8 Optimal Fuel Sources for Increased Sports Performance & Energy

If you’re an endurance athlete, then chances are, you know just how important nutrition is when it comes to supporting your body before, during, and after training. However, did you know that there are some foods that can directly play a role in how well your body recovers and can help give you that boost of energy you need to power through endurance training? Not all fuel sources are created equal, and some foods help to support the body better than others.

We are going to explore eight optimal fuel sources for increased sports performance and energy, and talk about exactly what the studies show and why you may want to consider adding these foods to your diet!

Sports Performance, Cycling, Triathlon, Running

8 Optimal Fuel Sources for Increased Sports Performance & Energy

#1 Quinoa: Complex carbohydrates play an important role in supporting energy levels when it comes to sports performance. Carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores in the body after intense exercise. They also provide a quick source of energy before training or before an athletic event. Quinoa makes for an excellent fuel source before or after athletic training as it’s rich in plant-based protein, racking in eight grams per cup. This makes quinoa a delicious post training carbohydrate to not only refuel glycogen stores but to also help support muscle recovery.

#2 Rolled Oats: Oats are another complex carbohydrate option that can make a great addition to your diet when supporting sports performance and energy. Complex carbs that are rich in dietary fiber can help sustain overall energy levels for much longer periods of time than refined carbohydrates with very little fiber. A bowl of oatmeal in the morning with some fiber-rich fruits like berries can be an excellent pre-training meal.

#3 Avocados: Rich in healthy fat, dietary fiber, and magnesium, avocados make an excellent fuel source for supporting optimal sports performance and energy levels. Athletes can enjoy half of an avocado blended into a post-training smoothie or enjoyed as a quick refuel snack between training sessions with some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt.

#4 Berries: Berries are super rich in antioxidants to help combat inflammation, and are also rich in dietary fiber. Berries can also be a delicious fuel source during training or can be blended into your post-workout shake. A study looked at blueberries and their impact on exercise performance time and inflammatory markers in the body. The outcome was promising, proving that blueberries may help boost exercise performance while also decreasing inflammatory markers. Try enjoying blueberries regularly as a healthy snack or added to smoothies or on top of a bowl of quinoa flakes, yogurt, or oatmeal.

#5 Sweet Potatoes: If you’re a sweet potato fan, keep enjoying them because they are rich in complex carbohydrates to help restore your body’s glycogen stores, and are also rich in electrolytes potassium and magnesium. Sweet potatoes make for a delicious snack or side dish and can be enjoyed with healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado to make them an even better pre or post-training fuel source.

#6 Wild Caught Salmon: Intense training can cause inflammation in the body if you aren’t mindful of the foods you are nourishing your body with. With intense exercise, it’s important to consume a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods to help combat any inflammation put on the body through intense athletic training. Wild-caught salmon happens to be a great anti-inflammatory food option that is also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein to help support your body’s energy levels before, during, and after training.

#7 Coconut Oil: Coconut oil makes a great addition to your athletic training diet plan for many reasons. Not only does coconut serve as an excellent fat and fuel source, but the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil travel to the liver and are used as an immediate source of energy to fuel the body. Studies have also found that lauric and capric acid, both of which are found in coconut oil, are two of the primary fatty acid fuel sources for aerobic metabolism and for supporting athletic performance.

Coconut oil also helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. It’s essential for endurance athletes to consume enough healthy fats to help the body absorb and utilize these important vitamins.

Lastly, coconut oil may benefit the endurance athlete due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Since intense athletic training can strain the body’s muscles and joints, you will want to do everything you can to reduce that inflammation. A study also found that virgin coconut oil holds analgesic effects, making it a great natural way to help combat joint and muscle pain that is often associated with endurance athletic training.

Try adding coconut oil to your sports performance diet by adding a tablespoon to your post-training smoothie or shake, or try adding it to your cup of coffee for an added energy boost.

#8 Cherries: This tart fruit can make an ideal fuel source for endurance athletes, and can easily be incorporated into the diet. Cherries can be beneficial for athletes for a couple of different reasons. For one, studies have found that cherries can help support better sleep which is an integral part of recovering from intense exercise. Cherries contain melatonin, one of the hormones that helps support a good night sleep. In addition to supporting better sleep, cherries also hold impressive antioxidant benefits, making them a great food choice to help athletes fight off inflammation. Inflammation can be a big cause of muscle and joint pain in endurance athletes, so adding foods to help combat some of that can be super beneficial. Lastly, cherries can help support the immune system, an important part of supporting your body during intense athletic training. Long-term intense endurance training can put stress on the immune system, so it is important to combat that with optimal nutrition. By supporting your body with powerful immune-boosting foods like cherries, you can help reduce your risk of getting sick after being run down from big athletic events.

Sports Performance, Cycling, Triathlon, Running

The Takeaway

So, let’s sum this up. What foods should you be adding to your diet to increase sports performance and energy, and how can you go about enjoying more of these foods on a regular basis?

Here are some takeaway points to help you get started.

  • Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries and a drizzle of raw honey as a pre-training meal.
  • Enjoy quinoa instead of refined carbohydrates like white pasta and white rice. Add quinoa to salads, or enjoy with some dark leafy greens and a wild-caught salmon filet.
  • Enjoy a sweet potato with a drizzle of coconut oil as a quick refuel option after intense training.
  • Add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to reduce inflammation and pain and help you train better and longer! Add things like cherries, berries, and coconut oil to your diet.
  • Add a half of a sliced avocado to a post-training shake or smoothie for added fat, fiber, and magnesium to help reduce muscle cramps and support energy levels.

Optimal nutrition is such a key component of athletic training, and can really make a difference in your overall energy and performance levels. Use the power of nutrition to your advantage to fuel your body right and avoid ever feeling depleted. Try adding these foods to your diet to help combat exercise-induced inflammation, support the immune system, and provide your body with foods that will support optimal sources of energy so that you can get the most out of every single training session.

There is, of course, always a caveat with nutrition, and it’s up to the athlete to figure out what works best for them. I advise keeping a food diary and inputting how each food/s make you feel, any adverse effects, etc. You also need to figure out which food/s work best for you in terms of budget, preparation time, ease of eating (don’t eat a burrito in your car!), and of course any potential allergic reactions. Just like anything else, practice = perfect! Over time, and with experimenting with various foods, you’ll find what works best for you, your body, and your athletic performance.

Resources

  1. Quinoa VS Rice: Which Foods has More Nutritional Value? UPMC. https://share.upmc.com/2018/04/quinoa-vs-brown-rice-nutrition/
  2. Park, Kwak, Seo, Kim (2018) NCBI. Assessing the Value of Blueberries Intake on Exercise Performance, TAS, and Inflammatory Factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124147/
  3. Thomas Campbell MD. (2014) T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. How Sweet is a Sweet Potato? Pretty Sweet! https://nutritionstudies.org/how-sweet-is-a-sweet-potato/
  4. Lyudinina, Ivankova, Bojko (2018) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Priority use of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids During High-Intensity Exercise in Cross-Country Skiers. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-018-0265-4#Sec12
  5. Intahphuak, Khonsung, Panthong (2010) NCBI. Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, and Antipyretic Activities of Virgin Coconut Oil. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20645831
  6. University Health News Daily. Tart Cherry Juice Sleep Solutions: Beat Insomnia with This Natural Remedy. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/sleep/the-tart-cherry-juice-sleep-solution-tart-cherry-juice-benefits-include-beating-insomnia/
  7. Linda Wallenfels (2016( The Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice for Endurance Atheletes. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/the-benefits-of-tart-cherry-juice-for-endurance-athletes/
  8. Karl Riecken (2015) Training for Endurance Sports and Your Immune System. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/training-for-endurance-sports-and-your-immune-system/

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Shayne Gaffney

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a licensed physical therapy assistant in Massachusetts, a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) certified Coach, a USA Cycling Power Based Training certified Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified Coach, a US Military Endurance Sports (USMES) affiliated Coach, and USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport certified. He is the owner and head Coach of GC Coaching, Workout Content Editor at Zwift, the creator of P2 Coached Computraining, and the creator of Zwift’s “Build Me Up” Flexible Training Plan. He has been published in Bicycling Magazine, the TrainingPeaks blog, and Zwift Insider. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the info on all the good things coconut oil brings to our tables…didnt know about that one!
    But I’m afraid your admonition to avoid burritos in the car is much too late!! Chipotle at 3:00 has gotten me thru a few of your evening TSS torture sessions!🤣

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