Superfoods can be used to help maximize workout gains, speed up recovery between sessions and reduce tiredness while building strength and endurance so you can train and race at your peak.
Suffice it to say that there is no amazing super supplement that can replace the tried and true benefits of a well balanced diet comprised mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses, fish, nuts and seeds. The thing is you can give yourself a nutritional edge when you add certain superfoods to an already healthy diet. Most of them are readily available in most health food shops and supermarkets.
1. CHIA SEED
Here's some interesting information on the five superfoods including their benefits.
These tiny seeds are an ancient Aztec staple known as the “ultimate runner’s food.” They are a complete protein and high in omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Chia seeds are said to have:
• 2 times the protein of any other seed or grain
• 5 times the calcium of milk, plus boron which is a trace mineral that helps transfer calcium into your bones
• 2 times the amount of potassium as bananas
• 3 times the reported antioxidant strength of blueberries
• 3 times more iron than spinach
• Copious amounts of omega-3 and omega-6, which are essential fatty acids
• Provides energy: Chia seeds contain strontium which helps to assimilate protein and produce high energy
• Boosts strength
• Bolsters endurance: The word “Chia” comes from the Mayan language and means strength. Chia seeds are a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber. Athletes have reported that Chia seeds help them perform at optimal levels for much longer periods of time.
• Stabilizes Blood Sugar: Chia seeds slow down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested and then assimilated into the body. The soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood glucose levels resulting in steady, sustained energy.
• Induces weight loss: The essential fatty acids contained in Chia seeds helps to boost metabolism and promote lean muscle mass. The seeds are sometimes added to food to provide bulk and nutrients while adding very few calories.
• Anti-Inflammatory: The high concentration of omega-3 helps to lubricate joints and keep them supple. Additionally, Omega-3s are converted into prostaglandins which are known to have both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
• Detoxification and Elimination: Similar to psyllium, the swelling action of Chia in the body helps to cleanse and soothe the colon, and absorb toxins while lubricating and strengthening peristaltic action.
I add them to my smoothies and oats. Use your imagination. They can be added to yoghurt, chopped fruit, or whatever else tickles your fancy. It’s best that they are allowed to soak for a few minutes before you eat them. You know they are ready when they become gelatinous.
All in all, you can’t go wrong with Chia, they promote heart health, boost endurance, increase oxygen uptake and impede hydration.
2. MACA ROOT
Maca, a root vegetable with medicinal qualities, is native to the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru. It is an ideal supplement for athletes and anybody else who needs a lift and improved overall energy. Also called “Peruvian ginseng”, maca is a folk remedy used to increase stamina, energy, and sexual function.
Packed with amino acid, vitamins and minerals it is effective in combating anemia, chronic fatigue and promoting adrenal functionality.
Known as an adaptogen, maca curtails the effects of stress by aiding the regeneration of the adrenal glands, making it an ideal food for the modern world. It helps lower cortisol levels, which will improve sleep quality. Better quality sleep directly translates into more waking energy.
A natural mood enhancer, with respect to athletes’ needs maca has been shown to improve stamina and reduce the onset of exercise-induced soreness. It can be taken in capsule form, but I prefer to add a teaspoon of the powdered form to my morning smoothie or drink it as a beverage by adding hot water to it.
If you’re new to maca, try just 1 teaspoon at a time. Then notice the difference in your awareness or energy levels. It’s a subtle but very real effect. Other benefits:
I loooove Spirulina ! I have been taking this supplement for over 15 years. It is a very concentrated source of nutrition.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae noted for having the highest percentage of complete protein by weight of any food on earth. Rich in a wide variety of vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants, studies have established a strong correlation between spirulina intake and enhanced endurance as well as expedited recovery induced by exercise stress. It also protects against oxidative damage from exercise, increases exercise performance and fat oxidation.
Spirulina has been identified by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as a potential tool in the fight against widespread malnutrition. And according to NASA scientists, “one gram of algae has the nutritional equivalent of 1000 grams of fruits and vegetables”. (Boston MZ [PRWEB], August 2012).
Research has also shown that Spirulina has, gram for gram, 300% more calcium than whole milk, 2300% more iron than spinach, 3900% more beta carotene than carrots and 375% more protein than tofu. Three grams of Spirulina has more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity than five servings of vegetables (Moorhead K, Capelli B, Cysewski Dr GR: Spirulina, Nature’s Superfood, Cyanotech Corporation 2006).
According to the US news and business website Citybizlist.com, Olympic athletes have relied on algae for over four decades because nothing else in the world matches its nutritional density or ability to deliver energy, endurance and vitality -- all naturally.
It states that one of the first athletes to attribute success to algae, Lee Evans of the USA, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and holder of four world records in track and field, said Spirulina “improved my training, gave me speed and improved my endurance all of which resulted in my faster times.”
And, for the last 10 years, the Chinese Government has said its Olympic athletes take Spirulina. Other elite groups such as the World Bank, United Nations and Carnegie Institute have endorsed algae for decades as the most nutritionally dense food in the world.
What the report stated:
The report on Cityblitz.com states that Spirulina has over 60% protein compared to meat which is only 22% protein.
“Turns out that algae… is also the most nutritionally dense, lowest calorie in the world. Algae has been shown to increase an athlete’s energy, endurance, speed and mental agility. It also helps prevent colds, stops hunger, reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and fatigue, improves digestion, helps with weight loss, removes toxins, balances blood sugar, builds the immune system and more.”
A separate report on Spirulina notes that world class and Olympic athletes in China and Cuba have been using Spirulina to improve performance for some time. “At the largest Chinese training center for over 2000 athletes, trainers report it improves recovery…and boosts the immune system….”
The Cuban Ministry of Sports was given 1,600 bottles of Spirulina before the 1996 Olympic Games so athletes could intensify training and some marathon runners consume eight grams daily for endurance and to ward off cramping, according to another report (Henrikson R, 2009, titled Earth Food Spirulina, Ronore Enterprises, Inc, Hawaii, p 188).
And a report on the effect of Spirulina supplementation on sportsmen by Milaðius et al. (2004) noted: “Studies have shown that Spirulina supplementation induced a significant increase in exercise performance (and) fat oxidation… After five days of Spirulina usage, sportsmen felt more bouncy, their sleeping quality improved, fatigue after physical load performance was less, recuperation processes became quicker, and their endurance when performing strength exercises improved.”
I add the powdered form in smoothies. It is available in capsule form for those that don’t like the way it smells or tastes.
An adaptogen derived from mycellium fungi that grow above 10,000 feet in rural sections of China. Cordyceps were first used by Chinese track and field athletes, who experienced significant improvements with daily use. Known to boost the immune system, increase lung capacity by enhancing oxygen uptake, improve stamina and combat the onset of exercise-induced fatigue.
It can be taken for pre-and post-workout benefits in capsule or powdered form.
Cacao, the raw material of chocolate, has been used for more than 3,000 years in Mesoamerica. Ancient Mayan texts describe cacao as a gift from the gods, and it was mixed with spices to make a hot beverage. Cacao (the natural state of chocolate) is a nutritious superfood that increases energy and endurance with exercise.
Cacao vs Cocoa -not quite the same thing. Cacao beans are the seeds of an Amazonian fruiting tree and are the source of all chocolate and cocoa products. Most cocoa powder (think milk chocolate) is processed via the “Dutch method” meaning heat extracted (up to 150°C!), sometimes with solvents, thus destroying most of the nutrients and antioxidants and potentially contaminating the end product.
Cacao powder products have a HIGH antioxidant ORAC score which is the antioxidant value of food expressed in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC.
It contains fourteen times more antioxidant flavonoids than red wine, 21 times more than green tea, and 7 times more than even dark chocolate!
How does cacao boost energy for your fitness workouts? Cacao actually helps to produce more energy within the muscles. The flavanols in cacao has shown to increase the amount of mitochondria production within the muscle – mitochondria is responsible for cellular energy.
The downside on this superfood is that it has been said that it can be addictive and must be used in moderation. Would use a teaspoon to a tablespoon every other day.
As far as our health and fitness is concerned, the foods and drinks that we consume on a daily basis do play an important role in our levels of performance.
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Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !