With more and more people looking into whole food, ancestral or evolutionary type diets, more and more athletes are choosing to adopt a paleo-based approach to eating in order to improve their overall performance.
One of the reasons I believe that a paleo type diet is the best template for athletes to build a perfect personalized diet is because, by definition, it includes all of the key factors needed to be healthy, recover well and perform at your best when exercising intensely.
Here are a few foods that can boost physical performance and should be a staple for almost all athletes.
Eggs are the most complete source of amino acids and rank the highest when it comes to assessing protein quality based on their biological value.
A single egg contains roughly seven grams of complete protein and contains all of the eight essential amino acids required to build and maintain muscle.
Eggs are loaded with B-vitamins, a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. Eggs also contain a lot of choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient that’s similar to B-vitamins that supports proper brain function, and is sometimes used by athletes to delay fatigue in endurance sports.
Eggs are also an excellent source of zinc, which optimizes testosterone production and the building of lean muscle mass, and also a pretty good source of magnesium, which is essential for over 300 cellular functions and is linked to improved intra-workout recovery and better quality sleep.
Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, making it a convenient way to up your intake without having to sit out in the sun. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and muscles, as well as overall health.
Eggs also contain iron which is required to produce haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.
A complete amino acid profile, a ton of micronutrients, all great for athletes, and surprisingly low-calorie equals one nutrient dense food source for optimising performance.
For the last 30 years or so, saturated fats like butter have been erroneously considered the number one enemy in conventional medicine, supposedly responsible for heart disease and poor health. However, the scientific community is now clear that saturated fats aren’t bad for us, and in fact are extremely important for overall health.
Grass-fed Butter is literally a Superfood. Nutrient wise it’s very high in Vitamins A, D, E and K2. These vitamins are responsible for hormonal balancing, and cardiovascular health. Magnesium and Zinc are also huge players in the game. By consuming Grass-fed Butter you can balance calcium levels, repair muscles and provide adequate energy during training.
Grass-fed Butter can provide 20 times more ATP during cellular metabolism than can be gained by eating all sorts of processed grains and sugars.
Saturated fats play a critical role on a couple of fronts. First, they are shown to help athletes recover from intense exercise and over-training. Studies have found that athletes who are rundown during periods of intense training typically have low cortisol and low testosterone levels, to go along with fatigue, excessive delayed onset muscle soreness, low libido and low mood… all symptoms of over-training.
Saturated fats can also be a great tool for endurance athletes, because unlike most fats they can be absorbed directly by the gut and used for instant energy. This means the medium chain triglycerides in butter can effectively be used like carbohydrates for energy during runs, rides, swims, or metabolic conditioning.
You get 9 calories when using fats for fuel versus 4 calories when using carbohydrates, so you dramatically improve your fuel efficiency. This can translate into better performance.
The consumption of large quantities of beets has been found to dramatically increase blood nitrate levels, and in turn boost athletic performance.
This promotes nitric oxide formation, which is a powerful vasodilator that helps increase blood flow to working muscles allowing your mitochondria to produce ATP more efficiently. This creates an ‘anti-fatigue’ effect, meaning you can do the same amount of work for longer period with less stress to the body, producing significant endurance benefits in athletes.
Load up on beet juice daily for five or so days before a competition or consume as a regular part of your diet to reap the benefits.
Not necessarily an ancestral or traditional food, coffee can provide a terrific performance boost. There are countless performance-enhancing supplements that are now available on the market, some of them better than others. The best however, if you’re looking to improve your performance, is a the classic cup of black coffee.
Caffeine, found naturally in tea and coffee, is truly one of the best performance-enhancing drugs in the world. In fact, supplemental caffeine is the “secret” ingredient in virtually all the marketed weight loss and performance supplements because it’s so effective.
What can caffeine do for you?
A cup of black coffee is all you need for a natural stimulant and effective pre-workout. Several studies have shown caffeine to boost athletic performance and improve a variety of other health markers.
The effects will vary from person to person, but the peak stimulant effect usually occurs 30-60 minutes after consumption. Once it enters the bloodstream, several responses begin to occur within the body. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, which in turn delivers oxygen to the muscles at a faster rate and fat stores begin to metabolize and are released into the bloodstream. This typically will lead to you feeling energised and ready to workout.
With regards to athletic performance, caffeine has been shown to increase various types of performance when consumed in moderate amounts.
Caffeine has also been shown to give the athlete the ability to train for longer duration and with a higher power output. It has also been shown to improve overall endurance and resistance to fatigue.
Endurance athletes probably benefit the most from the consumption of caffeine. This may be due to the point mentioned above where caffeine consumption can increase the breakdown of fat stores to be used as energy, thus saving stored glycogen for when it is needed most, such as the increased intensity of a sprint to the finish line.