I’m always experimenting with new foods to help maximize my workout gains, expedite my recovery between sessions and reduce fatigue while building strength and endurance so I can train and race at my peak.
Suffice it to say that there is no magic pill or secret supplement that can replace the tried and true benefits of a well balanced diet comprised of fresh organic vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes. But you can give yourself a nutritional edge when such a well-rounded dietary regimen is complemented with certain so-called “superfoods”.
Here’s a rundown of my top-4 such (completely safe!) plant-based foods you should be including in your diet. But I bet you’re not. More likely than not you’ve never even heard of some of them. However, athletes of all types have experienced success by incorporating these foods into their daily routine – foods you might be surprised to learn are readily available in most health food markets like Whole Foods, or online.
If you read the bestselling book Born To Run, then you know these tiny seeds are an ancient Aztec staple known as the “ultimate runner’s food.” Why? A complete protein high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants, chia has been shown to promote heart health, boost endurance, increase oxygen uptake and impede dehydration. It’s also a great “slow carb”, providing sustained energy over a long period of time. Sprinkle on your breakfast cereal or add a teaspoon to a glass of water or morning smoothie.
Packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals, maca (typically retailed in powder form) derives from a plant indigenous to the high Andes of Peru and has proved highly effective in combating anemia and chronic fatigue while promoting adrenal functionality. A natural mood enhancer, with respect to athletes’ needs maca has been shown to improve stamina and reduce the onset of exercise-induced soreness. It can be taken in capsule form, but I prefer to add a tablespoon to my morning smoothie. Love it.
A very concentrated source of nutrition, spirulina is a blue-green algae noted for having the highest percentage of complete protein by weight of any food on earth. Rich in a wide variety of vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants, studies have established a strong correlation between spirulina intake and enhanced endurance as well as expedited recovery induced by exercise stress. I prefer the liquid version as another additive to my smoothie blends.
Note: Not the most pleasing to the eye in it’s natural form, I decided against uploading a picture — I don’t want to scare anyone away from the nutritional wonders of this food!
An adaptogen derived from mycellium fungi that grow above 10,000 feet in rural sections of China, cordyceps were first used by Chinese track and field athletes, who experienced significant improvements with daily use. Known to boost the immune system, increase lung capacity by enhancing oxygen uptake, improve stamina and combat the onset of exercise-induced fatigue, I have experienced tremendous success incorporating this mushroom extract into my daily regimen – again by adding it to both my pre- and post-workout blends. You may have never heard of cordyceps, but my prediction is that it will not be long before this superfood will find it’s way into many new food products aimed at the athlete market – so this is your call to get ahead of the curve.
Reluctant to try something new? The definition of ignorance is contempt prior to investigation. So set aside what might be pre-conceived notions. Conduct your own experiment and give these foods a try. Pay attention – maybe even document — how you feel both during and after swim workouts. Then let me know what you find.
In 2009 and 2011, Rich clocked top finishes and the fastest swims at the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii, a double ironman distance triathlon that involves a 6.2 mile open water swim, 260 miles of cycling and culminates with a 52.4 mile run.
For more information on Rich, visit his website at richroll.com, follow him on Twitter at @richroll and “like” him on Facebook.
Rich’s inspirational memoir FINDING ULTRA: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming one of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself (Crown / Random House) hits bookshelves May 22, 2012 and is currently available for pre-order. For more information on the book, visit his website and “like” the book page on Facebook.
For more nutritional information, check out Rich and his wife Julie’s plant-based e-cookbook JAI SEED – a beautiful coffee-table style cookbook for the digital iPad set that contains 77 glossy pages of plant-based nutrition information and easy to prepare recipes certain to satisfy even the most finicky family member.