5 Key Performance-Enhancing Superfoods

November 21, 2014
athlete

I just watched the Showtime documentary Stop at Nothing the other night, this powerful film profiles Lance Armstrong’s obsession with winning, fame, and power.

Watching that film got me thinking about the one thing that all serious competitive athletes have in common is – they have a very powerful desire to win.  In order to win, an athlete knows they need to set goals, train hard, and that means that they need to be able to push through pain and overcome adversity.  Often they have to make sacrifices in other areas of their lives to truly commit to their chosen sport.

The better an athlete gets at their sport and the tougher the competition gets – the harder it gets to stay on top.  I understand the immense pressure Lance Armstrong and other serious athletes are under to win.

Unfortunately, Lance chose to take the illegal and unethical path of using banned substances to gain an unfair edge. It eventually cost him everything – his Tour de France titles, all his lucrative contracts, and the respect of the world.  His actions and choices led to disgrace. I hope one lesson that young athletes can learn from Lance’s mistakes, is that it is not worth compromising your character to win, and that trying to rely on the “quick fix” might come back to bite you in more ways than one.  Because even some of the legal substances that athletes think will help them gain an edge can potentially lead to deficiencies in other areas of performance or recovery, and potentially even serious health trouble (ranging from dehydration to cramping and even organ dysfunction).  Just because a product might make your muscles look bigger, does not mean that they are necessarily stronger, or will make you be able perform better.

The good news, is there are a number of natural and healthy ways for athletes to gain a competitive edge today. One area that all too often gets overlooked is the power of using foods to improve performance and recovery. And the cool thing about nutritional approaches?  Beyond the performance & recovery benefits, they can also offer other health benefits ranging from disease prevention to brain function and balancing mood.  The first step is simple –

Just get the junk out!

Realize that the majority of people (yes, even athletes too) are eating way too many processed foods and getting too much sugar (read about what happened to a man who ate 40 teaspoons of sugar a day in just 60 days – which is a little more than the average teenage boy gets).  The more processed foods in your diet – the more energy the body has to expend on detoxification, the more bogged down the body will become, and the less energy you will have for your training. Processed diets are nutritionally deficient – and athletes need nutrients to perform and recover. Another thing that happens to the body when the diet has too much sugar or processed ingredients – inflammation.  An athlete’s enemy, inflammation leads to swelling, pain, and can degrade performance, range of motion, flexibility, and recovery. Inflammation raises our risk of overuse injuries, asthma, and almost every major disease.  Simply cleaning up the diet and staying properly hydrated, and getting more plant-based foods, high quality grass fed or organic proteins, and cutting out the junk – will give an athlete an edge over the competition.

Got a clean diet and ready to take it a step further?  Check out these superfoods to see if they can help to take you and your performance to the next level.

5 Performance-Enhancing Superfoods:

1. Mushrooms

Although not typically the first thing that comes to mind when talking about athletic performance, mushroom’s are one of nature’s most powerful superfoods – and could be an athlete’s secret weapon.  Mushrooms are a type of fungi, or bacteria that can offer a wide range of health benefits ranging from immune-boosting to performance-enhancing effects. They have been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years.  Although you will get health benefits from adding a few button mushrooms into your omelette, for performance enhancement, athletes will want to look to medicinal-grade mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane. An ideal way to incorporate them into an athlete’s diet is with certified organic mushroom powders, which can be added to things like smoothies, soups and drinks.  Interested in seeing how mushrooms can boost your performance?

A local company called Mushroom Matrix, offers organic mushroom powders, and have extended a 10% off coupon for me to share with you, enter: rebalancelife at checkout to get your 10% discount. Some Mushroom Matrix organic powders to try:

  • Cordyceps, is one of the best mushrooms for athletes, because it boosts oxygen delivery and ATP synthesis – which is critical for energy production. Cordyceps support energy, stamina, recovery, and endurance. Discovered by Tibetian herdsman, cordyceps mushrooms are unique in that they grow on insects.  Other potential benefits of cordyceps include: reducing inflammation, supporting a healthy mood, a healthy weight, healthy cholesterol levels, as well as anti-tumor effects, and blood sugar management.
  • Reishi mushrooms are adaptogenic, which means they adapt to help support the body recover from physical and mental stress.  Often called “the mushroom of immortality,” reishi mushrooms support the immune system and the cardiovascular system.  They support aerobic capacity and recovery.
  • “Fit” formula, which combines both Reishi and Cordyceps powders into one to create a powerful formula to support respiration, endurance, and recovery.

Make sure to choose organic when purchasing mushrooms or mushroom powders/supplements.

2. Beetroot juice or powders 

Google beetjuice and performance, and you will find a plethora of articles touting the benefits – “beets are like legal blood-doping” and “like taking performance enhancing drugs.”  At the Olympic training center in London – athletes were eschewing the brightly colored sports drinks and downing bright pink cocktails of beet juice, pineapple, ginger and orange juice instead. The benefits of beet juice come from their high content of nitrates, which are converted in the body into nitric oxide – which causes blood vessel dilation, and improves energy production and usage – which makes the body more efficient, and supports the heart to do it’s work.  You can juice whole organic beets, or buy a beetroot powder. I recommend if you do incorporate beets/use a powder, to make sure it is non-GMO or organic. Add some spinach, chard and celery to your drink too – as they also are high in nitrates.  One example of a organic beet powder to try is Superbeets organic beet powder, just 1 teaspoon is equivalent to eating 3 organic beets.

One thing to point out with beetjuice – it can change the color of your stool and urine.  So don’t freak out the day after trying beet juice when your toilet water looks pink.

3. Chia seeds

From the book Born to Run: “In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.” An ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds may rival mushrooms as one of the oldest performance-enhancing foods. Chia seeds gave the ancient Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle.  Chia seeds boost endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reduce inflammation.  Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, and are also high in fiber, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium – all important for athletes.  Omega 3s are shown to lower inflammation – critical for recovery and injury prevention.  Unlike flax, chia is rich in antioxidants, which means it will not go rancid after grinding, and helps to prevent free radical damage.  Chia seed are uniquely hydrophillic, so when they come in contact with water, they form a gel-like substance.  This chia gel slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to level out bloodsugar and maintain energy/endurance.  Chia gel also holds on to water, which helps to maintain hydration – very important for an athlete.  Always make sure to consume chia seeds with plenty of water or liquids to prevent dehydration, I like to soak the chia seeds for about 5 minutes before consuming to ensure they are hydrated.  Add chia seeds to your smoothie, or make chia pudding.

4. Virgin Coconut Oil

Medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) which are found in coconut oil have been known in the body building industry for a few decades as a superior form of fat.  Medium chain fatty acids are more readily converted to energy by the body, so it is also less likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oil is more easily digested, so it is less likely to cause stomach upset than other fats. Taking coconut oil in the morning helps to train the body to use fat as fuel, instead of glucose.  If an athlete can get their body out of sugar-burning mode – that can be a key advantage over the competition.   I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of coconut oil to your morning smoothie, chia pudding, or oatmeal.  A 1978 study also found that coconut oil increases the body’s production of hGH within 30-90 minutes of ingesting it.  Coconut oil has some other key advantages – first, it is a m

5. Goji berries

Another ancient superfood with a rich history, the goji berry is a small red berry that has a slightly tart flavor.  Also known as wolfberries, they can be eaten raw or made into a tea. Goji berries are known to naturally increase the body’s production of human growth hormone – which is known to improve performance and also has anti-aging effects.

Using nutrition is a healthy and ethical way for athletes to improve their performance, endurance, and recovery.

Note: although some foods can impact performance immediately, others will take longer to build up into the system – so allow up to 4 weeks of consistently taking them to reach the full benefit. Also, some people might notice a difference/benefit from adding superfoods, while others may not.

The other benefit of adding superfoods to your diet – is that they can offer many benefits beyond just performance and recovery enhancement – ranging from immune-boosting to disease-prevention.

A final word of advice to gain an edge? Don’t undervalue recovery.  Like all things in nature, the body has a yin and yang, and in order to perform at your best – you need to be allowing your body the time to recover in order to perform at your best (read: The Yin and Yang of Sports Recovery and  Are you Headed for Performance Burnout?).

Some links to studies/articles:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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