5 unusual superfoods that athletes eat
It’s hard to believe that Rich Roll was once an overweight, middle-aged lawyer who suffered from depression. Then, on his 40th birthday, he vowed to turn his life around. He adopted a plant-based diet and started a vigorous training regime, working out anywhere between 15 and 20 hours a week.
Two years later, in 2008, he completed five Ironman triathlons in less than a week, and in 2009 he was dubbed as one of the 25 ‘fittest men in the world’ by Men’s Fitness magazine.
So what was the secret to his success? While overall diet and training changes were factors, there was more to it than that. In a new interview with Tim Ferriss’ blog, Four Hour Work Week, Roll revealed that a number of specific, unusual superfoods helped him make the jump from couch potato to Ironman. Here are five you’ve probably never even heard of.
1. Moringa (Olefiera)
Rich refers to Moringa as the “miracle tree” and the “world’s most nutritious plant species ever studied”. Its leaves contain over 90 nutrients, including 46 different antioxidants and a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Among other things, it is said to promote heart health and help fight diabetes by reducing blood glucose levels.
2. Camu Camu
Camu Camu is a sour fruit, native to the Amazonian lowlands which boasts the highest level of natural vitamin C out of any other food on the planet. According to Rich, Camu Camu contains 20 to 50 times more vitamin C than the average orange, as well as providing a high dose of phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals like beta-carotene and potassium.
Originating in Japan, Natto is a fermented soybean which is claimed to be particularly beneficial for the heart and circulation. It’s high in pyrazine and nattokinase – blood thinners that can reduce the risk of arterial blockages, heart attack or stroke. Rich admits that it tastes absolutely awful so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
4. Suma root
Suma root is a ginseng-like adaptogen that is extracted from a Brazilian root. It’s supposed to help immune system function and hormonal regulation. According to Rich, mixing it with ginseng creates a potent combination that promotes longevity and stress management, which can normalise and balance physical energy levels.
Quite possibly the strangest of the lot, Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae native to the high-altitude regions of China, Nepal, and Tibet. According to Rich, it’s “awesome when it comes to health and athletic performance,” because it’s loaded with anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and anti-lipid properties. Studies have indicated that consumption of Cordyceps can enhance the functionality of your immune system, increase your aerobic capacity and improve your stamina and endurance. “Chinese Olympic Track & Field athletes have been swearing by it for decades, and I can attest to their effectiveness,” says Rich.
If these superfoods are a little too obscure for your taste, there are plenty of everyday superfoods that can boost athletic performance. They are readily available, and chances are you probably have a few of them in your pantry already.
1. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are an ancient superfood, traditionally used by the Aztecs and Mayans. They were considered to be the ultimate runner’s food by these ancient civilisations, because messengers could run all day with the help of the tiny seeds.
Chia seeds are the number one food source that nutritionist, Sara Vance, recommends to athletes. “Chia seeds are an essential addition to the athlete’s diet, boosting endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reducing inflammation,” she says. “Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, and are also high in fibre, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium – all important for athletes.”
According to nutritionist, Louise Cavanough, avocados are deserving of ‘superfood status’ because they are rich in monounsaturated fats, fibre, potassium and vitamins. Clinical dietitian Gretchen Spetz, says that avocados are great for athletes because they help to boost immunity, promote healthy gut function, help to prevent cramps and maintain electrolyte balance. Seven time World Champion surfer Layne Beachley eats avocado every day. “I love it in my smoothies, salads and as a base for delicious raw desserts,” she says.
3. Sweet Potatoes
According to Active, sweet potato is great for athletes because of its high vitamin and mineral content. The potassium, iron, manganese and copper are all minerals that many athletes lack; manganese and copper being crucial in healthy muscle function.
Oatmeal is a whole grain packed with soluble fibre and good carbohydrates. It provides a great source of energy for athletes because it releases energy slowly curbs appetite by slowing the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream. Oatmeal is the morning meal of choice of American ultra-marathoner, Jenn Shelton. “I’d camped way too much in my life to ever eat [the stuff] again,” she jokes. However, after discovering savoury oatmeal dishes it became her staple meal before long distance runs. Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn, on the other hand, prefers her oatmeal more traditional, teaming it with a side of Greek yoghurt. Recent studies have also shown that oats can make you live longer.
Quinoa was historically used by the Incas to increase the stamina of their warriors, helping them to run long distances and high altitudes. Today, quinoa is still used as a sports nutrition tool, says Vance. “It contains high levels of both carbohydrates and protein, with all nine essential amino acids, which are critical to many biochemical functions.
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