With spring suddenly upon us, I’m sure many of you are looking to take your fitness to the next level. After all, we all want to look lean and fit for the summer, right? And many of us want to perform at our best when it comes to training and competition too! Whether you’re looking to run a few extra miles outside, join a new boot camp class, or get back into your favorite warm weather sport, one thing is for certain—you need to adequately fuel your body.
No one said figuring out the optimal diet was easy, but there are some dietary staples that should be in every athlete’s refrigerator, freezer, or pantry, either because they promote optimal health, enhance performance, or provide some level of convenience at just the right time. And keep in mind, these food recommendations apply to wannabe athletes as well. Check out our list of must-have foods and feel free to add your $.02 in the comments section below.
1. Frozen berry mix
Blueberries get a lot of antioxidant hype, but why limit yourself to just one type of berry? Look for mixed berries in the frozen food aisle or buy some fresh at a local farmer’s market. They make a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal bakes, or Greek yogurt parfait, both of which happen to be excellent recovery options.
2. Sunflower seeds
You might find it odd that sunflower seeds made the list, but they’re one of the best sources of vitamin E, something that many active individuals struggle to get enough of. Sprinkle them on your salad or incorporate them into your favorite homemade trail mix recipe.
3. Sweet potatoes
Look at any “you gotta eat this” list and you’ll likely find sweet potatoes on it. They’re a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, not to mention several other healthful micronutrients. They make for a great carb choice in that first balanced meal after a workout. Just make sure you go easy on the butter and brown sugar!
4. Sports nutrition bar
Sure, I prefer whole foods whenever possible, but there’s no denying the fact that a balanced sports bar is a very convenient way to get in some quick calories when you’re crunched for time. There are lots of options out there, so look for one that has about 25 grams of carbohydrate, 10-15 grams of protein, and 4-8 grams of fat. Oh, and make sure it tastes good, too!
Eggs contain all 9 essential amino acids and are considered to be one of the best protein sources on the planet. They also happen to have a variety of micronutrients within the yolk, including several B vitamins and selenium, a powerful antioxidant. Balance out your breakfasts with a little egg protein to provide some longer-lasting energy throughout the mornings. They also make a great snack!
6. Whole grain pasta
The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy, so if you’re looking for a great carb choice, look no further than whole grain pasta. Remember, this version has more fiber and protein than good ‘ole refined white pasta, and when you mix it with some high-quality protein and several colorful vegetables, you’ve got a meal fit for a champion.
7. Whey protein powder
Whey protein powder has been studied extensively, and with some pretty impressive results. It’s been shown to help with fat loss, muscle preservation, strength gains, and even hunger control. It also has a beneficial effect on immune function. Add some to your oatmeal in the morning or throw it in a shake after your workout. You’ll be glad you did!
8. Chia seeds
Yes, we are talking about the seeds used in those crazy Chia Pet commercials back in the 80’s. I’m sure you weren’t aware that these tiny seeds pack quite a nutritional punch. In fact, they actually have equal amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fiber. They also happen to be an excellent omega-3 fatty acid source. Grind them up and toss them into any salad or soup, or just add them to your favorite smoothie.
9. Green, leafy vegetables
Foods like spinach and kale certainly don’t offer much in the way of calories, but they sure do make up for it when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These guys are chock full of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as numerous phytochemicals that can help fight oxidative damage induced by exercise. Toss them in a skillet with a little olive oil and pare them with your favorite protein source. Speaking of…this leads us to #10.
This fatty fish is a great protein source and its omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, which is beneficial to those engaging in intense exercise. Sear a salmon filet and add some greens and a sweet potato or two (mentioned above)—it doesn’t get more nutritious than that!