When you exercise regularly, your nutritional needs change. The additional requirements range from an increase of protein, minerals, vitamins, fluids and antioxidants. These help to keep the body functioning correctly, aid in muscle synthesis and reduce oxidative damage caused by the stress of exercise. Below are 7 foods you should add to your diet if you exercise regularly.
Why - Sweet potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates for after an intense workout and provide many essential vitamins and minerals which may reduce inflammation (1).
How - Sweet potatoes are a starchy carbohydrate that helps to replenish muscle glycogen (the sugar stored in the muscles) once they become depleted after exercise. This replenishment, coupled with an intake of protein can lead to improved muscle mass and recovery times.
Antioxidants help to reduce oxidative damage caused by stress (exercise is a stress) and sweet potatoes contain good amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin E, beta carotene, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanin (if you find purple sweet potatoes).
Guidelines - One medium regular sweet potato (130g) contains 112kcal and 26g of carbohydrates.
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Why - Berries contain high levels of antioxidants which can help to reverse the damage caused by exercise.
How - Anthocyanins are antioxidants that are found in dark coloured fruit and vegetables such as berries, beetroot and purple sweet potatoes. As mentioned above, antioxidants help to reduce oxidative damage caused by stress. In addition to this, blueberries have been shown to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) (2).
Guidelines - Grab a handful of seasonal, organic berries or add them to your post-workout smoothie.
Why - Omega-3 fatty acids are fantastic antioxidants and aid in cellular signalling.
How - EPA and DHA, the main fatty acids in omega-3, have been shown to reduce DOMS and aid in muscular function (3). Omega-3 consumption has also been shown to provide a vast array of health benefits ranging from heart-protective to autoimmune (4).
Guidelines - Obtain omega-3 fatty acids either in supplement form or, preferably, from whole foods such as wild-caught salmon or cod.
Why - Bone broth provides electrolytes, amino acids, collagen and a good dose of minerals and vitamins.
How - Bone broths are broths made with animal bones, and sometimes a small amount of meat, cooked for a long time - typically 12-24 hours. This allows ample time for the collagen and minerals to be released from the bones.
Collagen is an important protein used by the body for connective tissues, bones and joint health. The amino acids glutamine and glycine, which are prevalent in bone broths, play an important role in human health and help to maintain the proper function of the intestine. Electrolytes help to replenish minerals lost through sweating after exercise (5).
Guidelines - You can either make your own bone broth at home - there are many recipes available online, just make sure you use high-quality bones and meat. Or, if you don't have a slow cooker, you can purchase pre-made bone broth pouches online.
Why - Tart cherry has been shown to aid in muscle recovery and the reduction of DOMS, and could help to improve sleep quality.
How - Tart cherry intake can help to improve the performance and increase the recovery time of endurance athletes and has a smaller effect for strength athletes. Tart cherry is also rich in melatonin, the main hormone involved in sleep, and also rich in the melatonin-creating tryptophan and anthocyanins. In addition to these benefits, tart cherry can help to reduce inflammation and boost your immune system (6).
Guidelines - Available as juice, concentrate or in capsules as an extract.
Why - Cinnamon helps to increase insulin sensitivity which is essential for human health and is a powerful antioxidant.
How - Insulin resistance is a condition where the human body doesn't respond efficiently to signals the hormone insulin is sending. This means the levels of circulating glucose may increase which leads to a condition called prediabetes and, eventually, diabetes (7). Increasing our bodies sensitivity to insulin ensures optimal health and can help to shuttle glycogen inside of muscle cells after exercise. Cinnamon also acts as a powerful antioxidant to help against oxidative damage.
Guidelines - Add cinnamon to pretty much anything you think it would go well with. Sweet potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon is a delicious treat. You can also add it to your post-workout shake.
Why - Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower are full of minerals and vitamins, contain compounds that contain many beneficial properties and has the ability to lower oestrogen levels.
How - Cruciferous vegetables are rich in folate, vitamins C, E and K and manganese. They also contain compounds called glucosinates which potentially exhibit anti-cancer actions, as well as antibacterial and antiviral effects (8).
Guidelines - Consume a mix of different cruciferous vegetables with any meal. Avoid consuming them raw, but also avoid overcooking them as this can reduce their nutrient quality.