Six Foods to Boost Your Workouts
As rich sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, fruits can help ensure strong immune function, cardiovascular health and brain function. As an athlete, fruits can also help optimize your exercise performance. If you skimp on fruit, on the other hand, your risk for early fatigue and poor workout recovery is increased, according to Katie Davis, a registered dietitian in the Chicago area. Although all fruits are healthy, particular varieties provide exceptional benefits to athletes.
Endurance athletes often have to snack in the midst of a workout to provide their body with enough fuel to perform at optimum levels (and to prevent their body from eating into muscle stores). But the lower the volume of food taken in during an intense workout, the better so that less energy needs to be diverted to digestion.
Dates are almost completely made of glucose, a simple carbohydrate that is easily burned by the muscles as fuel. In fact, dates have the highest glucose-to-volume ratio of any fruit, and so they make the perfect base for a snack that can be eaten before and during an intense cycling workout. In fact, the base of many natural energy bars includes dates for this reason.
Coconut water has become popular and is even billed by some as a sports drink, but that’s not the whole story. In reality, coconut water is basically just sugar water with some naturally occurring electrolytes. (If you’re sedentary, that means it’s a great way to bulk up with fat easily!) But that’s actually okay for cyclists, who burn though sugar and expel electrolytes quickly. Coconut water’s naturally occurring sugar will replenish your muscle’s glycogen and help you go farther before reaching exhaustion. And, of course, the naturally occurring electrolytes will replace what is lost in sweat, thereby allowing for better hydration and a reduced chance of cramping.
Athletes, who expend large amounts of energy, rely on good nutrition to maintain and improve their performance levels. With about 120 calories and 16 grams of sugar, a banana's high carbohydrate content can give them a quick energy boost and1.5 grams of protein to help feed their muscles. A banana also contains a beneficial combination of vitamins and minerals that work together to help athletes replenish blood cells and stay alert and energetic.
Bananas are top sources of potassium, a mineral and electrolyte, or salt, that conducts electricity in the body. Consuming too little potassium can cause muscle weakness and cramps, fatigue and, in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythms and muscular paralysis. Most people get enough potassium from a balanced diet, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. But because intense exercise and perspiration causes potassium loss, amping up your potassium intake, particularly following physical activity, is important. Bananas also supply valuable amounts of carbohydrates, which is the top fuel source for your body and muscles.
Potassium, which works with sodium, water and other nutrients to control your blood pressure, is depleted through an athlete's muscles and sweat during exercise. Although the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 4.7 grams of potassium per day, athletes may need more than that to prevent a potassium deficiency, which can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure. A banana provides nearly 500 milligrams of potassium, giving athletes a quick dose of that essential mineral.
Being in the game mentally is crucial for an athlete's success. A banana contains 12 milligrams of tyrosine, an amino acid that, according to the Franklin Institute, combines with a banana's vitamin content to help your brain produce norepinephrine, a chemical similar to dopamine. This can enhance an athlete's alertness, ability to focus and level of motivation, making a banana a good water-break snack during a game or athletic event. Almonds, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, avocados and sesame seeds also contain tyrosine. There is no official recommendation for daily intake of tyrosine. Researchers studying sleep deprivation at Pennington Biomedical Research Center gave patients 150-milligram doses of tyrosine, but the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends asking a doctor or nutritionist how much you should get.
Because athletes have to withstand prolonged periods of physical exertion, they need more vitamin B-6 than other people. Vitamin B-6 helps your body release energy from nutrients and may lower your risk of heart disease and certain kinds of cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. One banana gives you .5 milligrams of vitamin B-6, supplying you with about one-third of your recommended daily intake for that nutrient.
Iron and Vitamin C
Iron helps your body transport oxygen during aerobic activities and people who regularly engage in strenuous exercise are particularly susceptible to iron deficiencies, according to the Sports Nutrition Department at Montana State University. One banana gives you .35 milligrams of iron and 12 milligrams of vitamin C, which helps new cells to form and supports your immune system. Having these nutrients present in the same food is beneficial because vitamin C helps your body absorb dietary iron.
In addition to providing ample potassium, oranges are optimum sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C may help reduce inflammation and helps your body absorb iron from plant-based foods, like beans and lentils. This is important because athletes, particularly female athletes, are prone to iron deficiencies, according to Colorado State University Extension. Because oranges and orange juice also provide plentiful amounts of carbohydrates and water, they can lower your risk for fatigue and dehydration after intense exercise.
In addition to citrus fruits, the American Dietetic Association lists strawberries as optimum sources of vitamin C for athletes. Vitamin C helps your body fend off infections and produce collagen, which holds muscles and bones together. Vitamin C-rich foods also help prevent bruising, by enhancing iron and folate absorption. As fiber-rich foods, strawberries promote blood sugar control and lasting energy between meals.
Many athletes rely on glucose supplements before events for boosted energy and performance. In a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Resistance" in November 2007, eight endurance athletes consumed a sports gel supplement or raisins containing the same amount of carbohydrates 45 minutes before exercise. Researchers found that the raisins provided the same performance benefits as the sport gel. Raisins are also less expensive than glucose gels and provide significant amounts of other valuable nutrients, including potassium, iron and fiber.