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Nutrients Every Athlete Needs

Super foods for super performance.

Lindsey Duncan, ND, CN

From pro football players to weekend warriors and even the casual morning power walker, I have consulted athletes at every level. No matter the sport, most athletes share at least two goals in common: They want to build strength and increase endurance.

That’s why I recommend the following superfoods as a base for any nutritional program designed to boost athletic performance:

1) Greens: Most professional athletes consume diets that are high in either carbohydrates (for distance runners and endurance athletes) or protein (for explosive strength trainers). They do need higher quantities of these macronutrients, but the problem with these diets is that foods which are high in carbs or protein are also very acid-forming. To counteract this, a higher quantity of alkaline-forming foods, like cruciferous vegetables, needs to be consumed to combat the acid toxicity.

A greens supplement is the perfect way to promote alkalinity in the body because one scoop of greens will provide the phytonutrients equal to three to five servings of dark leafy green vegetables in a single scoop. Look for a greens supplement with probiotics made without fillers or excipients. Greens also contain fiber, which is helpful to promote proper elimination for someone on a high-protein diet.

2) Omega fatty acids: Omega fatty acids have been shown to decrease generalized and localized inflammation and platelet aggregation (clotting), and to enhance cardiovascular and brain health. Most people take a fish oil supplement to increase their essential fatty acid intake, but consider a plant-based product made from superfruits like sea buckthorn berry from Mongolia, sacha inchi seeds from Peru, acai berry from Brazil, and goji berry from China. These fruits and seeds provide omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids as well as the rare omega-7 fatty acid. Athletes should take a minimum of 1,000 milligrams of essential fatty acids per day, which will help reduce inflammation after injury or joint distress.

3) Protein: Because athletes are trying to build extraordinary amounts of muscle, they need to supplement with protein to help their muscles recover quickly after a strenuous workout. Protein comes in many forms. Whey protein, for example, is absorbed quickly, so it’s a favorite of those who strength train. However, I actually recommend that athletes opt for a protein supplement in liquid form—rather than a powder or protein bar—because liquid nutrition is readily available for absorption during pre- or postworkout digestion.

4) An electrolyte beverage: All elite athletes need to replenish electrolytes after an intense workout because they’re draining the body’s electrolyte supply through sweat at a much faster rate than the average person. Most of the top-selling electrolyte beverages are packed with high-fructose corn syrup or other artificial sweeteners, so I never recommend them for my clients. The best postworkout beverage is a coconut water-based drink that’s unsweetened or sweetened only with all-natural stevia, so you’re not polluting your body with acid-forming refined sugars, but still replenishing much-needed electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.