Fitness has been a huge part of my life for eight years, so I wanted to share with you my favorite foods to improve your workouts if you’re suffering from lack of energy, poor muscle repair, joint pain, or not getting the results you want. Believe it or not, food is a part of fitness. The right foods fuel your body to be the best it can be, while other foods will keep it from doing that. Most of us know eating the right portion size and calories for our body is a good start, but there are also targeted foods that can speed up the success of your workouts and fitness routine(s). Check out my top foods to improve your workout. They may already be some of your current favorites!
1. Dark Leafy Greens
If you think greens are just for salad freaks, then you are missing out on one of the best foods to improve your workouts of all foods. I’m not talking about iceberg lettuce either. Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, romaine, chard, and collard greens are rich in iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and even a little protein to improve your health. They also contain tons of antioxidants that fight inflammation and fatigue. Dark leafy greens also ground us and keep us focused, in the gym and in other areas of our life. I like to use these greens in a smoothie, salad, or steamed with a healthy protein for dinner. Seasoning them can be simple with tons of herbs, spices and salt-free mixes like Mrs. Dash. Try them until you find one you like. Dark leafy greens are also wonderful for your lungs and help increase oxygen and blood flow through the body, making them a fitness all-star food.
Berries are a great fitness food because they fight inflammation and are digested easily with just enough carbs to energize you. Try using berries like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries , acai berry powder or pulp, and gogi berry powder or pulp, in your next breakfast. They are great in a smoothie or tossed with a little plain Greek yogurt and some stevia or honey to sweeten it. You can also put them in oatmeal, pair them with dry almonds, or eat them alone. Just be sure to pair them with an easy-to-digest protein before a workout so you don't get a tummy ache.
3. Sweet Potatoes
Don’t fear the carbs in sweet potatoes. They are wonderful for your workout, and are my preferred complex carb before working out instead of grains, which are harder to digest. Sweet potatoes are also filled with water to hydrate you, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, manganese, and Vitamin C. If you’re not familiar with these nutrients, then let me assure you; they are awesome for your health and metabolism. They help to fuel the body, repair it from inflammation, rejuvenate your cells, fight off toxins and more. Sweet potatoes actually lower your blood sugar and stabilize your insulin, unlike other potatoes. Try ½ of one sweet potato for breakfast with some Greek yogurt or an egg. If you’re vegan, try eating ½ one at breakfast with a little raw nut butter for long-lasting energy pre-workout.
Dates are one of my favorite foods to eat before a workout. They are very high in natural fruit sugar, but the great thing is, they are also high in fiber, potassium and B vitamins. Eating one date pre-workout provides me with just enough energy for fuel, and 3 grams of fiber to sustain me, plus 300 mg. of potassium to fuel my muscles and prevent inflammation. I don’t like to eat too much dried fruit since it is high in sugar, which can harm your fitness goals in excess, but in small amounts, dried fruit can actually be your best friend before a workout. A Larabar, dried figs or mini box of raisins with some almonds and pumpkin seeds, or apricots with some yogurt would also be great options.
I love fish, but I’m pretty picky about what kinds I buy. Fish is high in protein, magnesium, Omega 3 fatty acids and has very little fat. This means it is a great food for lean muscle, strength and stamina, and your mood. When choosing fish, however, you should always try to purchase environmentally friendly sources, and those low in mercury. My favorites include wild Alaskan salmon, some forms of tuna, rainbow trout from local sources and certain sources of halibut. Fish is really a phenomenal food and if I could afford the good stuff more often, I would buy it more. I like eating fish with a salad or steamed and roasted veggies for a nutritious, filling meal full of lean-muscle sculpting protein.
6. Hemp Protein Powder
Most people think of bodybuilding when it comes to buying protein powders. Perhaps the most popular and well-known source of protein powder is whey protein, derived from dairy. While some people like using this extremely processed protein powder, I prefer a more planet-friendly and body-friendly option. Hemp protein is a miraculous food. First of all, it is a whole food, unlike whey, which is a byproduct of milk. Hemp protein is made from raw, ground hemp seeds, which are nature’s perfect seed for protein. Hemp seed protein is low in fat, high in fiber, and high in the perfect type of proteins you need. It is the only vegan protein that contains all the essential amino acids, meaning you don’t need to pair hemp with another vegan food like grains or bean to make this a complete protein source. Hemp protein powder is also anti-inflammatory, unlike most other protein powders out there. Because it is high in fiber, has no sugar and is high in protein, it also stabilizes your blood sugar and fuels you for longer than processed protein powders do. Hemp protein powder also contains Omega 3 fatty acids, which are wonderful for your body. Hemp is easy to digest for anyone, and is always in my fridge to use in smoothies, protein puddings, homemade protein bars and more. I like Nutiva brand and Sunwarrior Raw Protein Warrior Blend for quality, reasonably priced, organic hemp protein with no weird additives. See sources below for more information.
7. Raw Cacao
Many people like having a cup of coffee before a workout. I used to be one of them, until I found raw cacao. Raw cacao is nowhere near as acidic to the body as coffee, so it doesn’t promote inflammation. Raw cacao is a natural, milder but still effective, stimulant. Raw cacao is basically chocolate in its raw, unprocessed form. It is wonderful for your workouts because raw cacao contains iron, antioxidants, magnesium, and fiber. It also improves your mood, joint pain, and won’t cause a drop in energy levels like coffee does later. Coffee can also cause dehydration since it is a diuretic, which depletes your body of minerals it needs for fitness, like magnesium, potassium and sodium. Cacao does none of that. Try sprinkling 1-2 tbsp. on your smoothie, or just eating raw cacao nibs before your workout. Cacao powder is also available if you want to stir a bit in some yogurt, oatmeal, or put it in a smoothie or homemade energy bars. You won’t only be in a great mood but also have tons of energy. Just don’t overdo it! Cacao is very stimulating even though it is healthy, so use it in small amounts for the best effect. You definitely don’t want to get the jitters from it!
Bananas are one of the most popular foods associated with fitness fuel, and with good reason. Bananas are nature’s perfect energizing snack. They are easy to find, cheap to purchase, plus they are filled with potassium, fiber and water, and B vitamins. Bananas are also a great source of magnesium, manganese and Vitamin C. Eating a banana before your next workout will give you sustained energy so you won't crash, and they will aid in muscle recovery and function. You can eat them alone or with some nuts , seeds or yogurt if you have a longer workout ahead.
9. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is my miracle food for so many reasons, one of the best ones being how much energy it provides. Raw virgin coconut oil is full of fats your body uses for energy, not to store for calories. Eating 1 tbsp. pre-workout will not only energize you, but also enhance your mood and prevent inflammation. Coconut oil fights inflammation, harmful bacteria, and aids in metabolism. These reasons make it perfect to eat before your next workout.
10. Greek Yogurt
If you tolerate dairy, Greek yogurt can be a wonderful food to add to your workouts. Though dairy induces inflammation overall, plain fat-free Greek yogurt is wonderful to eat before a workout since it usually digests easy, is low in sugar, high in probiotics, and very high in protein. The nutrients in Greek yogurt are easily and quickly used by your body to repair and aid in muscle growth and function. If you don’t tolerate dairy Greek yogurt, try a Greek-style yogurt in almond and coconut-based varieties, which are now new in the yogurt market.
These are not all of my favorite workout foods, but they are definitely my top 10 that I’ve seen the most positive effects from. What are your favorite fitness foods to eat?