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Boost athletic performance and recovery with these 5 foods

Written by Annabelle Delir | Tuesday, 13 April 2021

tips and advice

When it comes to enhancing physical performance and recovery, the goal is to increase time to exhaustion, reduce muscle damage and optimise recovery. We do this by reducing inflammation, increasing blood flow to the muscles and decreasing oxidative stress through a variety of foods packed with phytonutrients, flavonoids and all that good stuff.

Here are some easily accessible foods that have been scientifically proven to boost your exercise performance and recovery. Throw them all together in a salad or blend them up to make a nutritious smoothie and reap all their performance enhancing benefits!


Ever felt a burning sensation building up in your muscles while exercising? That’s lactic acid. It can often hinder our performance, urging us to stop. A decrease in lactate levels leads to improved performance and reduced muscle fatigue, and just two cups of orange juice per day can decrease lactate levels by 27% (Aptekmann & Cesar, 2010).

Tip: opt for whole oranges to increase your fibre intake and prevent a spike in blood sugar.


During exercise, our levels of free radicals and oxidative stress increase. Higher levels of oxidative stress indicate DNA damage, accelerated ageing and increased risk of disease (Fogarty et al., 2011). Consuming just one serving of watercress for two months, before exercising, has been shown to significantly lower levels of exercise-induced free radicals circulating around the body (Fogarty et al., 2012). How good is that?


You’ve probably heard the term ‘DOMS’ circulating around the fitness community and all it means is delayed onset muscle soreness (aka the soreness you experience 1-3 days after exercising). After an intense weightlifting session, strength can drop by around 30% the next day. However, cherry consumption was found to preserve strength and significantly decrease DOMS (Cote et al., 2006). These same effects were observed in long distance runners (Howatson et al., 2009).


Nitrates are a naturally occurring chemical compound found in beets and dark leafy green vegetables that can significantly reduce oxygen exertion during exercise, which means an increase in performance with less effort (Clements, Lee & Bloomer, 2014). Just one shot of beet juice has been reported to improve running performance, allow free divers to hold their breath for an extra 30 seconds and improve muscle efficiency in athletes (Murphy et al., 2011; Barlow et al., 2018).


While exercising, we experience a spike in oxidative stress that often remains elevated for hours after training. Consuming just one handful of fresh spinach every day for two weeks has been found to decrease biomarkers of muscle damage and oxidative stress, alleviating DOMS and reducing time to recovery (Bohlooli et al., 2015).

Bonus: Herbs

While there are a variety of herbs your naturopath can prescribe for athletic performance, there are a few common ones that are safe, effective and easy to get your hands on.

Fennel Seeds

Like beetroot, fennel seeds can significantly increase nitric oxide production, opening up your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to allow more nutrients and oxygen into your muscles (Swaminathan et al., 2012).


Consuming just a mere drop of peppermint essential oil with water for 10 consecutive days was found to increase workload by 50%, time to exhaustion by 25% and power by 20% (Meamarbashi & Rajabi, 2013).

Note: it’s important not to overdo peppermint oil consumption as it is likely to produce adverse effects. Try infusing fresh peppermint into your water instead.

Lemon Verbena

Attributed to its phytonutrients and antioxidants, lemon verbena has been found to protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress, decrease inflammatory biomarkers and reduce the signs of muscular damage (Funes et al., 2010).

All in all, it’s a good idea to centre your diet around whole plant foods. This means a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The phytonutrients and flavonoids in plants will effectively enhance your physical performance and reduce the time needed to recover after a workout so you can train harder, faster and longer.


Aptekmann, N., & Cesar, T. (2010). Orange juice improved lipid profile and blood lactate of overweight middle-aged women subjected to aerobic training. Maturitas, 67(4), 343-347. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.07.009.

Barlow, M., Elia, A., Shannon, O., Zacharogianni, A., & Lodin-Sundstrom, A. (2018). The Effect of a Dietary Nitrate Supplementation in the Form of a Single Shot of Beetroot Juice on Static and Dynamic Apnea Performance. International Journal Of Sport Nutrition And Exercise Metabolism, 28(5), 497-501. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0300.

Bohlooli, S., Barmaki, S., Khoshkhahesh, F., & Nakhostin-Roohi, B. (2015). The effect of spinach supplementation on exercise-induced oxidative stress. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 55(6), 609–614.

Clements, W., Lee, S., & Bloomer, R. (2014). Nitrate Ingestion: A Review of the Health and Physical Performance Effects. Nutrients, 6(11), 5224-5264. doi: 10.3390/nu6115224.

Cote, K., Connolly, D., McHugh, M., & Padilla-Zakour, O. (2006). The Efficacy of Cherry Juice Supplementation in Preventing the Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 38(Supplement), S404. doi: 10.1249/00005768-200605001-02577.

Fogarty, M., Hughes, C., Burke, G., Brown, J., & Davison, G. (2012). Acute and chronic watercress supplementation attenuates exercise-induced peripheral mononuclear cell DNA damage and lipid peroxidation. British Journal Of Nutrition, 109(2), 293-301. doi: 10.1017/s0007114512000992.

Fogarty, M., Hughes, C., Burke, G., Brown, J., Trinick, T., & Duly, E. et al. (2011). Exercise-induced lipid peroxidation: Implications for deoxyribonucleic acid damage and systemic free radical generation. Environmental And Molecular Mutagenesis, 52(1), 35-42. doi: 10.1002/em.20572.

Funes, L., Carrera-Quintanar, L., Cerdán-Calero, M., Ferrer, M., Drobnic, F., & Pons, A. et al. (2010). Effect of lemon verbena supplementation on muscular damage markers, proinflammatory cytokines release and neutrophils’ oxidative stress in chronic exercise. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 111(4), 695-705. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1684-3.

Howatson, G., McHugh, M., Hill, J., Brouner, J., Jewell, A., & Van Someren, K. et al. (2009). Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports, 20(6), 843-852. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01005.x

Meamarbashi, A., & Rajabi, A. (2013). The effects of peppermint on exercise performance. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 10(1). doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-15 Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, R., & Weiss, E. (2011). Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal Of The American Dietetic Association, 111(9), A16. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.06.051.

Swaminathan, A., Sridhara, S., Sinha, S., Nagarajan, S., Balaguru, U., & Siamwala, J. et al. (2012). Nitrites Derived FromFoneiculum Vulgare(Fennel) Seeds Promotes Vascular Functions. Journal Of Food Science, 77(12), H273-H279. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.03000.x

Annabelle Delir

Annabelle is a 4th year Naturopathy student with a passion for athletic performance and recovery, weight management and mental health. She aims to utilise her knowledge in these fields to provide holistic treatment plans and empower individuals to improve their health. Prior to her natural health studies at Endeavour, Annabelle completed a psychology degree and holds several certificates in fitness.

Inspired by her passion for natural health, Annabelle created her own natural skincare brand, Umoya Botanics.

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