You cannot be a great athlete and eat terribly. While our world is full of processed, ready-to-go foods, this isn’t the best choice for an athlete – or someone who wants to fuel their body like an athlete. Fresh is best, and while it can cost more and take preparation, your body will thank you for it. Below are the best foods to fuel your athletic body.
Although it’s really a sprouted seed, quinoa is usually considered a whole grain—and a super one, at that. It’s got nearly twice as much protein (8 grams per cup) as other grains, and it’s one of the only foods to contain all nine essential amino acids our bodies need to build lean muscle and recover from tough workouts. Quinoa’s also a great source of fiber and carbohydrates and it’s extremely versatile: You can eat it like a breakfast cereal with cinnamon and honey, or make it savory and serve it in place of rice or pasta.
Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity—and berries are one of the best sources out there. Toss them into a smoothie, add them to your morning cereal, or just eat them by the handful. Aim to eat berries (and other fruits) from across the color spectrum, to ensure that you’re getting a wide variety of antioxidants and nutrients.
Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and trout , are good sources of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation that can hamper athletic performance and contribute to chronic conditions like heart disease. Wild salmon generally contains fewer cancer-causing chemical contaminants than the farmed variety, but it can be expensive or hard to find at your grocery store; if that’s the case, consider using canned wild salmon in chowders, salmon burgers, salads, or pastas. And stick to the fish instead of pills: A 2013 study (albeit, a controversial one) found that too much fish oil in a man’s diet may raise his risk for prostate cancer, though the actual cause may be rancid oil.
Beans & Legumes
For vegetarian athletes (or those who just want to go meatless once and a while), plant-based sources of protein are a must. These include soybeans (and tofu), lentils, peas, and all varieties of beans—black, pinto, white, kidney, you name it. Beans may not be the protein powerhouse that steak or poultry is—a cup of black beans has about 114 calories and 7 grams of protein, versus 168 calories and 33 grams of protein for 4 ounces of skinless chicken breast. But unlike animal protein, beans have no saturated fat and are also a good source of fiber, which can help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
At about 100 calories a piece, bananas are a great source of easy-to-digest sugar and natural electrolytes. They’re also a favorite post-event recovery food, and for good reason: One medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium, which your body needs to regulate fluids and prevent muscle cramps and spasms. Because you sweat out potassium during physical activity, it’s important to replenish as soon as possible afterward.