As a nutritionist, I often tell my clients to spend more time focusing on foods they should be eating than on the ones they shouldn’t. Sometimes, that can be fun: Eat more blueberries! Have some lean steak! But other times, it involves facing up to some food fears and trying something that makes you uncomfortable. Here are the four best foods for athletes —like them or not.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for active people. They help create energy for your body, fight inflammation, and aid in the formation of signaling molecules that keep the body’s cardiovascular system working efficiently.
You’re probably aware that seafood is a good source of omega-3s, but let’s be honest—it’s not always convenient to whip up a broiled fillet of mackerel or salmon. So buddy up to canned sardines. I carry them with me to races; they’re shelf-stable, easy to pack, and require nothing more than a fork to eat from the can.
If that sounds too fishy for your palate, try eating them on crackers with lemon, hot sauce, or dijon mustard. The payoff is a payload of EPA and DHA fats, two types of omega-3s, plus more than 20 grams of protein per can, making it one of the best foods for athletes.
These gnarly bivalves are loaded with iron, which helps prevent anemia. That’s especially important for female athletes. Iron, if you’re not familiar, plays a major role in the production of red blood cells. Adequate intake can help increase your blood volume, which can have a big impact on your training and performance output.
I've struggled with low iron in the past. That sent me on the hunt for a good food fix (I like to avoid supplements when I can). While I’d previously never given clams a serious chance (let’s face it, they look disgusting), within the past few years I have chosen foods more for their nutritional value and less for appearance.
That’s when I found clams. With a whopping 130 percent of my daily iron in each 3-ounce serving, they were worth choking down. And as it turns out, they don’t taste as bad as they look. After they became a staple in my diet, I found that I was able to achieve less fatigued training days. That's why I now suggest them to my clients as one of the best foods for athletes.
Not sure how to use them? I have a weekly stir-fry night that’s basically a pile of vegetables and clams in my favorite sauce. I simply rinse the clams to remove excess sodium and add them to the vegetables during the last few minutes of cooking.
To race and train your best, you need endurance. One of the things you can do to help with that is to swap out empty carbs for ones that maximize your nutritional intake.
Enter jicama. Pronounced hi-kuh-muh. A Mexican yam-bean that looks like a turnip. Beneath its patch skin, this root vegetable hides a flavor that’s often compared to an apple or potato. And next to a potato, it has roughly the same amount of fiber and twice the vitamin C, with only a third as many carbs. The result is more stable blood sugar and energy levels. Try it as either a cooked vegetable (such as baked jicama fries) or a crisp addition to your salads and coleslaws.
The last time someone mentioned prunes you probably pictured your grandparents discussing how they stay regular. But these shriveled plums actually hold a lot of key nutrients that are perfect for any Spartan. Not only do they deliver a heavy dose of antioxidants such as vitamins A and E, but they also provide support for energy systems, assist in red-blood-cell production, and help to form healthy bones through vitamins B6 and B12 and iron.
Prunes are also rich in potassium, which has been shown to benefit the cardiovascular system by removing excess sodium from the body and reducing blood pressure. That leads to better blood flow and stronger workouts. And, on race day, an easier time on the rope climb.
Ready to give Spartan a try? Here’s everything you need to know to find your race.