By Kristen Beck – Registered Nutritionist
Elite athletes understand that a healthy diet is vital to perform at their best. Diets high in protein allow for muscle recovery, while carbohydrates are vital for high intensity exercise. Whether you’re an elite athlete or just wanting to get the best from your workouts, here’s 4 everyday foods that top athletes swear by to help boost their performance and reach their training goals.
Elite athletes and sporting teams around the world are increasingly using beetroot juice as a natural performance enhancer. Beetroot contains high levels of nitrate, which is converted in the mouth and stomach to Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide increases vasodilation (blood flow) and oxygen delivery to exercising muscles which boosts athletic performance by strengthening muscle contraction and delaying fatigue 1,2 .
While exactly how much beetroot juice you need to drink still isn’t clear, Sports Dietitians Australia2 recommend around 500mL of freshly squeezed beetroot juice, or 70mL of a concentrated “beetroot shot”. Quick tip – avoid using mouthwash or gum along with beetroot juice as this can reduce the bacteria in your mouth that is essential for the conversion of nitrate to Nitric Oxide.
Ginger is naturally rich in dietary antioxidants which can help reduce oxidative stress caused during high intensity training, but this antioxidant boost isn’t just beneficial for athletes. A recent New Zealand study found that when combined with strength training, just 1 teaspoon of ginger per day was associated with an average 4.1kg loss of body fat over ten weeks in obese males just starting out on their fitness journey.
A handful (approx. 30 grams) of almonds are a perfect post-training snack. They’re packed full of healthy monounsaturated fats and fibre (making them excellent for heart health), high in protein (great for post-training muscle recovery) and the antioxidant vitamin E (which can reduce oxidative stress). Team your almonds up with a piece of fresh fruit to fuel muscle glycogen recovery to power through your next high intensity training session.
Yes, you’re reading correctly – top athletes routinely use chocolate milk immediately following intense and prolonged training sessions to quickly and effectively replenish their glycogen (carbohydrate) storage in muscles and start the process of protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding)4,5. The ratio of carbohydrate to protein (between 3:1 and 4:1) in flavoured milk, combined with key nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D make chocolate milk an excellent, appetising choice for endurance athletes and individuals undertaking very high levels of training. Proceed with caution – while chocolate milk may be delicious, it contains a lot of added sugars – so it really isn’t a healthy choice for most of us just trying to keep fit and healthy. This one should be reserved to replenish and reward the body after strenuous physical feats – like completeion of a half marathon for instance!
- Domínguez, R et al. (2017). Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients.
- Sports Dietitians Australia, n.d. Healthhttps://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/supplements/beetroot-juice-nitrate/
- Atashak S et al. (2014) Effects of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscose) supplementation and resistance training on some blood oxidative stress markers in obese men. J Exercise Science & Fitness.
- Pritchett K et al (2012) Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci.
- Lunn et al (2012) Chocolate milk and endurance exercise recovery: protein balance, glycogen, and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc.