10 Foods You Should Always Have In Your Kitchen for Good Nutrition

By SGX Coach Anne L’Heureux, LD, RD

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not going to tell you to get more kale, quinoa, or flaxseed. These foods are the bucket brigade, rope climb, and spear throw of your kitchen; they are classics that shouldn’t ever go away. But just as there’s a lot more to a Spartan Race than those three obstacles, there’s a lot more to good nutrition than the cliché basic “superfoods.”

Without further ado, here are 10 foods you should have in your kitchen at all times.

1. Hemp Hearts

Close up of healthy organic hemp hearts in a stainless steel dish

Why? At the heart of every hemp seed is…(drumroll please)…the hemp heart, a nutrition powerhouse that provides you with 110% daily manganese, 45% magnesium, 45% phosphorus, 20% iron and zinc, and more with every 3-tbsp serving. Not convinced? This same serving also offers 11.5g of heart-healthy fats, 10g of protein, and 3g of fiber. With a mild, nutty flavor and a simple crunch, what’s not to love?

How? You can basically put hemp hearts anywhere you already sprinkle ground flaxseed. I like it mixed in my morning oatmeal, in smoothies, and on top of yogurt. But it can also be mixed in homemade granola bars, homemade soups, or meatloaf.

Nutrition summary: 3 tbsp serving provides 170 calories, 11.5g healthy fats, 10g protein, 3g carbohydrate.

2. Sorghum

Why? You may have heard the words “Ancient Grains” going around. Sorghum is a source of such grains. I came across sorghum while at a recent dietitian event. (Aside: one of the things I love the most about being a dietitian is all of the free, delicious, and nutritious food samples I get at symposiums. Picture the festival area at a race, but with 100 more vendors all trying to give you info and samples of the best new foods. I highly recommend it. But I digress.) Sorghum has zero fat and sodium and provides an excellent source of clean and complex carbohydrate that is perfect as your carb of choice to fuel your weekly runs. Sorghum assists with reducing blood pressure due to its levels of potassium, assists in lowering cholesterol as a whole grain, and provides health promoting phytochemicals like phenolic acids, sterols, policosanols, and anthocyanins (Awika and Rooney, 2004).

How? Use as you would any rice or quinoa. Sorghum can be served warm, or cold on a salad.

Nutrition summary: ¼ cup uncooked provides 160 calories, 0g fat, 4g protein, 36g carbohydrate.

3. Tart Cherry Juice (TCJ)

cold cherry juice in a glass and pitcher on wooden table with ripe berries in pottery bowl standing on canvas

Why? One word: Anthocyanins. Amazing anthocyanins help reduce blood pressure, have anti-inflammatory properties, inhibit mutations caused during the cooking process, and suppress cancer cells. They also reduce free-radicals and may play a role in reducing the risk of lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases (Konczak et al., 2004). Used as a post-race recovery aid, TCJ may improve recovery time and have you back on the trails sooner.

How? Just 4 ounces a day can help decrease inflammation. It is always recommended to limit juice intake due to its high natural sugar content. Drink it straight up or use in your smoothie.

Nutrition summary: 4 ounces provides 70 calories, 0g fat, .5g protein, 17g carbohydrate.

4. Wheat Germ

Why? Sprinkling just a couple tablespoons of wheat germ on your breakfast or in your smoothie provides phosphorus, zinc, thiamin (aka vitamin B1), vitamin E and magnesium. Phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and thiamin help with energy production to fuel the Beast in you. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, keeps workout recovery time to a minimum.

How? See Hemp Hearts “How.” Can also be used as part of a breading on fish and chicken. Here’s a great link for wheat germ crusted broccoli that’s a great side to your post-workout dinner.

Nutrition summary: Serving size of 2 tbsp provides 45 calories, 1g fat, 3g protein, 5g carbohydrate.

5. Kimchi

kimchi with Chopsticks on wooden table, korean traditional food

Why? As a probiotic, Kimchi (as well as other foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and tempeh) promotes a healthy gut. As the saying goes: Healthy gut, healthy life. Probiotics help to synthesize B vitamins (our energy metabolism vitamins), as well as boost immune health (which can be compromised by a demanding training and race schedule). Additional benefits include anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-obesity, and anti-oxidative benefits (Park et al., 2014). (Disclaimer: no, we’re not saying food can treat or cure a disease.)

And just as we need to eat, so do probiotics. Probiotics are fed by prebiotics, which are often misunderstood and forgotten in the pursuit of gut health. Kimchi is special in that its complementary ingredients (commonly garlic, onion, and honey) contain prebiotics. Two birds, one stone, as they say.

How? Avoid the mystery and make your own at home. Surprisingly easy: here’s how to make kimchi.

Nutrition summary: One serving of the recipe in this link provides 64 calories, 1.2g fat, 4.7g protein, 12g carbohydrate.

6. Chia Seeds

Chocolate-Chia-Smoothie

Why? Chia seeds provide an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3’s, antioxidants, are a source of protein to build those sore muscles, and are a source of complex carbohydrates rich with fiber, Iron, Calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

How? Top yogurt, mix in smoothies, or check Spartan’s recently featured recipe, Chive, Garlic, and Chia Chips, for an alternative snack.

Nutrition summary: 3 tbsp provides 160 calories, 9g heart-healthy fats, 5g protein, 14g carbohydrate (12 of which come from fiber)

7. Pea Protein

Why? An alternative to whey protein powder, this dairy-free protein has great antioxidant capabilities and may also digest slower, leading to longer feelings of satiety when compared to whey protein powder. (Dahl et al, 2012)

How? There are many plant-based proteins now available on the market. Look for ones that utilize pea protein in combination with other rich plant-based protein sources such as ground flax seed, ground chia seeds, dried spinach, hemp protein powder, dried kale, organic sprouted legumes, beet powder, garbanzo beans, and quinoa. All together, these combination powders have the capability to provide a Spartan-size dose of plant-powered protein, probiotics, and even BCAAs. For your reference, here’s a down and dirty comparison of many plant-based protein powders.

Nutrition summary: 3 tbsp provides 160 calories, 9g heart-healthy fats, 5g protein, 14g carbohydrate (12 of which come from fiber)

8. Legumes

beans

Why? Plant-based, protein-rich, low cost. What’s not to love? For the athlete looking to optimize blood volume and blast muscles with oxygen, legumes (pinto, navy, kidney, blank) offer excellent nutrition including magnesium, potassium, folate, calcium, and iron.

How? You’ve heard of #musclemonday. Have you heard of #meatlessmonday? Legumes are a great way to incorporate plan-based protein into your weekly menu.

Free Spartan Recipe: Red Beans Burger

Nutrition summary: Beans vary, but ½ cup of black beans provides 114 calories, 0g fat, 7.5g protein, 20g carbohydrate.

9. Black Bean Spaghetti

Why? We all love spaghetti, but we don’t always need the excess carbs. It also doesn’t hurt to have an extra source of protein. This is where black bean spaghetti comes in to save the day. Compared to an equivalent serving of regular pasta, black bean spaghetti has 18 fewer grams of carbohydrates and 18 more grams protein. Plus, the bean power gives us 1267mg of blood pressure-lowering potassium.

How? Not only does black bean spaghetti provide excellent nutrition, it also cooks super-fast. Bring water to a boil, throw in the spaghetti, and boil 6-8 minutes. In other words: toss it in, run your best mile, and you’re back just in time. (Alternatively, do 100 burpees.) Top with pasta sauce, or my favorite, pesto sauce. Delicious. Nutritious. Simple. A Trifecta of Nutrition.

Nutrition summary: 2 oz dry provides 215 calories, 2g heart-healthy fat, 25g protein, and 23g of carbohydrate (12g from fiber)

10. Pumpkin Seeds (or pumpkin anything, really)

Raw Organic Pumpkin Pepita Seeds in a Bowl

Why? Because it’s fall! And no, I don’t mean a pumpkin latte, donut or muffin. But I do mean pumpkin seeds and any way you can use canned pumpkin puree. Pumpkin is an excellent source of potassium, iron, and magnesium. If these are starting to sound repetitious as vitamins and minerals you should be eating frequently, good. I’ve done my job.

How? The next time you carve a pumpkin, don’t toss the seeds. Instead, make some delicious treats. My favorite treat for fall is pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. I use 72-percent dark chocolate to reduce excess fat, and I usually cut the honey or maple syrup in half in this delicious recipe.

More information on pumpkins: Spartan Food of the Week — Pumpkins

Nutrition summary: 1oz serving of pumpkin seeds provides 163 calories, 10g heart-healthy fats, 8.5g protein, and 4g carbohydrate.

Gear up for 2017 with a Solid Foundation

Before you start piecing together your 2017 race schedule, take some time and piece together the foundation of a successful season: a smart and complete grocery list. Your body will thank you, and your fellow Spartans will be wondering how to keep up.

Food is not complicated.

Spartan Race exists to rip millions of people off the couch and teach them that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance. Good nutrition, like any other goal, takes knowledge, commitment and discipline.

Get free recipes, shopping lists and nutrition information delivered straight to your inbox every week with the Spartan Food of the Week newsletter.

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