An athlete's body needs a lot more than protein to thrive and perform at its best. Vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, and potassium are extremely important for athletes to function at a high level. Here are eight foods you should eat to get the nutrients that fuel optimum athletic performance.
Milk and Full Fat Dairy
Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and plays a role in maintaining bone and skin health. It also aids testosterone and other hormone production. Also, dairy is a great source of protein. In fact, most whey protein supplements are derived from cow's milk. Protein is an essential nutrient for any athlete's recovery and muscle growth.
Most nuts are nutritional powerhouses, delivering everything from magnesium and selenium (available in high amounts in Brazil nuts) to omega-3 fatty acids (which show up big in walnuts). As long as you're not on a calorie-restricted diet, nuts should be a staple in your diet. To maximize the micronutrient value of nuts, aim for mix of several kinds.
It may sound boring, but spinach stands ahead of just about every other food in the essential nutrient department. With high amounts of magnesium, calcium, iron, and a giant dose of Vitamin K, spinach helps maintain healthy bones, reduces inflammation in the body (which promotes faster recovery), and enhances muscular function.
Eggs are one of, if not the best source of choline in most Americans' diets. Why do you need choline? It's a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for activating your muscles. Without choline, your muscles won't function at their maximum capacity. Need I say any more?
Magnesium helps in the manufacturing of chemicals that are essential for proper brain function. It also plays a role in the body's metabolizing of glucose, meaning it helps break down carbohydrates for fueling your muscles. Beans—and black beans in particular—are one of the best food sources for magnesium. Beans are also a great source of potassium, iron, and fiber.
Tuna is one of the best sources of selenium and Vitamin D. We've talked about why Vitamin D matters to athletes, and selenium is important for hormone balance within the body. Tuna is also a lean source of protein, and it's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain development in younger athletes and for fighting inflammation in all populations.
Potatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals important for athletes, such as potassium (potatoes contain more of it than bananas), an electrolyte used in regulating blood pressure and heart rate. Potatoes also contain high amounts of Vitamin B6, which is used in hundreds of processes in your body, particularly protein synthesis for building and repairing muscle.
Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, which is an extremely important mineral for athletes—especially young, fast-growing athletes and females. Iron plays a role in oxygenating blood, making it a must for endurance athletes.
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