We’ve all been told to “eat your greens” time and time again, and rightly so. But vegetables aren’t the only superfoods that we need to eat for optimal performance. Steph Lowe, The Natural Nutritionist and Author of Low Carb Healthy Fat Nutrition shares her top five ingredients for performance and recovery, that you can’t live without.
Berries are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Antioxidants in particular are essential to protect against exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
They are also great source of fibre and a fantastic way to satisfy your sweet tooth, helping with healthy weight management. Blueberries in particular contain the broadest range of phytochemical compounds and are especially high in anthocyanins, the compound that gives them their characteristic blue colour. As a result, they help to neutralise free radicals formed during exercise therefore boosting recovery, and exercise recovery is the key to ongoing performance.
Sweet potato is one of nature’s best carbohydrate sources. Rich in vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, selenium, vitamin C and most of our B vitamins. This helps with not only energy production, but healthy blood sugar levels, satiety, exercise recovery and hormonal control. In addition to providing a host of nutrients, sweet potatoes provide approximately three grams of fibre per 100 grams, and when cooked and cooled, are high in resistant starch. This is essential for a healthy gut microbiome ensuring we get the most out of the food we eat, as these nutrients fuel our body and provide energy to support our performance goals.
Containing all nine essential amino acids, eggs really are the perfect protein. Consuming eggs as part of your post training meal is a great way to provide your body with the building blocks it needs to repair EIMD. Eggs are packed with healthy fats and choline, which support not only muscle movement, but your metabolism, and brain and nervous system health. Eggs are also one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which is an anti-inflammatory, further assisting with exercise recovery and ongoing performance.
Raw cacao is nature’s super bean. Due to its extremely high ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant quantity), it is actually classed as a ‘super-antioxidant’ and therefore helps to prevent cellular damage, protect the heart, and naturally fight the ageing process. Cacao is also a great source of flavonoids, essential fatty acids and magnesium – all of which help with exercise performance and recovery. Raw cacao contains naturally occurring theobromine, which acts as a mild, non-addictive stimulant that some believe can treat depression. Studies show that theobromine assists the brain to produce more anandamide, a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter.
Note: Cacao is not the same as cocoa, which is highly processed and low in nutrition.
Chia seeds are truly a superfood. Their high omega-3 and natural fibre content makes them fantastic for blood sugar control, which is the key to satiety, energy and weight management. They are a complete protein, providing all of our essential amino acids, which is actually quite rare from a vegetarian source. Chia seeds are high in calcium, making them a great dairy-free alternative to support muscle function and bone health. Calcium assists in muscular contractions and regulates the contraction of cardiac or heart muscle. This is essential for the efficient transport of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, offering a performance advantage.
Chia seeds are great in smoothies such as my Mixed Berry & Tahini Smoothie, in homemade cereal or granola, as a chia pudding, or as ‘chia egg’ as a fantastic vegan egg replacement.
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 3 tablespoons water
In a small bowl, soak chia seeds in water for 5 minutes. Use as you would egg in baked goods. If a recipe calls for 4 eggs, use 4 ‘chia eggs’. So simple.