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Derived from the flax plant, flaxseed can serve as a healthy supplement to any athlete's diet. Small—about the size of a sesame seed—and nutty, the seed can be found in small amounts in many cereals, breads and energy bars. However, by incorporating more into your diet, you can reap athletic benefits.
Flaxseed is an efficient source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the type also found in fish oil—alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. A mere tablespoon of flaxseeds provides 100 percent of your daily value in omega-3s and contains plentiful amounts of several other minerals, including manganese and magnesium. The ALA omega-3s are essential for enzyme regulation, cholesterol metabolism and maintenance of cell membranes. In flax oil—where the fats are found in their most natural, isolated form—the omega-3 fatty acids are extremely concentrated. Despite this, flax should not necessarily serve as a substitute for eating fish (or taking fish oil), because fish provides many other nutritional benefits.
Flaxseed can also play a role in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and it has been speculated to help prevent cancer, heart disease and insulin resistance. It contains a great deal of fiber, which promotes digestive function and regularity, and phytochemicals, including lignans (a chemical compound), which act like antioxidants, helping shield your cells from attacks by free radical.
Other benefits relate to muscle repair—vital for athletes. One tablespoon of flaxseed provides the essential amino acids needed for your body to assemble complete proteins. ALAs are also known to reduce inflammation in the body, and they can possibly even boost bone health.
Another benefit: consuming ALAs potentially serves to balance out the omega-6s, fatty acids found in foods such as animal fat and butter, by metabolizing into cardioprotective anti-inflammatories, which can counter the pro-inflammatory effect caused by the omega-6s.
You can buy flaxseed in any grocery. For convenience and digestive purposes, try to purchase it ground, not whole. Your body can absorb more nutrients when it's ground. Sprinkle it on oatmeal or cold cereal, or try it in a smoothie. Start out with half of the recommended serving and work your way up to the full serving of two to three tablespoons.
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