Functional Foods in Sports Nutrition
Functional foods are foods or ingredients that provide health benefits beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.
They can be:
- Natural, whole-food ingredients that already contain beneficial nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants
- Foods that have been fortified with added ingredients such as fibre, probiotics, and other vitamins and minerals to increase the healthy benefits of the final food product
From a sports and exercise nutrition perspective, functional foods may be used to help enhance performance and training, as well as aid in the recovery process and reduce muscle soreness.
Here are some functional foods that have sound research evidence in sports and exercise nutrition:
Branched chain amino acids or BCAAs are a group of 3 of the essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are commonly sold in powder form as sports supplements, but can also be naturally found in protein foods like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
The benefits of consuming adequate BCAAs include:
- Increased muscle growth
- Promotes active recovery
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Reduced exercise fatigue
- Meat and poultry, 100g: 7g BCAA
- Egg, 1 whole: 1.3g BCAA
- Oily fish, 100g: 5g BCAA
- Legumes, 120g: 2-3g BCAA
- Milk, 250ml: 2.2g BCAA
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that the body is unable to produce and have to be obtained from the diet. They are mainly found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Some plant sources include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and seaweed. Omega-3s are important for heart, brain, and eye health. Studies have shown Omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA fatty acids, to be beneficial in reducing muscle soreness and inflammation following an intense workout. In plant sources, the Omega-3 fatty acid is in the form of ALA, which will get converted to EPA/DHA. The conversion rate is quite low, so a plant based Omega-3 supplement made from algae might help for vegetarians and vegans.
For healthy individuals, the general recommended daily intake of Omega-3 is 250-500mg, or oily fish at least twice a week. However, most research studies saw benefits for sports and exercise at higher levels of around 3,000mg daily through supplementation.
Antioxidants are chemical compounds found mostly in plant foods. They are beneficial to health as they help prevent and repair cell damage caused by free radicals - unstable molecules that can cause damage and stress to cells, leading to increased risk of illness. Antioxidants are also important in regulating energy metabolism systems especially during conditions of increased stress such as exercise. These critical pathways and systems can affect our performance and recovery following a workout.
While there is no recommended intake set, a diet rich in whole foods like fruits and vegetables can help you make sure that you’re getting adequate antioxidants.
Here are some foods that are particularly rich in antioxidants:
- Goji berries
- Red Cabbage
At The Whole Kitchen, we believe in getting all our nutrients from whole foods first. However, if you’re an athlete, training for a competition, or someone who exercises regularly, you might find it hard to meet some of the nutrient requirements with higher training loads. Do consult your practitioner or sports dietitian on safe supplementation.
If you are looking for easy and convenient products to support your training and help with your recovery, here are some TWK products to add!
Our Low Carb Nut & Seed Bread is made with a blend of nuts and seeds - including walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds which are good options of plant based Omega-3 fatty acids.
Walnuts make the base of our Carrot Ginger Chai Cake, to help include more plant based Omega-3 fatty acids. Enjoy it as a quick snack to fuel your workouts!
Made with a premium blend of nuts, TWK Nut Mixes can not only help you get some protein in, but also Omega-3 fatty acids to help support your recovery after your training session.
TWK Granolas are nutritious as they are tasty! Pecans, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and other nuts and seeds help provide Omega-3 fatty acids as well as antioxidants to aid your performance and recovery.
- Rahimi, M. H. et al. (2017) ‘Branched-chain amino acid supplementation and exercise-induced muscle damage in exercise recovery: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials’, Nutrition, 42, pp. 30–36. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2017.05.005.
- Kyriakidou, Y. et al. (2021) ‘The effect of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on exercise-induced muscle damage’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), pp. 1–11. doi: 10.1186/s12970-020-00405-1.
- Margaritelis, N. V. et al. (2018) ‘Antioxidants in personalized nutrition and exercise’, Advances in Nutrition, 9(6), pp. 813–823. doi: 10.1093/ADVANCES/NMY052.
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