1. Nuts or nut butter
Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and Vitamin E, an antioxidant often limited in the American diet. Studies have shown that consuming a handful of nuts several times each week can reduce your level of LDL cholesterol, the type that can increase your risk for heart disease. Consuming small amounts of nuts may also help to manage your weight and reduce your risk for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and certain types of cancer.
For a quick and easy way to add protein to your breakfast, sprinkle chopped nuts on cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt. Spread nut butter on whole grain crackers or an apple for a healthy snack, or add nuts to your salad, pasta or casserole at dinner. Nut butter is also a great pre-event food. It contains both protein and fat for longer lasting energy, and most athletes can digest it fairly well before exercise. Just remember to use “portion control” when eating nuts or nut butter, since one quarter cup of nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter contains about 200 calories,
New research on the health benefits of eggs has now made them a “nutrition super food.” They are low in calories and an excellent source of high-quality protein, containing all the amino acids your body needs for growth and recovery. Eggs also contain other nutrients like choline and leutin, known to play roles in brain function and eye health. In addition, eggs containing increased levels of “healthy fats” called omega-3 fatty acids are now being produced by altering the feed given to chickens.
Scrambled, poached, soft or hard cooked eggs make a quick protein option for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and boiled eggs are a great, portable snack. Mix cooked eggs with vegetables and other ingredients for a tasty spread, burrito filling, or stuffing for pita sandwiches. Hard cooked eggs can also be added to casseroles, salads, and mixed into soups to add more protein and flavor.
3. Frozen mixed berries
Many people who are trying to consume more fruit complain that it often goes bad before they eat it. Buying frozen berries or freezing your own fresh berries is a great way to avoid this problem. Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries contain a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, giving them their dark, rich color. These antioxidants have a number of health benefits, including reducing the buildup of bad LDL cholesterol in artery walls, and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer. These antioxidants are especially important for runners, as they help the body recover from hard activity.
Smoothies make a great pre-event meal or recovery snack, and they are easy to make by combining frozen berries with either milk or vanilla soymilk. Thaw frozen berries in the refrigerator, and then add them to oatmeal, cereal or yogurt. They can also be used in baked desserts, as a topping for ice cream, or served over angel food cake with whipped cream . . . my favorite summer dessert.
4. Whole-grain pasta
If you haven’t tried whole grain pasta in awhile, you’re in for a treat. Manufacturers have greatly improved their products, making them much lighter and better tasting than before. Whole grain pasta contains more fiber, which has the benefit of filling you up on smaller portions. My favorite is Barilla Plus®, which contains added protein, fiber, and ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
For a simple pasta dinner, add cut broccoli or vegetables to the boiling water toward the end of cooking. When the pasta is done, drain the water, and toss the noodles and veggies with your favorite sauce. Add cooked chicken, fish or clams for protein, top with grated cheese, and serve. If you’re switching to whole-wheat pasta for the first time, try the thin spaghetti. It’s quick cooking, lighter in texture, and tastes more like regular pasta.
Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s contribute to heart health by lowering triglycerides in the body–blood fats that can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Omega-3’s can also prevent blood clots by keeping platelets from clumping together and sticking to artery walls. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3-6 ounce servings of fish (especially oily fish like salmon) at least two times per week.
Salmon is widely available, quick to cook, and can be included in many dishes like omelet’s, pasta, and casseroles, or just marinated and baked or grilled. Canned salmon is a great substitute for tuna, and can be used in sandwiches or as a topping for green salad. Buying frozen salmon patties and individually packaged frozen salmon steaks and fillets is a great way to keep salmon on hand. Frozen patties can be put directly on the grill, and frozen fillets can be defrosted in about 10 minutes.
6. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidants vitamin A and C, high in fiber, and a good source of potassium, iron, and trace minerals like manganese and copper. They are also an excellent source of lycopene, which may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and breast and prostate cancer.
Boil, bake or microwave sweet potatoes for a great high-carbohydrate side dish to any meal. Chopped sweet potatoes can be added to soups, stews, and other dishes to add heartiness and flavor. If you want to save time, buy pre-cut and peeled sweet potatoes, they are now available in some stores. You can also purchase frozen, ready to bake, sweet potato fries that make a delicious and healthy substitute for fried potatoes.
7. Canned Beans
Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, beans make a great addition to any sports diet. They are a good source of protein, fiber, folate, and antioxidants, and consuming beans has been shown to lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Including beans in a meal can help you feel fuller, slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, and give you longer lasting energy.
Beans can be added to breakfast burritos, wraps, used as a topping for salads, or included in soups, stews or casseroles. Mashed beans can also be mixed with salsa or seasoned and used as a dip for veggies or pita triangles. Canned beans are quicker and easier to use than dry beans, since they don’t require any cooking. Rinsing canned beans before adding them to foods can help to eliminate some of the “annoying side effects” that discourage some people from eating them.
Popeye knew what he was talking about when he promoted spinach as a powerhouse food. It’s an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E. It also contains high levels of vitamins and minerals like folate, vitamin K, potassium, calcium, and iron. The nutritional content of spinach is best when fresh, or when it’s steamed or cooked quickly in the microwave.
Add spinach to omelets or frittatas to boost the nutrition content of your breakfast. Include spinach in sandwiches or wraps, or heat up leftovers or frozen entrées on a bed of raw spinach for lunch. A spinach salad topped with chicken, shrimp, or hard cooked eggs makes a great option for a summer dinner.
9. Low-fat yogurt
Studies have shown that less than 10% of American women consume their daily requirement of calcium, and experts are now recommending higher levels of vitamin D for optimal health. Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. In addition, some yogurts now contain “live bacteria cultures,” which can help to provide the healthy bacteria needed by the digestive tract.
Mix low-fat yogurt with cereal and berries for a quick and healthy breakfast or pre-event snack. Use it as a base for smoothies, salad dressings, or marinades for meat or fish. You can also mix it with herbs and make a dip for veggies or whole grain crackers, or sweeten it with honey and spoon it over fresh fruit.
Chocolate milk is no longer just for kids. Recent studies have shown that it can actually help athletes recover faster from hard activity. In one study, cyclists were given either Gatorade®, Endurox®or chocolate milk during a four-hour recovery period between two bouts of exercise to exhaustion.
Cyclists who consumed the chocolate milk were able to cycle longer and work harder than those drinking the Gatorade. And both groups were able to perform better than those consuming the Endurox. Researchers concluded that the beneficial effects were due to the optimal carbohydrate-protein of chocolate milk, which is critical for refueling tired muscles after strenuous exercise.
Most athletes report that chocolate milk tastes great and is really refreshing after exercise. It now comes in shelf-stable, portable containers that don’t require refrigeration. They’re easy to take along in a sports bag, or keep in your car for a post-workout recovery snack. For longer runs, combine chocolate milk with a high-fiber cereal bar.
Load up your cart . . .
Improving your nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Just follow the above suggestions for adding these foods to your meals and snacks, and you’ll be well on your way to powering up your sports diet. The best part is that these foods really taste great, so what are you waiting for? Get over to the grocery store and start loading up your cart!