Peta Bee looks at some of the latest sports nutrition advice and highlights what should be on your shopping list

Food that you typically find in your cupboard might not seem to offer cutting-edge performance enhancements, but science would beg to differ. New research points to mashed potato, bananas and tempeh as the foods athletes should be eating to get the edge.

Here’s what should be on your shopping list:


For a recent trial published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers asked 25 male triathletes to perform two cycle time trials over 20km.

Prior to one of the trials, the athletes were given 30 grams of fermented soy powder in 450ml while the second time trial was preceded with a placebo drink.

Results showed that the fermented soy extract produced faster times to completion achieved at a lower heart rate and with greater power and speed.

This was most significant during the final 5km of the time trial. And the fitter the athletes before the study, the more benefits they seemed to reap from taking it.

While fermented soy is available as a supplement, you will also benefit from boosting intake of foods containing it – natto, meso and tempeh – in your diet.

Another recent study, in the British Medical Journal, looked at the diets of 92,915 Japanese men and women aged 45 to 74 over 15 years, during which time 13,303 of the study participants died. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found that those with the highest fermented soy intake had a 10 per cent lower risk of death from any cause than those who were in the lowest intake group.

Natto is the healthiest choice, suggested the researchers, associated with an 18 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly because of its lower salt content.


A long-standing favourite of ultra-runners, mashed potato is a high carb, low fat food.

By serving it cold with a little milk when you mash it, the glycaemic index (GI) is lowered for a longer-lasting boost.

In a study published in Journal of Applied Physiology earlier this year, a team of Illinois University scientists found no differences in the performance of endurance cyclists who ingested potatoes and those who used energy gels at recommended amounts of about 60 grams per hour during lab trials.


A 2018 study in the journal PLOS One described how a group of athletes (in this case it was cyclists) were provided with water and either 225ml of a sports drink or half of a banana every half an hour during a 47-mile bike ride.

After the time trial, blood tests revealed inflammatory markers in their blood were lower when either the banana or sports drink were consumed, suggesting a faster recovery rate.

However, the bananas had a more potent anti-inflammatory effect which, said the scientists, might translate into fewer sore muscles.

“Bananas are an easily digested form of energy that is helpful both during and after exercise,” says Professor John Brewer, author of Run Smart (Bloomsbury).


Like expensive supplements, gelatin powder contains collagen, the structural protein that also glues together the body’s bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and skin.

As such, consuming gelatin powder available from any supermarket might help to prevent or heal injuries.

In January 2019, scientists from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) reported that taking collagen sped up a return to running in people with Achilles tendon problems.

“Make sure you take it daily with vitamin C, essential for its production,” says Graeme Close, professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University.

Mix 80g gelatin powder (such as Dr Oetker from Sainsbury’s or Tesco) with 235ml water and 375ml or blackcurrant cordial with added vitamin C or fruit squash.


Greek yoghurt contains more protein – mostly casein, a form of protein which is important for supporting muscle health – than regular yoghurt. In April 2019, Canadian researchers asked 30 untrained male university students to follow a 12-week strength programme on three days a week.

Those given a 20g dose of Greek yoghurt three times on training days had greatly improved strength, muscle thickness and body composition compared with those subjects given a carbohydrate-based placebo.


Eggs are a compact source of protein which contain proven muscle-building benefits.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the muscle-building effects of whole boiled eggs versus egg whites only after a weight training session.

The researchers from the University of Illinois reported that boiled eggs produced a 40 per cent greater muscle boost, a result, they suspected, of as yet unknown compounds in egg yolks enhancing the muscles’ ability to use the egg protein for growth and recovery.

It’s recommended that 25 to 30g of protein is consumed after a strength session and a single boiled egg provides 15-20g of protein so two is ideal.


Studies have shown raisins to be as effective as commercially available jelly beans in providing an energy boost for endurance athletes.

One paper in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found raisins worked as well as energy chews in improving the 5km times of a group of runners compared to water.

The quick release energy burst comes from sugar in raisins and, because they provide fibre, potassium and iron, they are much more nutritious than jelly beans and gels.

» Peta Bee has a degree in sports science and an MSc in nutrition

» This article was first published in the AW performance guide included with the March 26 edition of AW magazine, which is available to order in print here or read digitally here

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