Athletes — especially endurance athletes — rely on glycogen stores to fuel training and performance, but what fuels glycogen stores? Carbs. But how do you know which carbs are the most nutritious and, therefore, beneficial to your training and recovery?
For some, believing the constantly-touted benefits of sweet potatoes can prove difficult due to their starchy nature. (And because their fried version is often offered up alongside a grease-dripping burger at a restaurant.) Here, an expert breaks down everything that sweet potatoes have to offer.
Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy? Here's What They Offer.
Sweet potatoes do contain carbohydrates (about 26 grams per average potato, to be exact). However, along with those carbs come a variety of other beneficial nutrients.
First of all, your average sweet potato provides about four grams of fiber, which supports digestion and gut health.
Plus, sweet potatoes are filled with potassium and magnesium, two key electrolytes that keep you hydrated — and help ward off muscle cramps or spasms — as you train or race, Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, nutritionist for Daily Harvest, explains. They also contain manganese and copper, two other must-haves for your muscles.
Like many colorful veggies, sweet potatoes are also chock-full of antioxidants, like beta-carotene (which we turn into vitamin A) and vitamin C. These antioxidants are especially beneficial for athletes.
“Endurance athletes are prone to oxidative damage, which can cause injury and inflammation," Shapiro says. "Consuming ample antioxidants, though, can help prevent or decrease it."
Not to mention, sweet potatoes' vitamin C (and iron) are particularly beneficial for women, who are often lower in these nutrients, according to Shapiro.
How to Incorporate Sweet Potatoes Into Your Meal Plan
Shapiro recommends incorporating sweet potatoes before workouts or even during races. Since they're low on the Glycemic Index (meaning they have a generally slow-and-steady effect on your blood sugar), sweet potatoes provide a slow and sustained boost in energy.
Shapiro recommends roasting, steaming, or sautéing your sweet potatoes. Stay away from fried sweet potatoes, since they contain processed saturated fats and sodium from the frying oil and added salts.
5 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes to Try Right Now
Luckily, there are still plenty of delicious and nutritious ways to add sweet potatoes to your daily fuel. Try these five simple recipes next time you're craving these carbs.
1. Vegan Sweet Potato Muffins
If you make them the right way, muffins are totally on the menu for clean-eating athletes. These gluten-free Vegan Sweet Potato Muffins from Gwen Leron of Delightful Adventures use sweet potatoes as their base, and adds just a little coconut sugar and mini chocolate chips for extra sweetness.
They make for a perfect grab-and-go breakfast or snack, taste like a treat, and provide much more nourishment than your average muffin.
2. Harvest Veggie Loaf
Your grandmother’s meatloaf recipe gets a healthy makeover in this Harvest Veggie Loaf from Ameera and Robin of Monkey & Me Kitchen Adventures. Vegan and gluten-free, it's stuffed with veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, and celery, and healthy fats from almond butter and pecans. A spiced cranberry sauce pulls it all together perfectly.
3. Sweet Potato Pad Thai
Sick of zoodles? This flavorful Sweet Potato Pad Thai from Katy Rexing of Grace in the Crumbs uses hearty sweet potato noodles for a healthier version of this takeout classic. Also made with ginger, red cabbage, and green onion, it's packed with color and a variety of nutrients. Top it off with a zesty Thai peanut sauce, some bean sprouts, and lime juice.
4. Healthy Vegan Sweet Potato Skins
This classic appetizer just got a whole lot better. Stuffed with a mixture of mashed sweet potatoes, plant-based yogurt, hot sauce, corn, and black beans, these Healthy Twice-Baked Vegan Sweet Potato Skins from Sophia DeSantis of Veggies Don’t Bite are perfectly crisp and rich in flavor.
Top them with lime juice, jalapeño, red cabbage, or avocado to double the fiesta.
5. Baked Sweet Potato Falafel
Made with a base of sweet potato purée, chickpeas, and walnuts, these Baked Sweet Potato Falafel from Ashley Jennings of Cook Nourish Bliss pack 12 grams of plant-based protein per serving. Jennings suggests serving them on top of a salad, in a grain bowl, in a pita, or on their own with a labneh or yogurt sauce.