juice rather than syrup.
Shop for protein beyond the butcher’s case
There is nothing wrong with consuming lean meat and poultry found in the butcher’s case, but often the protein options in the aisles of the grocery store are forgotten. Canned or packets of salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies are affordable fatty fish options that you can keep in the pantry for any time. Beans and lentils are great choices that won’t break the bank. Nut butters such as peanut butter and almond butter not only provide protein to the diet but they also deliver monounsaturated fat, and walnut butter (if you can find it) is a plant-based source of omega-3.
Keep whole grains handy
Brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, and barley are great whole grain choices. Parboiled brown rice and quick-cooking oats and barley still deliver whole grains to the diet without taking too long to prepare. While fresh corn is classified as a vegetable, dried corn is classified as a whole grain so go ahead and keep popcorn around for those snack attacks but remember to keep the butter to a moderate amount.
When a recipe calls for fresh herbs, don’t leave them out
Most often when we buy fresh herbs, we are left with more than we need and those extras end up in the trash. The best way to keep those fresh herbs is to freeze them. To do this, simply chop the herbs and pack them into and ice cube tray, then fill the tray with broth or water. After they are frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and store in an airtight container in the freezer.
Color in Your Diet
While superfoods are considered healthful choices, there’s no reason to fall for the latest exotic-fruit-from-the-Amazon trend. Instead, eat polychromatically using the following recommendations made in David Heber’s 2001 book “What Color is Your Diet?”
- Red/Purple: Blueberries, blackberries, cherries, eggplant, plums, prunes, raspberries, red apple, red pepper, and strawberries.
» Add berries of choice (fresh or frozen) to a smoothie, oatmeal, or your favorite cold cereal for a quick breakfast.
- Red: Guava, pink grapefruit, tomatoes and tomato products, and watermelon.
» Make a quick ratatouille with tomato sauce, chopped vegetables, and fresh basil for a no-hassle dinner.
- Orange: Apricots, carrots, cantaloupe, mangos, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes.
» Bake a sweet potato (or cook in the microwave) and load with black beans, salsa, steamed spinach, steamed broccoli, and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt for an easy lunch that will help to replenish glycogen after training.
» Pack dried apricots and mangos for a snack after practice or in between heats.
- Orange/Yellow: Nectarines, oranges, peaches, pineapple, tangerines, and yellow grapefruit.
» Keep canned (in juice or water) mandarin oranges, peaches, and pineapple in the pantry to make an easy fruit salad in the middle of winter.
- Yellow/Green: Avocado, green or yellow pepper, honeydew melon, kiwi, pistachios, romaine lettuce, spinach.
» Toast whole grain bread and top with sliced avocado, ricotta cheese, and a pinch of salt for breakfast in 10 minutes or less.
- Green: Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and Swiss chard.
» Drizzle kale with a little olive oil and bake until crispy for a veggie-filled snack.
- White/Green: Artichokes, celery, chives, garlic, leeks, and mushrooms.
» Add marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms to your next omelet for a breakfast that will keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Health and Nutrition