Gemma Sampson, Researcher and Sports Dietitian, explains why these 6 foods should be in every triathlete's kitchen to aid fuelling and recovery after training.
Porridge, muesli, overnight oats, baked oats, flapjacks, blended into smoothies… oats are a versatile source of carbohydrate. They have a low glycemic index (GI), meaning that they energy they contain is released slowly into the blood stream avoiding any blood sugar spikes or dips. Beta glucan in oats helps promote heart health by preventing cholesterol in food being absorbed as well as removing excess cholesterol from the blood stream to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre found in oats can also help slow down the absorption of sugars in the diet, helping with blood sugar level control.
When thinking about superfoods, blueberries are typically the berry that comes to mind. Blueberries are a great source of vitamin C, manganese and anti-inflammatory antioxidants to help recovering muscles after training. However, don't underestimate the nutritional benefits of other berries as other varieties are just as rich in antioxidants and should be eaten regularly to promote swift recovery between training sessions. The deep colour in tart cherries (montmorency cherries) is due to their anthocyanin content. This plays an anti-inflammatory role, which can help with reducing inflammation and pain after intense training sessions. They have also been found to help with sleep – a critical factor in recovery.
Blackberries are rich in folate, which is particularly important for women. Strawberries come on top when it comes to vitamin C, which plays an antioxidant role as well as being a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions. Now that winter is approaching, fresh berries are not as readily available or affordable. Thankfully, frozen berries are just as nutritious as the fresh options, meaning it's possible to mix it up.
Whether it's pecans, cashews, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts that take your fancy, nuts are a fantastic source of heart-healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Nuts are great sources of vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper as well as antioxidants to aid with recovery. Regularly eating a 30g standard portion of whole nuts has been found to help with weight management and weight loss - good to have as a snack if you are aiming to trim down.
Nut butters, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. It's much easier to over consume nut butters and be a bit too heavy-handed with the knife, so watch your portion sizes. One level tablespoon of peanut butter weighs about 20g and contains roughly 120kcal. Depending on how generous you are, a large spoonful on porridge could contain 300-500kcal, so be mindful when and how you use it.
Oats, berries, nuts and yoghurt are a great addition to any athlete's diet.
Herbs & spices
More than just flavour enhancers, herbs and spices can pack a mini punch to boost the nutritional value of meal. A little bit goes a long way to adding vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and antioxidants to help your body train hard and recover quickly. Cinnamon is packed full of the antioxidant cinnamaldehyde, adds sweetness without sugar and has been found to play a role in stabilising blood sugar levels.
Turmeric is becoming more fashionable of late thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, with turmeric lattes popping up in cafés. The active ingredient curcumin has been found to help relieve joint pain and inflammation. Oregano is rich in antioxidants including Vitamin E, which limits free radicals and oxidative muscle damage caused by intense training.
Seeds are little powerhouses of vitamins, minerals and trace elements that help your muscles perform optimally and aid recovery. Chia seeds and linseeds are fantastic sources of the plant-based omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), iron, and calcium. Linseeds (flaxseed) must be ground in order to gain the benefit, and the body is not able to break down the outer shell. Ground linseeds should be stored in the fridge, as exposure to air makes the fat go rancid, limiting the health benefit.
Although tiny, sesame seeds are rich in calcium – important for any triathletes who can't tolerate dairy and need plant-based calcium. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium and zinc. Zinc is important for a wide range of functions including immunity, protein synthesis and repairing damaged tissue, with men requiring more than women. Magnesium plays a role in muscle contraction, bone health and immunity, and can limit energy production if in short supply in the diet. Use seeds regularly by adding them to breakfast cereals, sprinkling onto salads or baking into flapjacks or bars to keep you fuelled during training sessions.
Skyr Icelandic-style yoghurt
Skyr Icelandic yoghurt is a fantastic whole food source of protein that can be used in savoury dishes as an alternative to sour cream, or in sweet foods and drinks. Virtually fat-free, it packs a protein punch, with 11g of protein per 100g. It has long been thought that 20-25g of protein per meal was 'optimal' for muscle protein synthesis, but recent studies have shown that during whole-body exercise 40g of high-quality protein per meal is better.
Having adequate protein in the diet can help with body composition goals as well as keep you fuller for longer, so you don't reach for the biscuit tin mid-morning. Skyr is also rich in calcium, with one 200g serving providing about a third of your daily calcium needs. Calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction as well as promoting strong bones.
Gemma Sampson SENr is an accredited sports dietician based in Liverpool who founded the online sports nutrition consultancy Dietician Without Borders. She has nine years' experience in clinical, food industry and freelance settings and is currently completing a Masters in Sports Nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University.