“[Fueling] is just as much a part of training as lifting, running and learning plays,” says Pittsburgh Steelers nutrition consultant Leslie Bonci. Take your training to the next level by adding these five foods to your daily menu. Each provides specific performance-related benefits—from reducing muscle soreness to improving mental focus. [Learn more about basic fueling for athletic performance.]
A quarter-cup of walnuts [about a handful] serves up a healthy dose of Omega-3s, healthy fats that have an anti-inflammatory effect [i.e., reducing swelling and muscle soreness]. They also provide sodium, a key electrolyte needed for maintaining proper fluid balance and lessening the risk of dehydration. Bonci recommends eating just a handful, because one ounce has about 16 grams of fat.
One cup of milk delivers approximately eight grams of protein. When combined with carbohydrates [e.g., cereal], the nutrients have “a really nice working relationship,” says sports nutritionist Susan Kleiner. "Carbohydrate enhances the absorption of protein into the cell, and protein enhances the absorption of carbohydrate across the intestinal membrane. Together, they elevate mood, keep you feeling good, help you better cope with stress, and enhance mental energy, focus and performance."
According to Amanda Carlson, sports nutritionist for Athletes' Performance, Tempe, Ariz., your body absorbs animal proteins, like those found in eggs, better than plant proteins. Animal proteins contain amino acids, important for muscle building. Carlson suggests including one lean protein source with every meal. Try adding a hard-boiled egg to your morning meal [one egg packs about six grams of protein].
Peanut butter is loaded with healthy fats and is high in calories. Just two tablespoons provide 190 calories, 16 grams of fat and eight grams of protein. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark recommends a PB and jelly sandwich as a quick and convenient mid-day snack to provide needed energy before you hit the weight room or field. It also helps your body rebuild muscle post-practice.
Along with a full dose of vitamin C, oranges provide fluid to help keep you hydrated. University of Georgia sports nutritionist Ruth Taylor says, “The juicier the fruit, the more fluid it naturally has." Eating juicy fruits like oranges can help you meet about 20 percent of your daily fluid needs, according to sports nutritionist Tracy Siravo. [Learn more about other foods that keep you hydrated.]