by Kellie Anderson
Athletes and fitness fans need plenty of energy rich foods to maintain stamina and repair muscles but eating habits can be hard to change and new patterns a challenge to maintain. Rather than drastic changes – such as cutting out all sugar, wheat or alcohol– introducing a few healthy food swaps and additions to your diet can be easier to maintain.
Kellie Anderson is a health educator, nutritionist and recipe developer, with a bag full of tips and suggestions on tasty, nutritious foods to help keep energy levels high and boost performance, without relying on protein bars and shakes.
Get Vital Proteins
Protein is the building block of all life and is essential for the growth of cells and tissue repair. Look to eat plenty of quality protein, such as nuts, lean meats, fish, eggs, milk (a great recovery drink) and skinless poultry. A good mix of balanced protein and carbohydrates will keep the body fuelled and boost recovery. Lean meats like skinless chicken or turkey help fight fatigue and contain lots of iron, B-vitamins and protein that are perfect for endurance and those seeking weight loss.
One egg achieves about 10 percent of your daily protein needs. Egg yolks are rich in B-vitamins and vitamin D, so they’re perfect for energy and strong bones and make an ideal protein-rich breakfast. Also include them in sandwiches, wraps and salads as you would cold meats or add to casseroles and soups by cracking one or two in towards the end of cooking.
As well as protein, salmon is packed with essential fatty acids that can help to ease inflammation so stiffness won’t slow you down. Precooked (leftover) or canned salmon is great in salads, tossed into pasta, stirred into soups, or on top of pizza. Bake, grill, or poach salmon with fresh herbs and citrus zest.
Quinoa is a great source of protein, as well as bone-boosting minerals like iron, magnesium and copper. You can use it for boosting healthy salads to give an energy hit when you’re working out or to help build muscle after an exercise session. This gluten-free grain packs more protein than any other and is an ideal replacement for refined carbohydrates. For a packed punch of healthy protein and healthy fats try this quinoa bowl with citrus, avocado and edamame beans.
SWAP: Bought trail mixes/cereal bars for DIY fruit and nut pot
Nuts and dried fruit are the perfect combination of healthy fats, fibre and protein, with healthy fats helping to provide long-lasting energy. Rather than buy bought cereal bars or trail mixes (which can contain excess sugars and oils) just make your own from a mix of seeds and nuts.
Super-charge on Carbs
Carbohydrates play a critical role in energy production, because they can be converted more readily into glucose, the form of sugar that’s transported and used by the body, than proteins or fats can. Pick the healthiest ones for maximum energy and other nutritional benefits – whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, vegetables and fruits, rather than sugar-rich cakes and biscuits.
SWAP: Crisps and tortilla chips for crunchy veg and wholemeal pitta
Trade your crisps and tortilla chips for another crunchy snack – homemade baked pitta chips. Tear into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with a finely ground spice of your choice (cumin is nice) and bake at 180°C for around 8-10 minutes. Once cooled, plunge into a beany dip or chunky salsa. Another dipping option is chopped vegetables and crisp fruit: apples, radishes, pepper strips and carrot sticks.
Go Nutrient Rich
Fruit and vegetables are packed full of nutrients that will give your body the energy it needs for a work out.
ADD: Dark greens
Dark leafy greens are packed with calcium, fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C – all of which are important for energy levels and contain depression-fighting folate – so stock up on nutrient rich kale, rocket, chard or spinach for a vitamin boost that will keep your spirits high. If you are not keen on the taste and find dark greens bitter a tasty alternative is to add to soups and smoothies. Try this super nutrient rich smoothie that mixes kale and berries.
ADD: Sweet potatoes
High in vitamin A in the form of the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, and the two trace minerals manganese and copper. Many runners struggle to meet their manganese and copper needs, which can have an impact on performance since these minerals are crucial for healthy muscle function. Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, or microwaved. Instead of using mash potatoes, top your pies with sweet potato or make your own chips by baking slices of them in the oven.
Add: Oranges, blueberries and bananas
An antioxidant fruit, oranges contain plenty of immune system boosting vitamin C, which has also been linked to helping athletes recover from muscle soreness. Orange sections can be used to sweeten green salads, and the juice and pulp can be added to sauces to top chicken, pork, or fish.
Blueberries are another effective performance-enhancing fruit, offering appetite-curbing fibre and plenty of vitamin C to keep your immune system revved. They also help to destroy free radicals in the body before they can damage healthy cells and the dye that makes them blue has also been shown to improve balance and coordination. Add them to whole grain cereals for an energy-boosting breakfast or mix them up with other nutrients, such as bananas, for rich fruits for a vitality enhancing smoothie. Bananas are packed full of potassium which is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.
SWAP: Dairy milk chocolate for dark chocolate treats
Chocolate contains potent antioxidants called flavonols that can boost heart health. Unfortunately your average chocolate bar won’t do; dark chocolate contains more flavonols and the way the cocoa beans are processed can influence the potency of the flavonols.
Swap your normal chocolate fix for DIY nutritious chocolate treats. Melt 100g bar of dark quality chocolate and mix in 50g dried fruit (berries are great) and 50g roughly chopped nuts (such as walnuts and pecans). Drop in tablespoons onto a baking paper lined tray and allow to ‘set’. These make great after-dinner treats.
Heavy on the H20
ADD: Plenty of water
Not to be overlooked, water is one of the most vital ingredients for keeping your body cool, as dehydration can seriously limit your abilities physically and mentally. Water transports nutrients in the blood that are used for energy and helps to flush out waste build-up. You’ll be amazed at how energised you feel when you continually rehydrate all day, especially before and during work outs.
Kellie Anderson is working with Boundless by CSMA Club to promote the health benefits of seasonal produce. For more ideas on what to put in your shopping basket each month, download a seasonal food calendar to pin up in your kitchen.
Most athletes will need to replenish on the carbs, water and minerals for events or training sessions lasting 90 minutes or longer. See a sports nutritionist or qualified personal trainer for individual advice.