Illustration by David Plunkert
Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, 44, has found an alternative to energy bars and packets of caffeinated gel. Come race day, the so-called "fittest man in the world" fuels up on...muscat melon? With athletes spending an estimated four billion dollars a year on sports nutrition products and recent studies questioning the benefits of vitamins and supplements, opting for all natural seems almost revolutionary.
For Karnazes, bucking the trend in favor of "slow carbs," monounsaturated fats and fruits with a low glycemic index has paid off: "My body fat decreased and my percentage of lean muscle increased without making changes in my workouts," he says. "And I have more consistent energy levels throughout the day."
This whole-foods approach is also the mantra of Suzanne Girard Eberle, a sports dietitian in Portland, Oregon, and author of the highly regarded handbook Endurance Sports Nutrition (Human Kinetics). "Vitamins and minerals don't give us energy," she says. "That comes from carbs, proteins and fats in healthy foods." (See "Menu of the Mighty," below.) Packaged power may goose you during a hard run or ride, but eating au naturel, it seems, can help separate the winners from the also-rans.
Menu of the Mighty
Some dietary standouts can boost both health and performance. Here sports dietician Suzanne Girard Eberle prescribes wholesome power foods for everyday athletes.
Low-Fat Milk: Has protein, calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. In one study, even low-fat chocolate milk helped athletes recover after a strenuous workout.
Edamame: A source of the highest quality plantbased protein--soy--which may reduce heart disease and cancer risk. It's the red meat alternative for vegetarians.
Peanut Butter: With four grams of protein per tablespoon along with heart-healthy fat, it can reduce diabetes risk and, in moderation, keep weight in check.
Lentils: High in protein (18 grams per cup), iron and complex carbohydrates; also has 16 grams of fiber per cup, which helps maintain digestive balance.
Albacore Tuna: Two ounces provides 15 grams of protein. Opt for troll-caught (available canned) for more healthy fat and less mercury per serving.
Lean Red Meat: A leading source of dietary protein; contains loads of heme iron (the bestabsorbed form of this mineral); and provides muscle-healing zinc.