By Brian Wu
Regular work-outs are only one part of staying fit: your diet is an incredibly important way to keep yourself at peak performance. The good news is if you know what foods to eat, keeping your body in optimal athletic condition becomes a lot easier.
From a strong heart and bones to good eye health and a normal weight, these 10 superfoods foods can improve your general health and athletic performance. Check them out!
Oranges are a healthy fruit which can offer a number of important benefits for health-conscious people. A strong heart is central to good athletic performance, and oranges support this in two different ways. Firstly, they are rich in a compound called hesperidin, a plant-based chemical which helps keep blood pressure in a healthy range. In one study, 500mL of orange juice daily was able to significantly lower blood pressure. Secondly, its high fiber content helps to reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, also important for a healthy heart.
As an added bonus, when consumed with high-iron foods such as spinach, oranges can help the body absorb iron more efficiently. Iron helps red blood cells move oxygen throughout the body efficiently, which is also important for the performance of those who work out regularly.
Not too long ago, eggs were avoided by many health-conscious people due to the fact that they are in high in cholesterol. However, studies have found that in around 70% of egg eaters, egg consumption does not increase cholesterol levels and in one study, they have actually been shown to increase healthy HDL cholesterol.
Eggs are a good source of quality protein with the highest biological value — a measure of how readily the digested protein can be used by the body. This means that less protein is needed from eggs than other sources to get muscle-building benefits.
They are also rich in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been linked to good eye health – and in this study, eating just 1.3 eggs a day greatly increased the body’s levels of both of these antioxidants.
Peanuts, like eggs, have also been avoided by some health-conscious people due to the fact that they are a calorie- and fat-dense food. In one study, women who ate nuts at least twice a week had a lowered risk for obesity and weight gain. It has also been shown that there is a relationship between regular peanut consumption and heart health.
In addition to this, peanuts have also been shown to be high in antioxidants.
Carrots do not get as much press coverage as veggies like broccoli or kale, but their health benefits are impressive, too. They are an incredibly rich source of beta-carotene, which helps to support the health of the eyes. They are also a rich source of vitamin K, which plays in an important role in the maintenance of strong bones.
Carrots can even help with weight loss: one study showed that women who consumed around 200g of carrots with their meals consumed fewer calories and reported less hunger throughout the day.
While white rice is largely empty calories based on simple carbohydrates, brown rice is less processed and far richer in nutrients. One of these important nutrients is magnesium, which has been shown to reduce the risk of serious chronic conditions and to help keep bones strong and healthy.
It is also important for athletes and other health-conscious people to note that brown rice will not lead to blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) the way that white rice will. It can also lead to healthy weight loss if consumed daily.
Yogurt has a well-deserved reputation for being a health food – for a number of good reasons. First, it is an important source of probiotic bacteria like lactobacillus, which can improve both digestion and the immune system by supporting the health of the gut.
It is also great for your heart: regular yogurt consumption has been linked to lower blood pressure and in one study, participants who took in 300ml of drinkable yogurt a day showed improvement in cholesterol levels.
Olive oil contains compounds which can reduce inflammation…important for hard-working athletes.
Olive oil is good for problems like joint pain and stiffness, mostly because it contains compounds which can reduce inflammation, as it acts in a way similar to ibuprofen in the body.
It is also important for heart health since studies have shown that it can lower LDL cholesterol levels. One study showed that 25 mL of olive oil, taken daily, can even help to reduce body weight and blood sugar levels: this can help health-conscious people to maintain a healthy weight and to keep energy levels steady throughout the day.
A study also shows that consumption of extra virgin olive oil help increase testosterone level which is crucial in muscle synthesis.
Dark chocolate is arguably one of the most delicious of health foods, mostly due to its high antioxidant content: these antioxidants help to improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. Its polyphenols in particular are good for heart health because they reduce LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol levels.
Research has found that 100 grams of dark chocolate daily can increase insulin sensitivity, which means the body is better able to process sugars and maintain healthy energy levels throughout the day. Moreover, dark chocolate is abundant in flavanols which has been reported to increase the bioavailaibility and bioactivity of nitric oxide (NO). A study in 2015 concluded that consumption of dark chocolate may be an effective ergogenic aid for short-duration, moderate intensity exercise.
Avocadoes also have an established reputation as a super food due to the wide array of health benefits they offer. Firstly, it is great for heart health as it has been shown to lower both LDL and total cholesterol, even though it is high in fat.
It is also beneficial for eye health due to the fact that, like eggs, it is high in both lutein and zeaxanthin. What’s even better is that it can also help the body absorb even more antioxidants: in one study, adding 150 grams of avocado or 24 grams of avocado oil led to a salad led to the better absorption of important antioxidants like beta-carotene.
Almonds are also an integral part of a healthy diet. Because they are so high in protein and fiber, they can help reduce hunger pains and make it easier to diet and lose weight. For instance, dieters who ate 1.5 ounces of almonds daily lowered their cholesterol levels and lost belly fat, an important marker for health.
Due to their high levels of antioxidants, almonds can also help to reduce oxidative damage to the cells.
For those seeking to improve their athletic performance, almonds are high in the amino acid arginine, a precursor of NO which increases vascularity and endurance. A study in 2014 concluded that whole almonds improved cycling distance and endurance performance more than isocaloric cookies in trained athletes.
Check your shopping cart the next time you visit the super market and make sure foods like the ones listed above are in your cart in order to supply your body with the nutrients that it needs to stay in the best physical shape possible.
About the Author:
Brian Wu is a current psychiatry resident at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center after finishing his MD/PhD at University of Southern California. He is the founder of Health Stories For Kids and is an avid storyteller.