8 Power Foods to Fuel Your Workouts
If you want to fuel your body for intense exercise, variety is key. While you definitely need high protein sources like meat and beans to build muscle, and carbohydrates to provide energy, don’t stop there. By eating a wide range of foods, you’ll ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs to survive—and recover from—the most extreme workouts.
Celery sometimes gets a bad rap for not having any nutrition, but in reality it’s an excellent source of vitamins K and C. Celery is also rich in sodium and potassium, both electrolytes that are lost in your sweat. Eating celery regularly may also help lower your blood pressure, due to compounds called pthalides. This relative of carrots and dill is also low in calories but will still fill you up, great if you are trying to lose weight. Celery can be chopped and added to soups, stews, stir-fries and salads. Or top it with peanut butter and raisins for a quick, but filling snack.
Popular in Japan, seaweed has yet to catch on widely in the U.S. This unusual food, however, is full of nutrients lost in your sweat during exercise like calcium, potassium and sodium. It also contains vitamins A, C, E, B and B12, protein and fiber, and some omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to seaweeds, there is an ocean of varieties to choose from. Red dulse has a soft and chewy flavor and can be added to salads or soup. Light-brown kelp is great in soup or fried in a pan for chips. You can also grind dry seaweed in a coffee grinder and use it as a healthy alternative to salt.
While hemp seeds come from the same plant that is used to make marijuana, you won’t get high from eating this protein-rich food. You will, however, get all the essential amino acids, making hemp seeds a protein source on par with meat and chicken. You also get a good dose of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. To eat, toss 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds (or hemp hearts) into your oatmeal or post-workout shake. You can also make your own hemp milk (to use as a substitute for cow’s milk) by blending one-half cup of hemp hearts with 3 cups of water.
Another excellent source of protein, lentils are tasty and easy to make, cooking in 12 to 15 minutes. Lentils are also high in fiber and contain more folate than spinach. Colored lentils (black, orange or red) also have disease-fighting antioxidants to mop up the free radicals created in your body during intense exercise. You can eat lentils with rice, or use in place of rice as a bed for chicken, fish or beef. Lentils also make a great soup, along with other powerful workout foods like ginger and celery.
Several studies have found that the caffeine in a pre-race cup of coffee may boost your physical endurance and stamina. This will make a long ride or run feel that much easier. Your best bet is to drink the coffee (iced or hot) about half an hour before a race. If that bothers your stomach, try pushing it back to an hour pre-race. If you still want the caffeine boost, but coffee isn’t for you, try drinking iced or hot green tea. Feel free to add milk (or hemp milk, of course), but skip the sugar, which may cancel out some of the benefits of the caffeine.
This spicy root has a long history of being used to combat inflammation, such as the kind that builds up in your muscles during exercise. Ginger may also offer similar post-workout pain relief as that found in over-the-counter pain medications, according to a study in the Journal of Pain. You can grate ginger and steep it in a tea ball along with your tea. Or mince it and add to stir-fries, soups or marinades for chicken or pork.
Sure, an apple a day can keep the doctor away, but it may also increase your endurance during a long run or ride. This powerful benefit of apples comes from a compound quercetin, which works by improving energy metabolism. Several studies have also shown that apples can reduce chronic coughs and other respiratory problems like asthma, a boost to anyone who runs outside on smoggy days. Because apples tend to come with many pesticides, look for organic apples whenever possible. The varieties with the most nutrients include Red Delicious, Northern Spy and Ida Red.
After your next race, try serving up a Virgin Bloody Mary to mop up the free radicals that build up in your body during exercise. A study in the Nutrition Journal found that people who drank 5 ounces of tomato juice for 5 weeks had lower levels of free-radical damage caused by intense cycling tests. This effect is due to the rich supply of the antioxidant lycopene found in tomato juice. For an extra boost, try putting a stalk of celery in your drink.
What super foods do you eat? Let us know in the comments!