5 Whole Foods That Should be in Every Athlete's Kitchen

Whole foods can energize, heal, and reduce the risk of illness.  The benefits of whole foods are catching on–fresh produce sales were up 4.8 percent in 2013, according to UnitedFresh.org and for good reason.
Some whole foods are particularly helpful for athletes looking to improve performance or nurse an injury.

Check your kitchen for these five super whole foods, and be sure to add any missing ones to your shopping list.

More: 5 Whole-Food Althernatives to Sports Products

1. Organic Coconut Oil

This saturated fat is known for its light coconut taste and high-smoke point. It's a great energy source in and during training because it's a significant source of lauric acid, a fatty acid that has anti-microbial properties. It promotes insulin sensitivity in cells, which discourages diabetes and fat storage, and potentially improves heart health markers.

Despite its many benefits, you may be under the impression that coconut oil is off-limits because it's a saturated fat. Not all saturated fats are the same. Organic, extra virgin coconut oil contains a high percentage of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)

MCTs have the advantage of being easy to digest, without need of extra lipid enzymes and bile salts and they're used directly by the mitochondria (energy producers) of the cells, and seldom stored as fat. Because of this, they don't negatively affect cholesterol levels or overall health.

Add it to Your Diet

  • For everyday nutrition: Incorporate organic extra virgin coconut oil into stir fry dishes, baked goods or as a replacement for butter
  • For training nutrition: Use it as an energy source before and during training, or as a recovery aid. Put it in a pre-training smoothie, post-training dish of mashed sweet potatoes, or mix it with chia seeds, honey and peanut butter for a quick snack. 

Recipe: Coconut Smoothie

2. Ginger

Ginger has long been a go-to supplement and food for general health promotion and reduction in joint pain. This powerhouse food is loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all of which work to reduce risk of disease and chronic inflammation. The nutrients in ginger also neutralize free radicals that can damage cells and promote gut health.

Recent studies show that ginger is effective in reducing muscle soreness and joint pain in athletes. In one study, participants took either 2 grams ginger or placebo each day for several days before strenuous exercise, and the ginger participants had a 25 percent reduction in soreness indicators versus those on the placebo.

Add it to Your Diet

  • For everyday nutrition: Use it daily in smoothies, stir fry dishes, salads and grated into sandwiches.
  • For training nutrition: Reduce post-training soreness by consuming 2 grams per day. You can choose 4 ginger pill supplements per day (check the label and only take four if they're 500 to 550 milligrams each), 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger each day, or 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger.

More: 4 Reasons Athletes Should Eat Ginger

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