Franceska Marinkovic

Top 10 superfoods for endurance athletes

All endurance athletes experience high physiological stress during intense and prolonged workouts and races, often accompanied by inflammation, weakened immune system, and oxidative damage. These are absolutely normal exercise-induced changes, but it is important to notice that they are sensitive to nutritional influences.

That means that every endurance athlete should have a personalized meal plan in order to reduce the effects of these transient perturbations. Not only, one of the crucial things is the timing and the amounts of the nutrients you consume. For example, you may have already heard that food rich in nitrates can boost your performance. Great, now you can indulge yourself in spinach! But wait, how much, combined with what and mostly when? These are the questions only nutrition professionals can answer and provide you with a perfect training nutrition plan to show tangible results.

In the last decade, many studies were performed to find the link between consuming certain types of food and the improvement of athletic performance and recovery. Well, some aliments showed promising results when it comes to endurance, and they should indeed become a part of your meal plan.

Athletes tend to use a wide variety of supplements to delay fatigue onset, boost the immune system, and reduce recovery periods.

But what about erogenic foods? Do “superfoods” that can enhance your endurance really exist, and what does the science say about them? Let’s find out.

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Banana is a great energy source for all athletes, as it is rich in carbohydrates and potassium.

Due to their nutritional characteristics, bananas appear to be an excellent blend of carbohydrates, nutrients, and antioxidants that can provide good nutritional support even during prolonged and intense exercise.  Its carbohydrate composition and glycemic index may vary according to the state of ripeness.

Bananas contain about 15% of carbohydrates, of which we have about 5% of glucose, 4.9% of fructose, and 2.4% of sucrose. The main guidelines indicate 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour are necessary to maintain endurance sessions longer than 2 hours. Therefore, one or two bananas can guarantee the generally tolerated carbohydrate amount.

The only “problem” is the high amount of soluble fiber, which slightly interferes with the absorption of nutrients. That could make banana look like an excellent option to consume before an intense workout, but more like a second option during training. On the other hand, several studies showed that it might not be like that.

This randomized, crossover study compared the effect of ingesting bananas vs. 6% carbohydrate drink (0.2 g/kg of carbohydrates every 15 min) on the performance of trained cyclists during a 75 km time trial. The results obtained indicate that both ingestions of bananas and carbohydrate-based drinks supported cycling performance with no difference in performance measures.


Among the main goals of a proper nutrition plan for an endurance athlete are maintaining adequate body composition, optimizing performance, and reducing the risk of gastrointestinal problems. Well, bluefish consumption seems to give a helping hand, especially for high-level competition performance, speedy recovery, and against immune perturbations.

Bluefish like salmon, trout, mackerel, or tuna is rich in essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help transport oxygen to the cells, thus increasing energy production. Intense training can result in oxidative damage to cellular compounds and aggravate markers of muscle fiber damage.

Consuming foods rich in these fatty acids is crucial for endurance athletes, as it helps reduce inflammation and, therefore, enhances recovery.

For endurance athletes, Omega 3 fatty acids, along with minerals and vitamins, seem to be the most effective nutritional countermeasure against inflammation. Regular consumption of these nutrients also improves cognitive functions and supports the cardiovascular system, enhancing endurance under stress. It promotes the feeling of satiety, and having a relatively good amount of high-quality proteins, it accelerates recovery.


Healthy meal plans for endurance athletes should include quinoa because of its extraordinary nutritional value. This pseudo-cereal is super rich in flavonoids such as quercetin, known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects.

Quinoa contains about 14 g of high-quality proteins per 100 g, for a total of 370 calories, making it a valid alternative to meat and dairy products, especially if combined with coconut oil, for example. Quinoa also contains all the essential amino acids.

Another important aspect is the low glycemic index, equal to 35, making quinoa a valuable source of carbohydrates for those who have diabetes and a perfect pre-competition meal for athletes. It helps to avoid the onset of hypoglycemic crises during physical exercise.

Beetroot juice

As an endurance athlete, you have probably already heard about the numerous benefits of beetroot juice. Nitrates are the keyword!

Nitrates are natural substances contained in some plants like spinach, beets, and lettuce. They get rapidly absorbed by the stomach and small intestine. They get converted into nitrites and nitrogen monoxide. The latter has numerous functions in your body, like increasing the blood flow and consequently makes the production of ATP (energy) in the mitochondria easier. Dietary nitrate gained significant attention among endurance athletes after a study showed various bodily effects of nitric oxide, such as decreased oxygen cost for submaximal exercise workloads.

The nitrates contained in beet juice and leafy greens can improve athletic performance by:

  • improving cardiorespiratory performance at VO2max intensities.
  • delaying fatigue onset
  • Increasing metabolic efficiency

Some studies performed on runners demonstrated an increase in the speed of about 3% after consuming beetroot juice or cooked beetroot.

The concentration of nitrite ion in the plasma reaches the peak about 2-3 hours after ingestion of beet juice (the recommended dose of nitrates equals ½ liter of beetroot juice within 90 minutes before training). Spinach, for example, will not give you the same advantages if eaten before the race, and to obtain similar effects, it should be consumed for several days before the race and in high amounts.


Oats are probably the most healthies whole grains with high nutritional quality. They are a rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, and soluble fiber. The carbohydrates contained in oats have a low glycemic index and provide prolonged energy over time. Having loads of soluble fiber, oats aid digestion, stabilize blood glucose levels (i.e., sustained energy supply), and maintain your gut healthy.

Oats are also rich in polyphenols, like avenanthramides, a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents, perfect for the post-workout phase. 

Several studies demonstrated that oat beta-glucan promotes cardiovascular health, post-endurance fatigue recovery, and attenuates immune suppression.


Potatoes are another high-carbohydrate food rich in nutrients like potassium, vitamin C and B-group vitamins. Lately, several studies have proved that it should be on the top of your carbs-to-eat list, and this is why.

Before and during the race or prolonged training, you need to do everything to sustain your performance with the proper fueling strategy. Now, who would have thought that potatoes can be part of a winning nutrition strategy?!

This study demonstrated that ingestion of potato puree is equally effective compared to carbohydrate gels in maintaining blood glucose concentration, facilitating gastric emptying, and supporting cycling performance. The study included three groups (12 elite cyclists per group). The third (control) group was the one that received a placebo, and it showed a decline in performance.

Stick to the plan!

Note that gastrointestinal symptoms after the race were slightly higher in the cyclist who ingested potatoes, probably due to resistant starch formation. That is exactly why you should never change your nutrition plan before the race, as it could mess up your plans. No matter what new studies show or how promising the results may seem, always stick to the plan. New nutrition strategies need to be tested away from race periods.


The phytonutrients contained in berries are found to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, bringing numerous benefits to your body, especially after a strenuous workout. Berries are packed with vitamins and minerals, essential molecules to support your performance. Potent antioxidants from berries will support your immune system and reduce oxidative damage after prolonged training.

This study showed that blueberry supplementation could increase athletic performance and decrease inflammation markers (like C-reactive protein) in the blood.


Nuts are a perfect source of concentrated energy.

They are super rich in micronutrients like magnesium and potassium, and B-group vitamins. The balance of these micronutrients in your body is essential for your athletic performance. For example, an inadequate intake of some B group vitamins can cause a decline in athletic performance and hinder muscle tissues’ natural repair process.

Nuts like almonds and walnuts are also an excellent source of proteins and Omega fatty acids, which are extremely important during the recovery phase. Same as written above for bluefish.

But there is more: this study showed that whole almonds as a part of an athletic nutrition plan could improve several elements related to endurance performance, even more than isocaloric cookies in trained athletes. Some nutrients present in almonds like arginine seem to enhance carbohydrate and oxygen utilization.

Coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil

Many studies confirm that both extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are rich in nutrients that enhance athletic performance. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which among many health benefits, boost endurance, strengthen the immune system and improve cognitive functions. Click here to read more about the numerous benefits of coconut oil for endurance athletes.

Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest ingredients you can add to your meal plan. One tablespoon of this liquid gold is packed with nutrients that can boost your cardiorespiratory endurance and overall health.

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As an endurance athlete, you should know that about 50 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake should consist of carbohydrates. The exact amount will depend on so many factors, so a personalized nutrition plan is absolutely required if you intend to pursue your goals.

Not all carbohydrates are the same. Just think about the possible consequences a bad-timing fiber-rich meal (like whole-wheat) could have on your training if you have a sensitive gastrointestinal tract. Well, better not to think of it. So, remember that only a personalized nutrition plan can support your endurance training and protect you from hitting the wall.

Unlike oats, rice has a high glycemic index, and it is perfect for fast refueling and facilitating muscle recovery. Also, ingesting carbohydrates during prolonged workouts will attenuate immune suppression, consequently, decrease the susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections.

Both brown and white rice are a perfect match for your workout nutrition plan, but just as for any other food type, the right timing is a crucial point. White rice has no adverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract, which is very important, especially in the pre-race phase. Brown rice is a great source of fiber, but also it can potentially cause gut problems and allergies in some athletes.

When it comes to rice protein supplements, there is an interesting study to take a look at. It was performed on healthy resistance-trained males. The study showed that daily consumption of 48 g of rice or whey protein combined with an eight-week endurance training plan led to similar changes in body composition and performance. Both groups consumed rice or whey proteins post-training and showed similar improvements in athletic performance.

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