The Best Food Pairings for Athletic Performance

by | Updated: April 26th, 2017 | Read time: 4 minutes

Sports and nutrition go together like peanut butter and jelly. When it comes to athletic performance, nutrition is just as important as putting in the hours of hard training. Don’t let it all go to waste by ignoring feelings of fatigue, constant upset stomachs or bed-confining coughs and congestion. With a few simple and satisfying food pairings, your body can (literally) run like a well-oiled machine.

If you’re anything more than a newbie in your sport, you’re keenly aware that proper nutrition can be the difference between a medal and a missed opportunity. (Note to self: cake, Champagne and cookies are not a complete meal and will slap you in the face at mile 2 of Sunday’s long run.) Admittedly, it’s hard to get it right every time, but these powerhouse pairs are sure to help your active body better absorb the nutrients it needs.

Problem: ruthless fatigue even 12 hours of deep-sleep can’t shake
Performance pairing: iron + vitamin C

Lacking iron can become a serious buzz kill. This essential nutrient helps shuttle oxygen from your lungs to various cells, including muscle cells. Active women are especially prone to low iron levels. And if you’re a vegetarian athlete, all the spinach salads in the world won’t be enough”¦unless, you top them with fruit. It’s been shown that vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based foods. To ensure your nutrition doesn’t become a fruitless effort, prep this salad for a little more pep:

Roasted PearsRoasted Pear & Spinach Salad
Serves 1 (but can be easily doubled, triple, quadrupled)

2 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided
1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Anjou or Bosc pear, sliced
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup walnuts
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
2 cups fresh organic spinach
black pepper to taste

  1. In a small bowl or cup, whisk together olive oil, honey, mustard, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and pepper.
  2. In another bowl, toss pears with second tablespoon lemon juice and cinnamon.
  3. Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and spread pear slices evenly on sheet.
  4. Roast at 400 F for 30 minutes or until soft and tender. Turn pears every 10 minutes or so.
  5. While the pears are in the oven, toss together spinach, cheese crumbles and walnuts in a salad bowl. Drizzle on desired amount of dressing and toss to coat.
  6. Add roasted pears and dig in!

Problem: digestive distress, which sends you to the bathroom mid-run, at worst; cramping and bloated, at best
Performance pairing: probiotics + prebiotics

Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that help keep our digestive system healthy and balanced. Prebiotics are the carbohydrates that probiotics feed on. You can see where these two go hand-in-hand in creating a happy belly versus a food baby. In this recipe, onions offer the prebiotics (raw is more potent than a sauteed onion) while the yogurt provides ample probiotic strains.

Fat-Free Onion DipFat-Free Onion Dip
Serves 1-2

8 oz. non-fat Greek yogurt
2 tsp. dry onion soup mix
½ raw onion, diced
pepper to taste

  1. In a small bowl, stir all ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
  2. Scoop and eat with carrots, celery and crackers.

Problem:  irritating ickies and lackluster skin that can run you down…and make you look it!
Performance pairing:  vitamin A + fat

Vitamin A isn’t just for healthy eyes. This fat-soluble nutrient has antioxidant properties to support your immune system and keep your skin looking as youthful as you feel. Athletes spend a lot of time outdoors, leading to excessive sun exposure which contributes to discoloration, wrinkling, loss of suppleness and so on — not exactly a picture of health. So it’s important you’re getting enough vitamin A, which really isn’t hard to do. Exhibit A: one medium sweet potato provides over 400% the Daily Value.

Sweet potato fluffSingle-Serve Sweet Potato Fluff

1 medium sweet potato
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup mini marshmallows

  1. Wrap the potato in foil and bake for 1 hour at 400 F.
  2. Let potato cool slightly before splitting in half and mashing slightly with a fork and knife.
  3. Drizzle coconut oil over top each half, sprinkle on cinnamon and marshmallows.
  4. Let the marshmallows melt just a bit from the steam of the baked potato, then go for it!

Problem:  seasonal sniffles and/or joint discomfort that can sideline you from quality training or knock you out for race day
Performance pairing: calcium + vitamin D

Calcium has long been revered for supporting bone health.* But now we know there are added benefits to coupling calcium with cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3 (the preferred form of D and what your body produces when exposed to sunlight.) Vitamin D promotes the intestinal absorption of calcium; thus, creating a duo that can stand up for your immune and nervous systems as well as contribute to bone formation.* Do your body a favor and fuel your mornings with this vegetarian frittata:

Mushroom-Tofu Frittata

Mushroom-Tofu Frittata
Serves 4

8 eggs (or 6 whole eggs + 2 egg whites)
½ cup soy milk
1 package firm organic tofu, cut into chunks
2 cups fresh organic spinach
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. Italian seasoning

  1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with soy milk and spices.
  2. Grease a 9-inch round baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and add spinach leaves, spreading to cover the bottom of the dish.
  3. Pour egg mixture over spinach. Add tofu pieces and top with cheese.
  4. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until the center is cooked through.

Nutrition note: though mushrooms, soy milk and other fortified foods provide vitamin D, a supplement  may be most helpful if you’re levels are low or you follow a strict vegan diet.