7 Foods That Improve Athletic Performance

A balanced, healthy diet is essential to maintaining good health for everyone. However, if you’re an athlete, your diet is even more crucial because the food you eat directly affects your level of performance.

The nutrients, minerals, vitamins, fibers, and amino acids in certain foods support different bodily functions and can improve your athletic performance by promoting things such as muscle growth and recovery, blood flow, and cardiovascular health.

The best foods for athletic performance are ones that supply the energy needed for intense exercise, training, competition, and recovery. Foods with adequate protein support muscle maintenance and repair, while carbohydrates fuel endurance and high-intensity workouts. Also, healthy fats contribute to cell function, while vitamins and minerals support overall health, immunity, and optimal body function.

As you continue looking for opportunities to refine your skills and abilities, it’s important to understand the relationship between nutrition and athletics so you can adjust your eating habits to optimize your performance.

Want to know the best foods for athletes? Continue reading to find out.

What Foods Have the Best Athletic and Exercise Performance Benefits?

If you want to optimize your abilities as an athlete, here are the top seven foods that improve athletic performance.

1. Leafy Greens Such as Swiss Chard and Spinach

Leafy greens are nutrient powerhouses high in antioxidants and packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K. They’re also rich in nitrates and minerals like iron, potassium, and magnesium.

This array of vitamins helps improve the immune system and protects athletes who are at higher risk of diseases like upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin K also helps with bone health and wound healing, both very relevant to athletes due to higher incidences of injury.

Also, nitrates and iron are key in facilitating blood flow and carrying oxygen to the muscles, improving exercise performance.

Common leafy greens include:

  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Brussel sprouts

2. Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids Such as Salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish have anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular disease prevention benefits, improving athletic performance and overall well-being.

Exercise and muscle exertion produce inflammatory substances in the body called free radicals, which can damage your cells. Omega-3 fatty acids counteract this inflammation, reduce joint pain and muscle soreness, and help with faster recovery after intense workouts.

Typical foods with omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Bluefin tuna

3. Low-Sugar-Content Foods Such as Chicken

Protein is vital to an athlete’s diet, as it helps build and repair body tissues. Chicken, for example, is a lean protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. Foods having all nine are also known as ‘complete proteins,’ and your body needs them for muscle growth and recovery. Choosing low-sugar protein sources can also help minimize energy crashes and support stable blood sugar levels, which are crucial during training and competition.

Another example of low-sugar-content food is Muscle Mac’s White Cheddar Mac & Cheese with probiotics and MCT oil. The probiotics in the meal improve your gut health while providing 40% of your daily protein needs with zero grams of added sugar.

Typical foods with low sugar and high protein content include:

  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Quinoa
  • Poultry
  • Buckwheat

4. Whole-grain Bread and Pasta

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for athletes, especially during prolonged competition or high-intensity exercise. Whole-grain bread and pasta are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, supplying long-lasting energy and supporting your muscles during extended periods of physical activity.

Compared with refined grains like white bread, flour, and rice, whole-grain foods are also great sources of fiber, protein, vitamin B, minerals, and antioxidants. The fiber content, in particular, aids with digestion, making them a smart choice for athletes looking to improve their performance.

5. Tart Cherry or Beet Juice

Tart cherry and beet juice have gained popularity among athletes in recent years for their performance-enhancing properties. Both are high in carbohydrates and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce fatigue and improve athletic endurance. Additionally, the high nitrate content in beets helps dilate the blood vessels, which improves blood pressure and increases the oxygen delivered to your cells.

6. Almonds and Other Nuts

Another group of nutrient-dense powerhouses is nuts. Almonds and other nuts have many nutrients, proteins, fats, and fibers and are high in vitamin E. Also, nuts have essential minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.

Almonds are healthy foods for athletes, as they help with various performance-related functions such as muscle recovery, refueling, rehydration, muscle repair, and immune system strength. Including a handful of almonds in your daily diet can significantly improve your athletic performance.

Common examples of nuts that boost performance include:

  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Brazil nuts

7. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another staple food for improving athletic performance. They are packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are easily one of the best sources of carbohydrates for athletes.

Due to their low glycemic index, the energy from sweet potatoes is released slowly over an extended period. As a result, sweet potatoes can provide a steady supply of energy, making them an excellent choice for anyone needing sustained energy during long workouts or competitions.

Also, sweet potatoes’ high potassium and magnesium content help maintain electrolyte balance, prevent muscle cramps, and minimize inflammation, all essential for peak athletic performance.

Incorporate High-protein Foods Into Your Everyday Diet

Besides the items listed above, athletes must consume high-protein foods supporting muscle growth and repair. Examples include dairy products, lean meats, and plant-based protein sources. Even if you’re following a vegetarian diet, plenty of protein-rich options like Muscle Mac’s line of Mac and Cheese products can improve your athletic performance.

Muscle Mac’s meals are made from GMO-free pasta, have no synthetic dyes, and contain 20 grams of protein from dairy and vegetable sources. Our delicious meals deliver a balance of carbs and protein to support muscle growth and supply long-lasting energy.

If you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance, try Muscle Mac today.