Optimal energy-dense foods for athletes… a data-driven guide
If you’re an athlete, the “problem” with nutrient-dense foods like non-starchy vegetables and organ meats is that it can be hard to get enough fuel to support your activity.
The best foods for athletes are energy dense but are not nutrient dense but rather are fast burning foods that don’t contain a lot of essential nutrients. These foods may provide fuel for the short term, but they can lead to gut distress in the short term and as well as inflammation and insulin resistance in the long term.
To overcome these problems, this list of foods has been engineered to be both nutrient dense and energy dense to ensure someone who is very active can get enough fuel while maximising nutrient density as much as possible.
The energy density of the foods listed below comes out at 367 calories per 100g compared to 231 calories per 100g for all foods in the USDA foods database. They will contain enough energy to fuel an active life without spending all day chewing or overfilling your stomach.
From a macronutrient perspective these foods will provide you with:
- more protein for muscle recovery,
- more fat to produce energy,
- more fibre due to the lower level of processing, and
- less non-fibre carbohydrates which will normalise blood glucose levels while still providing some glucose for explosive power.
The chart below shows that these foods are quite nutrient dense, with all of the nutrients achieving greater than the daily recommended intake.
The best foods for athletes
Listed below are the top 10% of the foods using this ranking including:
- nutrient density score (ND)
- energy density (calories/100g) and
- their multi-criteria analysis score (MCA).
While the vegetables and spices in this list aren’t particularly energy dense, they will ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need to perform at your best. The lower energy density vegetables have been removed because they won’t be that helpful fueling for race day.
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Seafood packs some nutrient density and energy density at the same time.
eggs and dairy
Eggs are nutritionally excellent. Butter has plenty of energy.
Fats and oils
Fats and oils don’t contain a broad range of micronutrients, but they’re a great way to fuel without excessively raising your blood glucose or insulin too. From an inflammatory perspective, they’re going to be better than process grains and glucose for fueling as well as keeping insulin levels low to enable you to access your fat stores during endurance activities.
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Grains and cereals
The more nutrient dense bran component of wheat makes the cut. However, the more processed and more popular grains don’t make the list. Many people find the “train low, race high” approach to be useful to ensure you are fat adapted through fasted or low glycogen training but have some glucose in the system for explosive bursts on race day.
Legumes are moderately nutrient dense and have a higher energy density than most vegetables. Properly prepared legumes can be a cost-effective way of getting energy and nutrients, though not everyone’s gut handles them well.
nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great way to get some energy in, though they’re not as high in the harder to find nutrients.
Organ meats also do well in terms of nutrient density. Fattier cuts of meat will pack some more energy.
|ham (lean only)||11||113||1.2|
post updated October 2018