The best are surprisingly accessible and affordable
If you’re looking to fuel your body for optimal performance, you’re no doubt aware of superfoods. But which ones are worth your money and which offer the best nutritional bang for your buck? The answers might surprise you. Just ask nutritionist Kyle Pfaffenbach "For me, athletes should develop a basic approach of exploring and enjoying a wide variety of nutrient-dense, non-processed foods,” he says. Of course, there’s a reason why superfoods get the heroic moniker. Packed with fat-shredding fiber, muscle-building minerals and vitamins, along with health-boosting polyphenols and antioxidants, they give the body more of the nutrients it needs in order to run optimally. And best of all, some of the most nutrient-dense superfoods for athletes are downright affordable.
Besides being incredibly versatile, oats are also inexpensive and nutritious. Naturally gluten-free and full of fiber, oats are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants called avenanthramides, which have been shown to help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation within the body. Oatmeal has a high soluble fiber content, is high in complex carbohydrates, is a decent source of protein and has a low glycemic index, which provides a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream - imperative for any endurance athlete.
In terms of nutritional powerhouses, an egg is pretty much the gold standard. At just 70 calories, one egg contains over six grams of protein, all nine essential amino acids, and important branched-chain amino acids, which have been proven to reduce muscle damage after a workout. Now don't let that one Rocky scene fool you - raw eggs have no advantages over cooked ones. In fact, cooking eggs allows your body to absorb almost twice the amount of protein.
These large nuts are somewhat exotic but still relatively affordable and easy to find at the grocery store. According to Ashley Reaver, a registered dietician and the lead research scientist for the athlete blood-testing company InsideTracker, just one serving of Brazil nuts contains about 800% of the daily recommended value of selenium. This mineral is essential for hormone metabolism and protects the body from oxidative stress - a byproduct of heavy training. Recent studies have found that endurance athletes shed the mineral during long workouts, so boosting your intake is a smart idea.
Starchy sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A and C - two powerful antioxidants that work in removing free radicals from the body. Good carbs, like sweet potatoes, are great for replenishing your glycogen stores. They're also packed with vitamins, nutrients and a healthy dose of fiber to keep you feeling satiated.
“Some will go on and on about kale, but don’t forget about spinach,” asks Matt Fitzgerald, triathlon coach and celebrated author. “It’s actually more nutritious.” We all know that spinach is good for us, but what makes it a superfood? The leafy green is easy to mix into everything from omelettes and salads to sandwiches and smoothies. It’s packed with iron, essential for delivering oxygen to working muscles and also loaded with magnesium, which is known to increase your metabolism, regulate your heart rhythm and maintain a healthy blood pressure.* A Superfood Snack: Treat yourself to some popcorn. A study by the University of Scranton found that popcorn contains more health-boosting polyphenols than most fruit. What's more, these nutrients are also better absorbed when eaten with a dose of healthy fats. So feel free to drizzle your bowl of popcorn with a little grass-fed butter.