Foods Backed by Science that Enhance Athletic Performance

Antioxidant foods help improve recovery through the modulation of inflammation and muscle damage. What other foods help enhance athletic performance? Read on to discover them!
Foods Backed by Science that Enhance Athletic Performance

Last update: 31 July, 2020

An athlete’s diet must be based on fresh foods. Thus, they should keep the consumption of ultra-processed foods and alcoholic beverages to a minimum. This is because eating certain foods can help enhance athletic performance or increase recovery capacity.

You need to remember that, although they’re very healthy, the foods or groups of nutrients that we’re going to mention below don’t have magical properties. Therefore, if you want to take advantage of their benefits, you must include them in a varied and balanced diet.

Enhance athletic performance: protein-rich foods for recovery

Muscle recovery is a process mediated primarily by protein. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, it repairs tissue and promotes adaptation processes. Therefore, you need to consume enough proteins by regularly adding them to your diet.

To guarantee their function, it’s essential to ensure their quality. In this sense, foods with higher value proteins are those of animal origin.

These foods have all the amino acids your body needs to stimulate endogenous protein synthesis. On the other hand, they have good digestibility, which guarantees their absorption at the intestinal level.

If you only consume protein-rich plant-based products, you also need to introduce foods from different groups into your diet to avoid amino acid deficiencies.

Brown rice with grilled chicken breast.

Foods with an antioxidant capacity: enhance athletic performance

Antioxidants are nutrients that fight cell and muscle damage. According to a study published in the journal Sports Medicine, they prevent the formation of free radicals and are capable of modulating inflammation.

All the same, it’s important to include them in the appropriate amounts. This is because experts speculate that an excess of antioxidants could reduce tissue adaptation to exercise, which would be counterproductive for performance.

Plant foods are the richest in antioxidants. For example, red berries stand out, as they contain a significant amount of anthocyanins, a phytonutrient with great antioxidant capacity.

In turn, tomatoes contain lycopene, a substance that’s capable of reducing cardiovascular risk and the chances of developing other complex diseases.

Anti-inflammatory foods

On the other hand, some foods stand out due to their anti-inflammatory capacity. It’s mainly due to omega-3 fatty acids, found in products such as oily fish, raw vegetable oils, and nuts.

Consuming these foods regularly is associated with lipid profile improvements and a reduction of inflammatory markers. In this regard, an article published in the journal Research in Sports Medicine states that modulating these inflammatory processes is beneficial for improving muscle recovery.

Furthermore, these substances could protect against muscular catabolism in the framework of endurance sports and a hypocaloric or low-calorie diet. However, these effects are obtained from supplementation with these fatty acids; no studies show said property in dietary doses.

A few sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

A varied diet: enhance athletic performance

An athlete’s diet must be varied. It needs to include fresh foods instead of ultra-processed products. This is because the latter contain substances with inflammatory properties, such as simple sugars and trans fats. Both of these substances can interfere in muscle recovery and tissue adaptation processes.

In turn, some foods contain nutrients that can enhance athletic performance. Proteins and omega-3 fatty acids are two of the best options.

In fact, they’re both capable of stimulating recovery and reducing the risk of subsequent injuries. In addition, they also have health benefits.

On the other hand, we need to highlight the need to eat antioxidant-rich plant foods. These nutrients can reduce cell damage and the production of free radicals. Also, they help modulate the body’s inflammatory states.

However, experts recommend against supplementation with this class of substances, since an excess intake could lead to a partial blockage of adaptations to exercise.

Finally, to enhance athletic performance, it’s necessary to restrict the consumption of toxic substances and alcohol. These types of substances promote inflammatory states and affect metabolic health and water balance.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • West DWD., Sawan SA., Mazzulla M., Williamson E., Moore DR., Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: a double blind crossover study. Nutrients, 2017.
  • Braakhuis AJ., Hopkins WG., Impact of dietary antioxidants on sport performance: a review. Sports Med, 2015. 45 (7): 939-55.
  • Philpott JD., Witard OC., Galloway SDR., Applications of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for sport performance. Res Sports Med, 2019. 27 (2): 219-237.

The contents of this publication are written for informational purposes. At no time do they facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.