You don’t need to spend a fortune on berries handpicked in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest to make sure you’re getting your quota of superfoods. This little lot are super nutritious, super cheap and super easy to find – forget hunting down a far-out health food store, you’ll find this list in your local supermarket.
Despite their name, sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes at all – they aren’t even related! Originally from Central America and now grown in warm climates worldwide, they are a nutritious vegetable with a low GI (glycaemic index), meaning they provide a gradual release of energy. They also contain vitamin C for a strong immune system; magnesium, which helps the body use energy from food; and manganese, important for healthy bones and joints.
Any variety will do, providing it’s labelled ‘wholegrain’. A study found that, compared with a commercial sports drink, a bowl of wholegrain cereal and skimmed milk was at least as good at promoting muscle refuelling and recovery after two hours of moderately intense exercise. The cereal helped replenish glycogen (carbohydrate stores) in muscles just as well as the carbohydrate-containing sports drink. Fortified breakfast cereals also provide useful amounts of B vitamins, which allow the body to release energy from food, and iron to help prevent energy-sapping anaemia.
Watercress is packed with vitamins A, C and E for healthy skin and a strong immune system, plus calcium and vitamin K, important for blood clotting and bone strength. It also contains folic acid and iron, both crucial to build healthy red blood cells, needed to transport oxygen to working muscle cells. The vitamin C in watercress boosts the absorption of its iron content, too. It also contains lutein, beta-carotene and flavonoids which, along with vitamins C and E, help protect your body’s cells from the potentially damaging effects of free radicals.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) contains twice as much protein as rice. As well as supporting post-running muscle recovery, protein helps you feel fuller for longer, making it easier to keep calorie intake – and weight – in check. Quinoa also brims with energy-giving carbohydrates, which are slowly released to provide a steady fuel supply to exercising or refuelling muscles. More good news is that it supplies key minerals, such as iron (which prevents energy-sapping anaemia), bone-friendly magnesium, zinc (for a strong immune system) and potassium (essential for muscle contraction and keeping the body hydrated), along with folic acid, needed to enable the body to use protein for repair and to prevent anaemia.
Packed with energy-giving carbohydrate, a medium banana contains around 95 calories. They also have a low GI, meaning their energy is released in a slow and sustained way, ideal for fuelling your running and aiding post-run muscle recovery. One banana counts as one of your recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and therefore brims with cell- and immunity-protecting antioxidants, including vitamin C.
Salmon’s benefits lie in its supply of muscle-restoring protein, healthy fats, and key vitamins and minerals. Take vitamin D – as well as being important for a healthy immune system, it allows the body to absorb calcium. Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight (interestingly, athletic performance has been shown to peak when sunlight-induced vitamin D levels peak). Salmon is one of the few good food sources – an average portion of cooked salmon (100g) provides more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Salmon also supplies omega-3 fatty acids, known for helping to keep the heart and joints healthy.
Beetroot brims with folic acid, needed for cell division and building healthy red blood cells, which transport oxygen to help fuel your muscles. Beetroot has been ranked among the top ten most powerful vegetable sources of antioxidants, thanks to its content of phenolics and betacyanin (which makes it gorgeously red). Antioxidants help to protect body cells from the potentially damaging effects of free radicals, which are increased during exercise. Regular training also helps boost your body’s natural antioxidant defence system. Drinking two large glasses of beetroot juice a day could help you exercise for 16 per cent longer at the same intensity, according to a small study in the Journal Of Applied Physiology. Carried out with cyclists, the scientists think nitrate in beetroot helps the body use oxygen more efficiently when exercising.