The Importance of Nuts and Seeds in an Athlete's Diet

Times have changed from when we used to joke about folks who ate "nuts and berries"the making's of a bland diet. Today's athletes routinely enjoy nuts and berries, and are now looking for ways to notch up their diets with more seedssuch as flax and chiaand whole grains like quinoa.

This trend can enhance the health of both our bodies and the planet. That is, by choosing more plant foods, we'll end up eating less meat and animal protein. If each of us were to eat just one less pound of beef per week, greenhouse gas emissions would drop significantly.

While seeds and grains are health-enhancing choices to include in your sports diet, their nutritional value can sometimes become exaggerated and mainstreamed.

More: 10 Tips to Eat Like a Pro Athlete

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds offer protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and many other nutrients. The fact that a plant grows from a nut or seed indicates it is life sustaining.

Many nuts and seeds offer alpha linoleic acid, also known as ALA, a type of health-protective omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. While ALA from plants is not as potent as the type of omega-3s found in fish, any omega-3 fat is better than none.

Want to add a nice crunch, along with vitamins and minerals, to your sports diet? Sprinkle some slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pistachios, sunflower and sesame seeds into your yogurt, cereal salad or smoothie. 

Despite all the benefits, dieters should be weary. When you nonchalantly toss a few spoonfuls of nuts and seeds into your smoothies and salads to pump up their nutritional value, you can also easily toss in 100 to 400 calories. While vegans may need this protein and calorie boost, weight-conscious athletes who consume dairy and animal proteins might want to think twice.

More: A Guide to High-Calorie, Nutrient-Dense Foods

Comparing Seeds and Nuts

This chart shows how 1/4 cup of nuts and seedstwo spoonfuls or a large handfuladds a lot of calories but minimal protein towards the daily target of about 60 to 90 grams of protein. To get enough protein, vegans still need additional plant proteins, like beans or tofu.

Seed

(1/4 cup, 30 g)

Calories

 

Protein

(grams)

Fiber

(grams)

Calcium

(grams)

Iron

(grams)

Chia 140 5
10
180
8
Flax, ground
150 5 8 70 1.5
Hemp 180 10
4
--
1
Sunflower 190 6 3 20 1
Pumpkin 170 9 2 50 2
Sesame 200 6 4 350 5
Walnuts 190 4 2 30 1
   

Daily Target:

60 to 90 grams

Daily Target:

25 to 35 grams

Daily Target:

1,000 mg

Daily Target:

8 mg men

18 women

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