The term "superfood" is thrown around a lot these days to refer to exotic Tibetan goji berries as well as familiar standards like broccoli. A "superfood" is a plant which provides compounds that scientists believe may affect health, but have not been established as essential nutrients. Antioxidants are an example of a health-promoting compound that the FDA has not yet established minimum requirements for.
Here is a list of superfoods you can find in the grocery store that will enhance your recovery from workouts and improve your overall health:
Berries Polyphenols, the antioxidants in berries such as strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and especially blueberries clear up the free radicals produced during exercise that cause oxidative stress on the body. Oxidative stress is a big contributor to post-exercise muscle damage and a hindrance to your recovery. You can pick your own blueberries and raspberries in New England at the end of the summer and freeze them for an antioxidant-rich snack any time of year. Maine blueberries should be available in the freezer section of the supermarket year-round.
Cherries Red cherries are one of the most antioxidant-rich fruits there is. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces soreness and speeds recovery. A British study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that marathon runners who drank cherry juice in the week surrounding a marathon had reduced inflammation, improved total antioxidant status, reduced oxidative stress, and less inflammation.
Ginger People have been using ginger to relieve inflammation from osteoarthritis for generations. The chemical responsible for ginger's anti-inflammatory properties (cleverly called "gingerols") can also help endurance athletes reduce pain and inflammation after a tough workout. Ginger is also rich in antioxidants.
Green Tea The antioxidants in green tea, called catechins, are an extremely potent family of antioxidants which help athletes recover from the oxidative stress of their workouts. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that athletes who supplemented with green tea extract improved their fat oxidation rate by 17% and drew an increased percentage of their total energy expenditure from fat rather than carbohydrate. The caffeine in green tea further improves fat metabolism and extends endurance.
Kale Kale is high in antioxidants and vitamins, including vitamin B6, which improves glycogen storage (see Tomatoes). It also reduces inflammation. Cruciferous vegetables like kale have been linked to a reduction in all types of cancers.
Nuts Not only do nuts provide protein, they also provide inflammation-reducing essential fatty acids and the electrolytes zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Walnut oil is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which enhance fat burning.
Olive oil The monounsaturated fats in olive oil help prevent muscle breakdown after exercise. Monounsaturated fats are known as the "best" fats because they have only positive effects on cholesterol and heart health; not even omega-3's can claim that! Olive oil is also rich in polyunsaturated fats including the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Olive oil also promotes healthy cell membranes and protects your joints.
Pineapple Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple reduces inflammation and joint pain. Bromelain is also used by the body to digest protein, making pineapple a great snack to enhance muscle recovery. Have a bad case of road rash? Bromelain also assists in wound healing.
Quinoa Pronounced "keen-wah," this Peruvian grain contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete vegetable protein. It also provides plenty of fiber and carbohydrates, making it an efficient way to get the nutrients you need.
Salmon Salmon is not a plant, but it has been labeled a "superfood" because of its exceptional richness in "good" fats. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that fish oil can increase exercise performance by enhancing cardiac output (the amount of blood your heart pumps per minute) as well as stroke volume (the amount of blood your heart pumps per beat). For endurance athletes, this means better oxygen delivery at sub-maximal heart rates and thus faster times. Vegetable oils with similar fatty acid profiles didn't produce the same results. A few servings of salmon (or other cold-water fish) per week will get you the same results as fish oil supplementation. The essential fatty acids in salmon can also decrease inflammation and reduce cartilage damage.
Soy Soy is rich in antioxidants and can lower cholesterol, lower your risk of prostate and breast cancer, alleviate symptoms of menopause, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The essential fatty acids in soybean oil reduce inflammation. Soy is also an excellent source of protein for athletes who cannot drink milk. Whey protein has long been accepted as the best post-workout protein choice because it is quickly digested and available to your muscles. However, a 2004 study published in the Nutrition Journal found that soy protein promoted the same lean body mass gains as whey, without the reduction in antioxidant status.
Spinach Popeye has been trying to tell you for years that spinach increases muscular strength and endurance. Octacosanol, a substance found in spinach was found to increase a muscle's oxidative capacity and glycogen sparing in an animal study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods. Spinach also contains antioxidants, including vitamin E.
Tomatoes A 2008 study from Korea found that foods containing vitamin B6 such as tomatoes are essential for optimal glycogen storage in muscles. In the study, rats who were fed a B6-poor diet were able to store less glucose in their muscles and liver. Other foods rich in vitamin B6 include hazelnuts, kale, wheat germ, red and green peppers, and liver.
Supplements and whole food supplements