Female athletes occupy a unique space in our culture.
As icons of fitness, active women have an opportunity to both instruct those who follow their lead while correcting misconceptions around female-forward athletics.
A prime example of this is eating a healthy diet.
What’s in a healthy, fit diet?
Balanced macronutrients from protein, complex carbs and healthy fats … with plenty of micronutrients and nutritional cofactors to ensure ideal fitness.
More research emerges every day about how to optimize the variable diets of women and men. Biologically aware in new ways, strong is the new skinny. Nowadays, fasting is out and premium nutrition is in!
Here are the 10 best everyday foods all female athletes can include to improve overall nutritional health and athletic performance. Guys, you can come, too.
As far as superfoods are concerned, coconut oil is #1. As a prime source of worry-free saturated fat, the healthiest of diets incorporate this versatile tropical staple. A great source of healthy fat, coconut oil is perfect for cooking with or adding to your daily whole foods.
Coconut oil is also full of energizing medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are hugely beneficial to the body. The ketones inside coconut oil bring instant energy to your brain and have been shown to fight Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.
MCTs also fight disease, optimize cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation and prevent sun damage.
Studies have shown that cardio-heavy athletes benefit from plenty of coconut oil in their diet.
Because endurance training can lead to immune system weakness without proper levels of MCTs, those who consumed coconut oil as part of a healthy workout routine maintained good health.
If you’ve held off until now, try this nourishing treat today.
A high-performance diet can do no better than protein from wild-caught salmon.
A delicious source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well, salmon’s anti-inflammatory properties keep joints from hurting while staving off heart disease and depression. Supplementing with omega-3-rich fish oil is now commonplace for those who want keep levels high but can’t always consume salmon.
Bone-in saltwater fish like salmon (and canned sardines) also provide boatloads of calcium to maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. Women need more calcium than men, so including proper saltwater fish in your diet is super-important.
As a backup for those days without fish, leafy greens provide a decent amount of calcium.
If you’re a busy athlete, bananas are your super-convenient, ultra-healthy best friend.
Eat bananas before workouts for instant energy from fructose and fast-acting complex carbs. The potassium in bananas will prevent muscle cramps as well and keep your muscles ready to perform.
Dip or slather them with nut butter to add proteins and healthy fats to sustain you for longer gym sessions.
After your workout, the potassium helps you properly absorb fluids after sweat losses.
Don’t eat too many bananas in one day, though. These yellow portables pack 12 grams of fructose, about half of your total 25% of the recommended daily allowance of sugar.
Enjoy them sparingly for good dietary fiber as well.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the U.S. and women are among those at the greatest risk. Iron is needed to help deliver oxygen through the blood and to the body.
If you don’t get enough iron, your energy will take a nosedive.
"Dark meat poultry is significantly lower in fat than red meat yet it has all the iron, zinc and B vitamins that women need in their diets," says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., sports nutritionist and author of the book “Power Eating.”
Almonds and almond butter are full of dense nutritional value and long-lasting energy from proteins and healthy fats ... perfect for athletes.
According to Kate Patton, RD for the Cleveland Indians:
“[Nuts have] unsaturated fat to fight inflammation, protein to support recovery, fiber to help maintain energy levels and vitamins and minerals to support all the physiological functions they play a role in."
Almonds are especially high in magnesium, crucial to delivering oxygen to the body during workouts. Nature’s nutty oval gem is also loaded with potassium, an electrolyte that enables optimal muscular functioning.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also shows that almonds balance healthy HDL and unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels. Plus, the skins are packed with antioxidants.
Pecans, peanuts and walnuts are also great sources of monounsaturated fats - just like avocados. Sprinkle them into your diet as great additions to homemade trail mix or with Greek yogurt for a healthy breakfast.
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids are essential to every active woman. And olive oil is an ideal source of omega-3s. Plus, it tastes great with almost everything.
Consume olive oil to help with hormonal development as well as maximizing energy and brain function.
When the University of Buffalo conducted a year-long survey of female runners, they saw that those who suffered the most injuries consumed far fewer calories from fats than their healthy counterparts.
Olive oil is a natural anti-inflammatory and will speed along recovery in muscles, ligaments and tendons after those intense training sessions.
Be sure to grab extra-virgin olive oil. Like all cold processed nutrients, this preserves the antioxidant and nutritional values best.
Salad tip: Mix olive oil with a bit of fresh-squeezed orange juice and Dijon mustard for a tangy, delicious and healthy dressing!
Chewing through all this good nutrition, you’ll want an equally healthy beverage to match. Green tea has your back!
Green tea is to beverages what coconut is to food: a superstar compound.
Full of antioxidant and anti-aging properties, you really can’t drink enough green tea (just cut down before bedtime). With about 40 mg of performance-enhancing caffeine per serving, green tea makes a great pre-workout drink. It will also elevate your metabolism for 24 hours after consumption.
The epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) antioxidant in green tea is linked to reducing muscle damage, increased fat burning during and following exercise and improving brain function.
We can’t recommend too much dairy, but ricotta cheese is so beneficial we couldn’t leave it off the list.
Full of protein combating the effects of training, ricotta protein is largely derived from whey, a powerful and high-quality protein full of nutritional benefits beyond building muscle.
Whey protein sources have been studied by Canadian scientists to improve the ratio of muscle to body fat in women who included in their 6-week weight training program.
By no means new to the health scene, kale deserves its place because it’s chock-full of healthy fiber, vitamin K, beta-carotene, vitamin C and manganese.
These micronutrients assist with producing energy from the carbohydrates and proteins you eat. Potassium is an essential electrolyte in kale that ensures proper brain, nerve and muscle functioning.
Add kale to a post-workout protein shake to make sure your muscles and mind are ready to press on. The USDA recommends women consume a minimum of three cups of dark greens such as kale, spinach or broccoli every week.
Kale is also an outstanding antioxidant with lutein and zeaxanthin to protect against sun damage during those runs outside.
While whey protein isn’t necessarily a food, it is a natural part of cow’s milk.
Because you can add it easily to shakes, whey protein is the easiest item to add to your routine.
Protein is essential to your performance as an athlete in terms of building and maintaining muscle for performance. Protein is the most fulfilling macronutrient available and a great source of energy before and after workouts.
Whey protein is widely used by athletes and much preferred to casein powder. It delivers the necessary amino acids and is seamlessly absorbed into the body, assuming it’s cold processed and grass-fed whey protein.
Grass-fed and cold processed whey proteins are recommended because of their organic, non-GMO contents. Unlike whey protein isolates and heat-treated whey products, cold processed whey retains vital micronutrients and nutritional cofactors to help you max out your workouts and get the best nutrition from each item on this list.
For female athletes - or those looking to be more active - this is the list of 10 necessary foods to add to your diet. Balance your daily macronutrients with lean animal proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs from vegetables and fruits and you’ll be ready to tackle any physical challenge. Just be sure to get adequate micronutrients to support these pillars of athletic nutrition.