Melissa Hehmann: 5 Most Underrated Foods For Athletes


When it’s time to train for competition, most athletes have a list of go-to foods they rely on to deliver the goods. And, while there’s nothing wrong with having some healthy favorites you eat all the time, you may be letting something slip through the cracks when it comes to meeting your nutritional needs.
Melissa Hehmann from Meijer’s Healthy Living team has compiled a list of five foods that are underrated as far as enhancing athletic performance is concerned. She explained that, while there are foods that get a lot of attention for improving performance, and for good reason, there are some nutritional powerhouses that seem to have been forgotten.

1. Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds.jpg

 When it comes to power-producing foods, athletes rarely think of nuts, and it’s even more rare for them to think of seeds. Yet, according to Melissa, sunflower seeds are one of the best natural sources of several key nutrients that can make you better at your sport of choice.
“Sunflower Seeds are rarely in the limelight like almonds, walnuts and flax seeds, but are an inexpensive alternative,” Melissa insisted. “They are a good source of protein and contain sports enhancing nutrients like selenium and manganese, both of which aid in fighting oxidative damage from training and promoting healthy immune function.”

2. Potatoes


Athletes might be tempted to classify potatoes as an unsexy food staple that isn’t worthy of a place at the dinner table. However, potatoes have much to offer the modern athlete, and competitors that ignore the power of the potato do so at their own peril.
“Potatoes have been under quite a bit of criticism for not having much nutrition, which is far from the truth,” Melissa said. “Potatoes, including the sweet variety, not only provide athletes with much needed energy from carbohydrates and the electrolyte potassium, but they are also high in Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 helps to breakdown glycogen into usable energy for the working muscles.”

3. Beans and Lentils


 Most athletes run to chicken, beef, pork and fish when the time comes to pick a protein, but animals aren’t the only sources for quality protein. Melissa has a couple of suggestions for athletes searching for a plant-based protein that doubles as workout fuel.
“Beans and Lentils are packed with carbohydrates, the main source of energy for endurance athletes, and protein that aids in muscle repair,” Melissa explained. “Meat and eggs are usually the stars when discussing protein options for athletes, but beans and lentils are a cheaper protein source while also providing antioxidants and fiber that are a must for any athlete.”

4. Sardines


 Everybody knows what a healthy protein option fish can be, but there is more to undersea culinary choices than simply salmon, trout and cod. Next time you’re looking for a fish to eat, you might want to start with a species that’s often reduced to being used as a pizza topping.
“Sardines may be little fish, but they sure are mighty when it comes to nutrition,” Melissa said. “Sardines aren’t often mentioned when discussing Omega-3 Fatty Acids, but they deliver 60% of the Daily Value in a 3 ounce serving. Omega-3’s help reduce inflammation that occurs from training. Athletes abound are talking about the benefits of chocolate milk, but sardines provide just as much calcium, which aids in muscle contraction.”

5. Mushrooms


Vitamin D is known as “the sunshine vitamin” due to your body’s ability to synthesize it in your skin, but some people don’t get outside enough, or live in areas where the light from the sun doesn’t break through enough during certain times of the year. At that point, athletes who want to enjoy vitamin D’s benefits need to turn to food sources to save the day, and Melissa recommends that an overlooked source of the vitamin should make an appearance on your dinner plate.
“Mushrooms are a natural source of Vitamin D, which helps support strong bones and immune function,” Melissa said. “Milk and other foods fortified with Vitamin D often come to mind when thinking about food sources. Let’s not forget about a natural source of the vitamin like mushrooms.”


Melissa Hehmann, RD, CDE, ACE-CPT – Healthy Living Advisor for Meijer


The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.


Interested in our Summer Games?

Interested in our Winter Games?