Planning meals for elite athletes is so much easier when they understand how to navigate the grocery store aisles. The items selected at the store ultimately end up fueling an athlete's game. This is a major detail with incredible impact on success. Planning may not be very glamorous but planning yields results. It is another tool in the toolbox of success. These purposeful decisions help build great athletes by supporting what the body requires for peak performance.
It's not possible to create a rainbow salad without access to fresh, colorful ingredients. Empty refrigerator and pantry shelves often lead athletes to the quickest carryout or pizza delivery. When looking to optimize performance, I rely on key ingredients which provide the densest concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds that have been shown to fuel muscles and assist with recovery. Many ingredients have functional sport performance qualities proven in scientific studies. Examples include leafy greens and beets which are beneficial for the nitrites that delay time to fatigue. Turmeric, ginger and tart cherries have been shown to help improve inflammation. Blueberries and matcha tea have been linked with enhanced cognition and memory. These examples illustrate the importance of proper plate planning.
I feel it is most important to make sure specific ingredients are included over the course of a week. Ideally, daily inclusion of berries, nuts, spices, herbs, spinach, beets, oatmeal, avocado and tea is the goal. Without proper planning, it is difficult to fuel the demands of sport. This can lead to injury, fatigue and poor performance. Prepping food once or twice a week makes it so much easier to incorporate the powerhouse ingredients.
Next time you are at the store or farmer's market, reference this list and give these ingredients a place at your next meal. These are simple items with minimal processing and free of added hormones, antibiotics or anything artificial.
Ingredients for Optimizing Performance:
|Leafy greens ||Spinach/arugula ||Kale, chard, romaine, collards |
|Beets ||Cherry Juice ||Cold-pressed green juice |
|Ginger ||Turmeric ||Sweet potatoes |
|Sauerkraut ||Kimchi ||Apple cider vinegar |
|Watermelon ||Berries ||Avocado |
|Ancient grains ||Edamame pasta ||Bean pasta |
|Herbs and spices ||Teff ||Four Sigmatic Mushroom blends |
|Walnuts ||Pistachios ||Almonds |
|Brazil nuts ||Pine nuts ||Pumpkin seeds |
|Nut butters ||Flax seeds ||Chia seeds |
|Asparagus ||Pomegranate ||Sardines |
|Black beans ||Quinoa ||Brown and black organic rice |
|Manuka honey ||Pineapple ||Chick peas |
|Bananas ||Melon ||Purple seedless grapes |
|Oranges ||Cherries ||Dried fruits |
|Garlic ||Onions ||Tea |
|Olive oil ||Coconut Oil ||Sesame Oil |
|Mushrooms ||Apples/sauce ||Artichokes |
|Dark chocolate ||Grape Nuts ||Steel cut Oatmeal |
|Balsamic vinegar ||Almond flour ||Bone broth |
|Cumin ||Lemons/limes ||Grade B maple syrup |
|Papaya ||Olives ||Whole grain bread & English Muffins |
|Tahini ||Barley ||Sunflower seeds |
|Squash ||White beans ||Lentils, peas, farro |
|Celtic Sea Salt ||Cucumbers ||Organic Grass-fed butter |
|Parsley ||Basil, mint ||Oregano, Cilantro, coriander, etc. |
|Wild salmon ||Grass-fed organic beef ||Organic lean proteins |
|Organic eggs ||Pineapple ||Organic non-dairy yogurt |
|Tortillas ||Pierogi ||Braggs liquid aminos |
These are just a few examples of ingredients that help us build power plates. Nourishing athletes is a gentle balance between incorporating new ingredients while still providing great flavors. If the post-game meal tastes like cardboard, it will not be very popular. There are multiple challenges feeding a diverse group of athletes. Many players avoid certain spices and herbs while gravitating toward cultural preferences and comfort food. Providing convincing reasons to try a new food like teff, which has a nice iron source, must be aligned with a delicious taste. These listed ingredients are tools in the toolbox that allow an elite athlete to keep building the house. The harder one can train and recover, the stronger the next performance.