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5 Superfoods to Boost Your Workout (Backed by Science!)

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Posted by Aaron Gerry of Cognitea under Nutrition on 13 November 2014 at 12:00 AM

We demand a lot from our bodies, but in order to take our performance to the next level, we need to consume more of the good stuff. After all, about 75% of our fitness is dictated by our diet. Luckily, we’ve organized 5 powerful and functional superfoods that are scientifically shown to: Help you get you in the zone for your athletic endeavor, boost your workout, and aid your recovery.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Aaron Gerry of CogniTea, a startup that makes a cognitive boosting tea for athletes. 

Tea: All-Natural “Pre-Workout”

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world behind water, and for good reason. For one, tea contains hundreds of bioactive compounds, such as amino acids, caffeine, and flavonoids. Flavonoids, and their sub-class, flavonols, are antioxidants that help to reduce the damage to cells, and are shown to have cardiovascular, chemopreventive, metabolic, neuroprotective, and other health benefits.

Athletically speaking, tea makes a great all-natural pre-workout drink. The obvious reason is that tea contains caffeine, which confers an energy boost and mental alertness. Black tea has around 14-70 mg while green tea has between 24-45 mg

However, tea has an ace in the hole when it comes to performance, providing a cognitive boost that other energy sources simply can’t match. Specifically, L-Theanine is an amino acid found almost exclusively in tea, that works synergistically with caffeine to improve sustained concentration, enhance focus, and increase reaction time -- boosting your mind and body whether in the gym or on the field.

Iced #CogniTea, you say? But of course, it's #NationalIcedTeaDay! #SummerLivingAintBad

A photo posted by CogniTea (@officialcognitea) on Jun 6, 2014 at 8:34am PDT

How to use: Studies have shown that 1-6 cups of green tea per day can increase the antioxidant capacity of the bloodstream. If you needed more reason to start drinking this healthy libation, tea flavonoids and flavonols are the major contributor of flavonoids in the American diet

Raw Cacao Powder: Post-Gym Treat

Ahh, another reason to love chocolate! Cocoa contains more antioxidants than most foods, including high levels of flavonols, such as catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins. Flavonols are antioxidants that are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and coffee. Dark chocolate offers a significantly higher concentration of catechins (in particular, (-)-epicatechin) and other bioactives compared to other edible forms of the treat.

Cocoa flavanols are known to improve blood flow by relaxing blood vessels, and may also reduce blood pressure, which is helpful for decreasing heart disease and improving recovery post-exercise. One study found that soccer players who consumed chocolate once daily for 14 days, showed improvements in various measures of oxidative stress, such as a decrease in diastolic blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). Give yourself a treat after a workout to help your body recuperate!

How to take: Consuming between 25-40 grams (½ to 1 small bar) of raw, organic, chocolate, containing at least 85% cocoa by weight, a day is a good recommendation to achieve a high level of flavanols. Bear in mind, you can also get flavonols from tea and wine, so you don’t need to over do the chocolate. Or maybe you do. :D

Tumeric: Performance Boosting Spice

Turmeric (yup, the same ingredient as in your favorite curry dishes!) has been used for 4,000 years to treat a variety of conditions, and offers a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in the form of curcumin. For fitness, exercise-induced physiological stress can cause inflammation, which can impede muscle repair and slow recovery. By supplementing with tumeric post-workout, you can expedite recovery.

One study showed that supplementation of 150mg of curcumin was associated with an increase in blood flow over the course of 8 weeks, offering comparable results to the other experimental group who engaged in physical exercise 3x per week. Additionally, another study showed a significant (about 40%) increase in circulating nitric oxide for healthy persons who supplemented with 80mg of curcumin daily for four weeks. Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels, increasing blood flow and decreasing plaque growth.

How to take: Curcumin can be taken in capsule form (in the range of 80-500mg), but it is not the most bio-available substance in extract form. You can also drink it as a tea or pair it with black pepper to enhance absorption.

Chia: Better Carb-Loading

No longer just the “hair-sprouting” accessory for your favorite Chia Pet, chia seeds are a nutrient-dense superfood that can augment your carb-loading regimen for endurance events. They have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids (about 2.1 grams of ALA per tablespoon), which makes it a strong option for those who don’t eat fish, as well as offering fiber, pro­tein, cal­cium, phos­pho­rus, mag­ne­sium, and antioxidants.

In one study, researchers wanted to see if chia seeds enhanced performance for endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes. They gave one group a combination of 50% calories from chia seeds and 50% calories from Gatorade, while the other group consumed 100% calories from Gatorade. The results? The mixture worked just as well, but with less sugar and increased nutritional intake. This suggests that chia may work well during your carb-loading stage pre-endurance event. However, it is important to note there were no endurance improvements observed from the chia mixture.

How to take: It is recommended that you soak the small seeds in liq­uid for 10–15 min­utes, which gives it a gelatinous texture, or grind it into a powder and add it to your smoothie.

Beetroot Juice

Beetroot juice is making waves for its endurance boosting capabilities, largely due to its high nitrate content.

One study showed that nine club-level competitive male cyclists who ingested 500mL of beetroot juice 150 minutes prior to a time trail were able to achieve a 2.8% improvement in the first 4km of the trial and 2.7% after 16.1km. In another study of runners, 11 recreationally active people consuming a single dose of beetroot juice (over 500mg of nitrate) 75 minutes prior to a 5 km trial were able to complete the run 41 seconds faster than the control group. This may seem like small improvements, but in a race where seconds make all the difference, this could be the boost you need to take your performance to the next level.

How to take: Consumption of beetroots can be either via a puree or smoothie, or the beets themselves can be baked for a delicious chip treat.

What foods do you eat (or drink) to get you going for a workout? Any superfoods you’d add to the list? Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below!

Check out CogniTea’s all-natural “productive energy” tea and enjoy a special upgrade using this special link. Purchase before December 15, 2014 and receive additional tea for Free, as well as other goodies. Check out their tea at www.cognitea.com.

Aaron Gerry is a guest contributor and Chief Tea-Slinger at CogniTea, the “productive energy” tea for athletes and entrepreneurs. CogniTea is crafted to optimize the cognitive-enhancing properties of tea -- with up to 10x the amount of L-Theanine as found in green tea, and 90mg of caffeine, it provides increased focus, alertness, and mental clarity. Aaron is an avid runner, aiming to run his first 50-miler in 2015, enjoys optimizing routine, and relishes a good book. You can find him on twitter @aarongerry. 

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