What’s the difference between a whole, healthy food and a superfood?
“Superfoods have the potential to supply your body with a large variety of different nutrients in a concentrated form,” Iris Huebler, founder and CEO of the Superfood Academy, says. “And each nutrient influences several functions in the body — not just one.”
Most superfoods grow in very warm climates and — unless specially treated — begin to lose their nutritional punch once they’re picked. That’s why so few have been available in the United States. But innovations in harvesting, packing, and delivery methods have made it possible in recent years for these foods to travel greater distances.
5 Unique Superfoods Every Athlete Should Try
Here are five lesser-known superfoods that athletes should incorporate into their weekly nutrition plan.
Though amaranth isn’t as popular as that other Inca dining staple, quinoa, this tiny grain packs a mighty punch. It’s higher in fiber and protein than wheat and brown rice, and is also a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron. It’s also a top pick for heart health. A Canadian study showed that amaranth has a natural LDL-cholesterol-lowering nutrient called phytosterol.
How to Eat It: Cook this grain like rice, and use it in salads and vegetable dishes. Alternatively, kick-start your morning with amaranth oatmeal or porridge, which is how it’s often eaten in India and Nepal.
The moringa is a small tree that grows in South Asia. Its leaves are packed with calcium, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and protein. Moringa leaves have been used for centuries in Asian medicine to treat anemia, arthritis, heart disease, and respiratory and digestive disorders. They’re also known to aid wound healing, fight inflammation, and boost performance. In fact, according to Huebler, it’s often used by endurance athletes.
How to Eat It: Moringa has become a popular natural leaf powder supplement. Huebler suggests adding ½ teaspoon to smoothies or meals, and because it’s a concentrated powder, you don’t need much to get the nutritional benefit. It’s also possible to use whole leaves to make tea (or use moringa oil — sometimes called ben oil, made from cold-pressing moringa seeds — as a cooking oil or even a salad dressing).
3. Camu Camu Berries
Camu camu is an Amazon rainforest fruit that contains 60 times more vitamin C than an orange. It also packs a potent blend of amino acids like serine, leucine, and valine, all of which play crucial roles in muscle and bone tissue growth and recovery. That makes it a great choice for athletes, according to London-based personal trainer and certified nutritionist Ondrej Matej.
How to Eat It: Fresh camu camu is hard on the taste buds, as it’s very sour.
"Go with a powder that you can mix into recovery drinks or sprinkle on yogurt or cereal," Matej recommends.
This Peruvian root vegetable has been consumed by the native population for centuries. The Incas claimed that it cured a long list of disorders, including depression, infertility, low libido, bone weakness, anemia, and chronic fatigue. Inca warriors even knocked it back as a pre-battle energy boost.
“Maca has positive effects on energy, and it doesn't stress the adrenals,” Matej, who takes it himself, says.
How to Eat It: Maca is generally found in powder form, which you can add a teaspoon of to smoothies or protein shakes.
Also known as Jerusalem artichokes — even though they’re not part of the artichoke family, or from Israel — this root vegetable contains fructooligosaccharide, a low-calorie, non-digestible carb that can boost immunity and promote gut and bone health, according to the Institute of Food Technologists. Fructooligosaccharide, also found in agave plants, is used as an artificial sweetener as well.
How to Eat It: Sunchokes can be cooked like potatoes. Try them as an alternative to French fries by thinly slicing them, tossing them in olive oil, and baking them in a 450-degree oven for approximately 15 minutes.