As a sports fanatic I'm always on the lookout for research about how various foods can enhance my speed, recovery, and build muscle mass. Here are 10 foods currently on my list, the research behind why they deserve a place on your training table, and simple, healthy ways to take advantage of their benefits.
For stamina: Beetroot juice
Recent research shows that beetroot may be more effective at boosting energy than caffeine, or nearly anything you'll find in the supplement aisle. To bolster your performance, invest in a juicer and grab some fresh beetroot, which are found at almost all supermarkets or fruit and vegetable stores all year-round. Or look for bottled beetroot juice, which can be sipped straight or blended into a pre-workout smoothie
To reduce inflammation: Blueberries
Research has recently been undertaken on the anti-inflammatory and recovery effects of blueberries. Well-trained athletes were fed 9 ounces of blueberries daily for six weeks, plus another 13 ounces an hour before a two-and a-half-hour run. The results were impressive. In addition to a reduction in inflammation, blueberry eaters experienced a boost in natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity. When fresh blueberries aren't possible, reach for dried or frozen options.
For endurance: Honey
Research shows that consuming honey before exercise provides "time-released" fuel to give athletes steady blood sugar and insulin levels over a longer duration. This natural sweetener also boosted power, speed, and endurance in competitive cyclists who downed it prior to and at 10-mile intervals throughout a 40-mile race. Enjoy it straight off a spoon, or mixed in with oats or fruit.
To delay muscle fatigue: Pea protein
Pea protein powder has become very popular in the sports community for some time now. The reason: it's rich in branched chain amino acids, compounds that have been shown to delay fatigue during exercise. The arginine in this powder (which is made from yellow peas) has also been shown to enhance immunity, while the lysine boosts calcium absorption and decreases calcium losses to help maintain strong bones. One scoop can pack more than 25 grams of lean protein, which can be whipped into a smoothie.
To reduce muscle soreness: Watermelon
Recently, sports medicine scientists discovered that watermelon juice helped relieve muscle soreness when about 16 ounces were consumed an hour before exercise. The effect is likely due to citrulline, a natural substance found in watermelon that's been tied to improved artery function and lowered blood pressure. Bottled watermelon juice is popping up all over the place. And when you eat it fresh, be sure to bite into the white rind a bit—that's where citrulline is found in higher concentrations.
For increased energy: Workout tea
A product that is a buzz with gym goers – workout teas. This isn’t your sit on the sofa and wind down style of tea. Workout teas are ideal for hydration but also contain vital ingredients for a sustained workout. Branched chain amino acids(compounds that have been shown to delay fatigue during exercise), + guarana, English Breakfast Tea and cardamom. The health benefits include increased energy, assists muscle repair and boosts muscle strength. Brew a pot. Cool it down and consumer before and during the gym class.
To build muscle: Salmon
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon have been linked to a laundry list of benefits, from fighting heart disease to staving off type 2 diabetes. But research shows it may also be a muscle booster. Include salmon in meals regularly a few times a week. If you can't or don't eat seafood, look for an algae-based source of omega-3s.
For muscle strength recovery: Pomegranate
The antioxidants in pomegranate have been linked to brain activity and enhanced memory, and now researchers report that pomegranate juice helps improve muscle recovery. Researchers recruited volunteers who were randomly assigned to maintain their normal diets and add 4 ounces of either pomegranate juice or a placebo twice a day. Both groups performed resistance-training exercises, but those who gulped pomegranate experienced significantly less muscle soreness and reduced muscle weakness for up to seven days. Pomegranate is not always easy to find, but you can find frozen options if fresh isn’t possible. Just add to garden salads or eat on their own.
For next-day energy: Coffee
When athletes consume both carbohydrates and caffeine following exhaustive exercise - a recent study found that glycogen, the body's storage form of carbohydrates, is replenished more rapidly. Compared to carbs alone, the combo resulted in a 66% increase in muscle glycogen 4 hours after intense exercise. That's significant because packing more fuel into the energy "piggy banks" within your muscles means that the next time you train or perform, you’ve upped your ability to exercise harder or longer.
To reduce DNA damage: Watercress
Watercress, a peppery green from the mustard family, has been shown to effectively counter the "wear and tear" effects of exercise. Healthy young men were given watercress daily for eight weeks, and asked to participate in treadmill workouts that included short bursts of intense exercise. Another exercise group did the workouts without watercress as a control. The men who missed out on watercress experienced more exercise-induced DNA damage, and the benefits were seen after just one dose. In other words, those who ate the green for the first time just two hours before hitting the treadmill experienced the same benefits as those who had munched on it daily for two months. Watercress is great in salads and, like spinach and kale, it can be whipped into a smoothie.
Also: keep hydrated and keep drinking water.