As we all know, the competitive climate within today’s sports world has run rampant, and, as a result, athletes of all levels are seeking any advantage they can possibly gain. But aside from the physical training aspect of making yourself into the stud athlete you have always dreamt of one day becoming, what is it that actually separates the so called “good” from the “great”? And the answer to that question, my friends, lies in recovery: the quicker you can recover, the faster you can improve.
But what most athletes fail to realize, however, is that nearly 80% of proper recovery is attributed towards nutrition. And while we all like to think there is a magic pill or secret supplement that can replace the tried and true benefits of a well balanced diet comprised of fresh organic vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes, such a belief simply does not exist. What does exist, however, is the ability for athletes to provide themselves with a nutritional edge by complementing their dietary regimens with certain so called “superfoods,” that surprisingly exist in most local health food markets (i.e. Whole Foods).
With that in mind, here is a rundown of four (completely safe!) plant-based foods that have helped athletes experience success once having incorporated these food items into their daily routine:
1.) Chia Seeds—Yep, the very same seeds that you spread over your kitchen pet are now valued as the “ultimate runner’s food.” A complete protein high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants, Chia has been shown to promote heart health, boost endurance, increase oxygen uptake and impede dehydration. This superfood is also an excellent “slow-carb” that provides sustained energy over a long period of time. Just sprinkle the recommended serving size (usually 2 tablespoons worth) in your pre-workout/post-workout smoothie, in your morning bowl of cereal or on your salad and you’ll be good to go.
2.) Maca Root—Traditionally used to enhance sexual performance, this root vegetable native to the Andes Mountains in South America is packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Maca has been shown to improve stamina and reduce the onset of exercise-induced soreness, and it’s purported mood-lifting effects may help provide increased motivation for working out. Additionally, maca’s high levels of calcium and magnesium can promote bone health and possibly reduce chances of fractures, making it of particular interest to athletes. This superfood is available in powder, liquid, and capsule form and the recommend dosage is one 450-mg taken three times a day with food.
3.) Spirulina—Ever heard of this blue green algae that is noted as having the highest percentage of complete protein by weight of any food on earth? Didn’t think so. Packed with a wide variety of antioxidants, phytonutrients and vitamins, the use of Spirulina has been correlated with increased endurance and expedited recovery after exercise. Can’t hurt to add 10 grams of Hawaiian spirulina pacifica to either your pre-workout or post-workout shake/smoothie!
4.) Cordyceps—Mark my words: It will not be long before this mushroom extract makes its way into various food products aimed towards athletes. Ever since coach Ma of the Chinese Olympic Track & Field team confessed he was feeding the stuff to his world-record breaking runners, athletes have given this mushroom a legendary reputation. And studies support its effects on stamina, vitality, endurance, and energy as well as its added benefits on cardiovascular and immune functioning. The recommended intake of cordyceps is 3 to 9 grams taken twice daily as a liquid extract, as food, or as powdered extract.
I recommend not being reluctant to trying something new and add these superfoods to your list of supplements. Blue-green algae, mushroom extract and vegetable root might not sound like the most appealing food choices, but set aside your preconceived notions and give em’ a shot. Pay attention – maybe even document — how you feel both during and after your workouts. Then let me know what you find.