1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the human body. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that helps maintain reproductive function, vision and immune function.
Packed with low glycaemic carbohydrates and high in fibre, sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense as well being extremely satisfying.
Diet tip: Cook, mash and use instead of rice or noodles as a base for any dish.
Packed full of protein and healthy omega 3 fats, this type of fish should be on everyone’s dinner plate at least twice a week. Omega 3 fats reduce the risk of blood clot formation and may lower levels of bad cholesterol, which helps prevent heart attack and stroke.
Omega 3 fats are also good for preventing depression as they boost levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ chemical) in the brain, and they are also known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Arthritis Australia advises that eating salmon can reduce the inflammatory symptoms of some types of arthritis.
Diet tip: Canned varieties of salmon are just as healthy as fresh fish.
3. Soy beans
Soy beans are one of the great staple foods of the world. The Chinese, Japanese and South East Asians, who generally have no or little meat in their diet, benefit from the high protein content of soy beans.
This protein is more ‘complete’, or of the highest quality, than any plant protein. Soy beans are also a good source of fibre, polyunsaturated fats, including omega 3 and omega 6 fats, complex carbohydrates and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Soy beans contain isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens considered by some nutritionists and physicians to be useful in the prevention of some cancers and heart disease. Like most legumes, soy beans are low GI, which can help regulate blood sugar as well as appetite.
Diet tip: Blend tofu into smoothies instead of yoghurt or ice-cream for a creamy texture.
4. Natural yoghurt
One in two women over the age of 60 in Australia will fracture a bone due to osteoporosis. While exercise is critical to maintaining bone health, too much exercise may play havoc with hormone levels in some women.
For example, low oestrogen levels have been associated with low bone density in women. Female athletes who suffer amenorrhea (absent menstrual periods) from their high-intensity training regimes have a higher risk of stress fractures.
Getting enough calcium is crucial to preventing osteoporosis, and yoghurt is an excellent source of calcium. Yoghurt also contains vitamin B12, which can help prevent fatigue. Vitamin B12 is only found in meat and animal products, and a deficiency can lead to a type of anaemia.
Sports dietitians recommend yoghurt as the perfect recovery food for athletes as it is easy to consume and contains carbohydrates, which promote glycogen replenishment, and protein, which aids muscle recovery.
In addition, yoghurts contain active cultures called probiotics that are beneficial to immune function.
Diet tip: Grate cucumber and garlic into plain yoghurt for a delicious dip.
Oats are an excellent source of soluble fibre, which helps lower blood cholesterol and slows glucose absorption. Eating oats for breakfast can help maintain energy levels for longer and curb appetite.
Oats are an excellent source of B vitamins (great for energy production and stress management) and contain good amounts of zinc, which is important for immune function.
Diet tip: Soak rolled oats overnight in soy milk and apple juice and top with fresh chopped fruit for a refreshing breakfast.
Pasta is generally considered the top sports food. It is the meal of choice for loading up on carbohydrates one or two days before a big sporting event.
Carbohydrate-loading is a technique used by athletes to load up muscles before an event so they can maximise their available energy.
All pasta, whether white or brown, is low GI, which means the carbohydrates digest slowly and provide slow-release energy. Brown or whole-wheat pasta is generally higher in fibre, iron, zinc and B vitamins than its traditional counterpart.
Diet tip: Combine pasta with cooked, canned chickpeas and roasted tomatoes for a quick, power-packed meal.
7. Lean red meat
Lean red meat is an excellent source of iron, zinc, protein and vitamin B12. Iron deficiency is a very common problem for women and may lead to anaemia. Symptoms include tiredness and fatigue due to a lack of oxygen in the blood and other body tissues including muscles. It is very difficult to keep active or perform optimally if you are anaemic.
Female athletes are at a particularly high risk of iron deficiency irrespective of the type or intensity of exercise. While there are many physiological factors involved in female athletes’ vulnerability to iron deficiency, low dietary intake of iron is a major factor.
The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of iron for menstruating women aged 19-50 years is 18mg per day. Iron from animal foods like red meat is more easily absorbed than iron from plant foods, with 100g of red meat containing about 3-4g of iron.
Generally, the redder the meat, the higher the iron. For example, 100g of liver contains about 10g of iron, whereas 100g of pork has only 1g of iron. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend red meat to be eaten three to four times per week, especially for women and athletes, to maximise iron absorption.
Diet tip: Combine red meat meals with dark green leafy vegetables to enhance plant iron absorption.
Berries contain the highest antioxidant score of any fresh fruit. This means they can destroy free radicals in the body before they cause damage to healthy cells.
Athletes who partake in regular, intense exercise may be more vulnerable to free radical damage.Thus it is important for anyone who is very active to ensure their diet is high in antioxidants.
Diet tip: Opt for frozen berries when they are not in season – their antioxidant properties are maintained during the freezing process.
Oranges are great for a quick, refreshing energy boost that provides fluid, fibre and natural sugars. That’s why they’re a popular snack during half time in team sports.
Just one orange can provide an entire day’s requirement of vitamin C, which protects against oxidative stress that is heightened during exercise.
Oranges also contain flavonoids that help protect the immune system.
Diet tip: Eat the whole fruit rather than drinking just the juice, as you’ll get more fibre this way.
Bananas are a popular sports food as they are easy to transport, don’t need refrigeration and are a good source of carbohydrates.
They are also one of the more filling fruits, making them a great snack in between meals. Bananas are very high in potassium, one of the electrolytes that can be lost through sweat. Potassium is very important for heart and kidney health as well as bone density.
Diet tip: Squeeze lemon juice over bananas and freeze for a cool snack on a hot day