Whether you’re plugging away on a demanding work project or aiming for a personal best in your next marathon, eating better can support your efforts. Although no single food can make you smarter or faster, there are many that not only taste great but can also boost your nutrient intake while helping you optimize your performance.
Here are four registered-dietitian-approved options:
“Research suggests this ruby-red root veggie helps boost endurance beyond what is achievable through training alone,” says registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees. To add them to your diet, Sass recommends using a few fresh, peeled baby beets in your pre-workout smoothie, shredding fresh peeled beets with a box grater and adding them to a salad, or folding them into almond butter, along with freshly grated ginger.
Joy Bauer, nutritionist for the New York City Ballet, considers Greek yogurt a great option for long-lasting energy. “It’s packed with protein—twice as much as traditional yogurt,” she says. “Protein is also more satiating than carbohydrates or fat, and it helps build and repair muscle and other body tissues.” Bauer also recommends Greek yogurt to anyone looking to boost performance because of the bone-strengthening calcium it contains. If you’d rather not eat Greek yogurt by itself, she suggests topping it with some dark chocolate chips and chopped strawberries or mixing it with avocado, garlic and fresh herbs to create a tasty dip.
Both Bauer and Sass love bananas. “They’re portable, portion-controlled and provide high-quality carbohydrates for staying energized during long rehearsals and intense performances,” Bauer says. And Sass says bananas are her go-to recommendation for pre-exercise fuel, especially close to the start of a workout. “They’re easy to digest and don’t tend to cause bloating or gut irritation,” she says.
But bananas have other perks, too. “The combination of carbohydrates and B vitamins in bananas supports blood sugar stabilization and mental clarity, and the potassium supports muscle contractions and heart rhythm,” Sass says. “Bananas also help boost dopamine, which supports both movement and mood.”
Although Sass thinks bananas are perfect solo snacks, she also suggests eating them drizzled with organic honey or whipping them into a pre-exercise smoothie. Bauer likes to make a power meal by mixing a sliced banana with a few tablespoons of granola and cottage cheese. “Or you can slice a half banana lengthwise, add a smear of peanut butter in the middle, cover and slice into wheels, and then freeze for a perfect grab-and-go snack,” Bauer says.
According to Sass, dark chocolate contains natural substances that help open up circulation. “This means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, cardiovascular system and working muscles,” she says. “Plus, dark chocolate has also been shown to enhance mental focus and improve mood, and offset exercise-induced cell damage, which means less wear-and-tear on athletes’ bodies and enhanced recovery.” To get your fix, Sass recommends a few squares of 70 percent dark organic chocolate 30 to 45 minutes prior to exercise.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Elisa Zied is an award-winning New York State certified dietitian nutritionist and the author of Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction) and three other consumer titles. A past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, she received a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in clinical nutrition from New York University. For more than two decades, she has garnered millions of media impressions through her TV appearances, articles and blogs. Having recently discovered her passion for reading and writing fiction, she is currently working on her first novel. She lives in New York City with her husband of 24 years and her two sons. When she’s not reading, she enjoys long walks and hikes, hula hooping, seeing Broadway shows and movies, attending book signings and festivals, and interviewing her favorite authors for her Food, Fitness & Fiction blog.