The Top 10 Superfoods for Maximising a Masters Athlete’s Health

I’ve always been a healthy eater. Mum used to emphasise mixing up the vegetable colours on the plate. She always had plenty of fruit around. In boxes usually because she had five of us ‘rugrats’, all of us very active playing Rugby, Swimming, Surfing , reeking havoc on the pushbikes in the street or playing tackle footy in the back yard against the local neighbourhood kids.

As I’ve gotten older and become a sport and exercise scientist, I’ve realised “Noela the Bowler” was right. The science of nutrition has identified a number of food types that can reduce the risk of chronic disease, make the immune system stronger, slow down the ageing process, and enhance our overall health. While most of us know what these foods are, recent has shown that only about a third of us eat them! So here they are! Buy them and eat them!

  1. Green leafy vegetables. These guys are rich in antioxidants that assist in cell development and slow the damage and aging of cells. Salad greens, parsley, baby spinach, bok choy and silverbeet are examples. We should have one serve of these a day.
  2.  Citrus fruits. These contain many different phytochemicals which are plant chemicals that may have protective or disease preventive properties. Citrus fruits contain strong antioxidant properties also and are thus great for the immune system so important for athletes of any age who train regularly. We should have at least one serve per day. I have 3-4 oranges a day and rarely, if ever get sick! Maybe it was all that rumbling in the back yard as a kid or maybe it’s those navels I eat! Oranges, mandarins, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons and limes are the ones. The oil in the rinds is also beneficial so try sticking the squeezed rind into some cold water with or without the juice.
  3. Berries. Blueberries, strawberries, mulberries (climbed a few of these in my day!), blackberries, cranberries, raspberries and loganberries have been shown to harden up the immune system and maybe improve memory – I think! We should have one serve of these a week.
  4. Nuts. Eating unsalted nuts regularly has been shown to lower heart disease risk between 30-50%. While all nuts are a good source of vitamin E which is an antioxidant and good for the skin, brazil nuts are rich in selenium that is important for the immune system while walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids important for heart health. We should have a handful of these three to five times a week.
  5. Cruciferous Vegetables. These are the ‘bunch’ type veges like cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccoli. These guys contain a phytochemical called sulforaphane that protects our body’s cells against pollutants and free radicals caused by hard exercise that may attack healthy cells. We should have these three to four times a week.
  6. Legumes. These include alfalfa, peas, baked beans, kidney beans, three bean mix, chick peas, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soy, and peanuts. They are very rich in protein, fibre, potassium, iron and zinc and have low glycemic index.  Given the research on young and older athletes highlights the importance of protein, iron and zinc in their diet, legumes are a must! The research would suggest these be served two or more times a week.
  7. Whole grains. Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. They include brown rice, rolled oats, barley, millet, corn, rye, wholemeal pasta, and breads with lots of grains. They have numerous health benefits including reducing the risk of stroke, heart disease and type II diabetes. The research suggest two serves a day.
  8. Yoghurt. Yoghurt has been shown to maintain healthy bacteria in the gut, thus helping digestion and maintaining and building a strong immune system. One serve a day is recommended.
  9. Fresh herbs and spices. Fresh herbs have more health benefits than the dried varieties you see on the supermarket shelves. They are rich sources of antioxidants with each having their own health benefits. For example, garlic has been shown to inhibit the growth of many bacteria, viruses, moulds and yeast (including candida). These include garlic, ginger, oregano, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary and sage (that sounds familiar!), onions, coriander, and caraway seeds. These are easily added to foods and should be added to the diet regularly.
  10. Fish. Fish are well known for their heart health benefits. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, trout, herring, sardines and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lower blood pressure (slightly). Fish should be included in the diet twice a week at meals or four lighter meals a week if on sandwiches.