Top Superfoods That Enhance Athletic Performance

Updated on September 14, 2017
veganfitspiration profile image

Amy is a Registered Dietitian and avid ultra-marathon runner. She mixes her love of science, nutrition, and athletics to enhance performanc

If you haven’t heard of superfoods by this time, you must be living under a rock. Superfoods are all the rage among food-trend watchers, health-food enthusiasts, and especially top athletes.

A superfood is defined as, “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. In the case of athletes, superfoods are also beneficial for training, endurance, and performance.



Maca grows naturally as a root. It was originally cultivated in Peru by the Incans, who used this root to enhance endurance while fighting in war. Peruvians not only take maca root as a supplement, but they consume it as a food, much like we would eat carrots or potatoes in the Western world. Maca only grows at high elevation and local Peruvians hold claim to the fact that it allows visitors, at risk for altitude sickness, to adapt faster to the elevation.

The marketplace is flooded with maca products marketed for endurance, and rightly so. Maca works by improving oxygen transportation in the body. Efficient oxygen transportation means a higher capacity for endurance, greater energy levels, and increased mental clarity. In a race like an ultra-marathon, all of these components come together to give an athlete a significant advantage. The advantages extend to speed as well. A research study looking at endurance cyclists supplemented with maca, showed a significant improvement in speed from their baseline times.

Maca root is a good source of amino acids as well. Because muscles are composed of amino acids, this makes maca great as a recovery tool. After stress-induced exercise, maca can fill in the gaps for muscle repair. It also works by reducing inflammation and nourishing overstressed adrenal glands. Maca root is most easily found for purchase as a ground powder. I buy an organic maca root powder online, but co-ops and alternative health food stores may carry it as well.

Maca Root

Chia Seeds

If you happen to have read the top-seller book “Born to Run” or fell victim to purchasing this superfood as a ‘household pet’, you have likely already heard of chia seeds. In the book, Born to Run, the Tarahumara, an ultra-running indigenous tribe in Mexico, swear by the benefits of these seeds for endurance and stamina when running distances of up to 400+ miles. Google them if you want your daily dose of inspiration. After the book came out, I started seeing chia seeds for sale by store checkouts, in bulk containers at co-ops, and plastered across magazine covers as the next superfood for athletes.

While perhaps not a miracle food, these seeds are packed with nutrients. They are a rich source of fiber, protein, magnesium, phosphorous and the anti-inflammatory fat, omega-3-fatty acid. Consuming anti-inflammatory fat is very important to athletes that are inducing stress on their bodies through high-intensity workouts or competitions.

Research has evaluated the efficacy of chia seeds as fuel in endurance sports lasting greater than 90 minutes; the results show that they work as well as carbohydrate supplements (sports drinks, GU’s, bars) with the added benefit of the omega-3-fatty acids. While there weren’t any surprise performance enhancing advantages discovered through the research, these tiny seeds do pack a nutritional punch with their healthy fat, protein, and nutrient content.

Chia Seeds

Goji Berries

Goji Berries come from a shrub native to china. Historically, Chinese took this berry in hopes of longer lives with increased energy and stamina. These brightly pigmented, red berries are hard to miss, and are typically found in stores dried like raisins.

Goji berries are considered an adaptogen, meaning they can aid in dealing with stress and boost your immune system. They are also one of the highest anti-oxidant foods on earth; therefore they can eliminate damaged cells (free radicals) in the body.

They can be a bit hard to chew, so soaking them in a cup of water for half an hour can help soften them. I like to eat them as a dried, chewy snack in trail mix.

Have you ever purchased a 'superfood' to enhance your athletic performance?

See results

Goji Berries Topping a Smoothie

Beet Juice or Beet Powder

Olympians and the average health-enthusiast have both been found guzzling down beet juice before practice and competition. The reason being -research is making beet juice look nearly as effective as illegal blood doping for performance enhancement.

Research shows that beet juice or powder is effective because of its high concentration of nitrates. These nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessel to dilate, allowing better perfusion and more oxygen getting to muscles during physical activity. More oxygen means faster times running up hills or greater endurance on longer endeavors.

Beet juice is also high in vitamins and antioxidants making it additionally beneficial for healing stressed cells in the body. When taking advantage of the beet juice benefits, research points out that is good to consume 3 hours before planned fitness activities to gain peak benefits.

I typically consume beet juice by simply adding a beet into my cold-pressed juice mixes, but beet powders and supplements are available on the market as well.

Fresh Beets

Try For Yourself

New science on superfoods is emerging every day and benefits are becoming more obvious for athletes. Understanding the power of superfoods can optimize your performance, recovery, and help you have the best edge in your field.

Trial and error is a process for any athlete, and incorporating one superfood into your diet at a time can allow you to personally identify any benefits.

If you are consuming superfoods in the form of supplements, it is important to discuss these with your doctor before starting any new regimen.


Stone M., Ibarra A., Roller M., Zangara A., Stevenson E. A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2009;126(3):574–576. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.012.

Illian T.G., Casey J.C., Bishop P.A. Omega 3 Chia seed loading as a means of carbohydrate loading. J. Strength Cond. Res. 2011;25:61–65. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fef85c.

Potterat O. Goji (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense): phytochemistry, pharmacology and safety in the perspective of traditional uses and recent popularity. Planta Med. 76, 7–19 (2010).

Bond H, Morton L, Braakhuis AJ (2012) Dietary nitrate supplementation improves rowing performance in well-trained rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 22(4):251–256

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This is another great article helping athletes. It is nice to find free articles by Registered Dietitians. Thank you.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I use a lot of these. Have you ever eaten goji berries fresh?

    • veganfitspiration profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Colorado Springs

      Thanks GreenMachine!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Solid writing, veganfitspiration! Keep the good stuff coming!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)