Superfoods for Your Fitness Goals
We all need food to live. It gives us the the fuel to keep your body operating like a well oiled machine. Or at least functioning on a basic level.
All of our energy comes from three types of calories: Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein.
The first nutrients your body uses are carbohydrates. Carbs are broken down into glycogen (sugar) in your blood and used as energy. Once all of your glycogen is used, your body turns to fat for energy. Proteins are not used as energy unless absolutely necessary. Proteins are used to repair and strengthen your muscles and other tissues like skin, hair, nails and bones.
All the macronutrients we need come from nature. The vegetables and fruits, the grains and rice, the meat and eggs, and the nuts and seeds that form our basic diets are full of the macro and micronutrients we need to survive.
But nature did not create all foods equal.
What Are Superfoods?
Most natural foods only contain part of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need in a day, in different combinations. This is why you need a variety of foods to cover your basic nutritional needs.
Superfood has become a popular term to describe foods that are so impressive compared to their food group counterparts, it seems they have super powers. Some superfoods can change the speed of your metabolism and the way your body uses the energy while others heal inflammation and help you recover from injury.
We’ve chosen the best superfoods to enhance your workout performance, boost fat loss and help you recover faster so you can hit the gym again sooner, all while adding huge nutritional value to your diet. The best part is, none of these superfoods are expensive or hard to find.
Best Superfoods by Goal
Quinoa is one of the most nutrient-rich foods you can eat. This carb is more complex than most and it’s one of the only vegan sources of a complete protein.
If your goal is muscle gain, incorporating quinoa into your diet will give you a huge advantage. It’s protein contains all the essential amino acids your body can’t synthesize and can only be found in your diet. These aminos are responsible for repairing damaged muscles and rebuilding stronger, thicker muscle fibres.
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate with no simple sugars, allowing for slow digestion. The more complex your carbs, the longer your energy lasts for your workout.
How: Eat 125g of cooked quinoa at least 3 hours before your workout to allow time for your body to metabolise the carbs.
Lentils are packed with fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and are low in fat. But that’s not where their powers end - Lentils are full of protein and help you recover faster from your workout - which leads to muscle growth.
Lentils and other legumes are low on the Glycaemic Index. Low GI’s break down slowly, regulating the amount of sugar in your blood, whereas High GI’s give you a spike of blood sugar and an energy crash shortly after. The slower you’re metabolising sugars, the longer your energy will last.
When: Although lentils can be eaten at least 3 hours before your workout for long lasting energy, the high fibre in lentils can activate your intestines. So if you’re prone to digestive troubles, save the lentils for after your workout.
Eat up to a 125g serving of lentils after your workout to replenish your protein and glycogen and B vitamins.
Work out first thing in the morning? If you don’t have enough time to digest a full meal with slow acting complex carbs before your workout - bananas are the best choice for a pre workout snack.
Bananas are a complex carbohydrate, but have a higher amount of simple sugars than whole grains. They digest very quickly into blood sugar, giving you a quick boost of energy for your workout.
Bananas are also full of potassium, vitamin C and B6, and 10% of your required daily value of fibre, and contain no sodium, cholesterol or fat.
How: Eat a banana ½ an hour to 1 hour before your workout to raise blood sugar for fast energy.
The caffeine in coffee stimulates your central nervous system, increasing your metabolism and the boost can last up to 6 hours after consuming the coffee.
The chromium in coffee helps convert fat into energy before sugars, which means you’re burning off fat before you use your usual energy sources from carbs. This paired with the boost to your metabolism can mean huge efficiencies for fat loss.
This also means your sugar stores last longer in your blood, which increases your endurance and strength. The more glycogen in your blood throughout your workout, the more weight and more reps.
Learn more about how caffeine can benefit your workout here
How: If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you need extra caffeine to make an impact. Drink at least 1 extra cup of coffee than your usual intake - Don’t exceed a daily dose of 400 mg. Drink coffee black, for easy digestion.
When: Drink 1 -2 cups of black coffee between ½ hour to 1 hour before your workout. You can also have extra caffeine to relieve sore muscles in the two days following your workout.
Almonds are extremely nutrient dense. Per calorie and weight, they contain the more nutrients than any other nut. Almonds are high in unsaturated fat, protein, fibre and contain a host of vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium and more.
If your goal is weight loss, you likely have an endomorph body type. Endomorphs have a low tolerance for carbohydrates and should eat a higher ratio of calories from healthy fats. The high amounts of unsaturated fats and protein make almonds a great choice to replenish energy after a workout. Plus, the density of almonds helps create a feeling of fullness, which can help if you’re on a calorie deficit for weight loss.
How: Eat 1 small handful of raw, unsalted almonds after your workout, or as a snack when hungry.
Whether black, white or green, all tea leaves come from the same plant. It’s the level of oxidation that changes the tea’s colour, flavour, and nutritional contents. The longer tea leaves are oxidized, the darker and stronger the tea. Black teas are heavily oxidized, leaving the tea higher in caffeine and lower in antioxidants. White teas have less caffeine and more antioxidants.
Green tea leaves are oxidized the least of the three, which is why green tea has less caffeine and is extremely high in antioxidants. The steaming process retains most of the nutrients lost in the other teas.
The powerful antioxidant catechin combined with the small amount of caffeine in green tea has been shown to significantly reduce body fat over 12 weeks of daily consumption.
When: Drink 1 -2 cups of green tea between ½ hour to 1 hour before your workout.
Garlic contains a sulphurous compound called Allicin - responsible for the potent smell and a ton of medicinal properties. High in nutrients and low in calories, this superfood can help reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol, detoxify metals from your blood and even increase your lifespan.
The medicinal properties in garlic can speed up your recovery time by reducing inflammation in your muscles. Garlic is known to reduce fatigue from exercise as well. Although the reason remains unclear, it’s likely due to the anti-inflammatory functions that help your body recover.
Garlic has also been shown to reduce the length and severity of colds and flu - and less sick days means more gym days.
How: Eat one clove of raw garlic or take garlic supplements every day at bedtime to boost your immune system and reduce likelihood of getting sick. Take garlic when you have muscle fatigue or soreness following workout, until healed.
Ginger has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. The anti-inflammatory properties help soothe sore muscles and the high amounts of calcium, vitamin C and other micronutrients can fight off infections. Studies show just 2 grams of ginger can reduce pain by nearly 25% - as much as an aspirin.
Not to mention, ginger helps to stimulate the breakdown and removal of food waste - including fats. The added support to your metabolic process helps you dispose of extra fat stored in your digestive tract, aiding in weight loss.
How: Finely chop a piece of ginger root and brew in hot water for tea after a workout to relax sore muscles. Brew with the skin for a stronger, spicier tea. Peel and chop ginger to add to meals like soups and stir frys to stimulate fat loss. You can even chew on a piece of ginger in a squeeze!
The Bottom Line
Incorporating superfoods into your diet based on your workout routine and goals can have a massive impact on your results. Take some time to plan out your meals before and after your workouts, and choose foods that will benefit your goals.
- To increase strength and improve performance and stamina, eat quinoa a few hours before your workout. If you’re running low on time, eat an easily digestible banana for quick energy.
- Drink 1 - 2 cups of black coffee or green tea within an hour of your workout to enhance your metabolism and burn fat before sugar.
- Eat protein-rich lentils after your workout to help repair and rebuild damaged muscles and replenish energy.
- Eat almonds to help stimulate fat loss from the high ratio of protein and healthy fats.
- For recovery, eat raw garlic and drink ginger tea to help heal inflammation and relieve pain.