Best Fruit for Athletes to Support Health and Performance
Fruit is a nutrient-rich food choice for athletes. It provides carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Let’s take a look at the best fruit for athletes, as well as ideas for incorporating these fruits into an athlete’s meal plan.
Best Fruit for Athletes
When it comes to fruit, variety is key. Different types of fruits will contain different nutrients. Thus, athletes should aim to include an assortment of colorful fruits in their meals and snacks.
Below are some of my recommendations for the best fruits for athletes to support health and performance.
Bananas: Best High-Carb Fruit for Athletes
Bananas are a great carbohydrate-rich fruit choice for athletes. One large banana provides 31 grams of carbohydrates, 3.5 grams of fiber, and contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (1).
Bananas are rich in potassium, an essential nutrient that serves as an electrolyte in the body. Potassium is necessary for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and normal cell function. In addition, potassium helps the body with maintaining fluid balance (2).
Bananas are a convenient snack option, as they come wrapped in their own peel, and no preparation is required. In addition, bananas are an economical choice, in 2022 the average cost in the United States for bananas was ~$0.63 per pound (3).
Berries and Cherries: Best Anti-Inflammatory Fruit for Athletes
Berries are an excellent fruit choice for athletes, as they contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They are recognized as being one of the best dietary sources of bioactive compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body (4).
Athletes should aim to include a variety of berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, acai berries, and cranberries, in their sports nutrition meal plan.
Try mixing berries into oatmeal, blending them into smoothies, using berries as a topping for salad, or adding them as an ingredient in yogurt parfaits.
For a tasty recipe using berries, check out the Triple-Berry Chia Seeds Smoothie recipe from Su-Nui Escobar, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Benefits of Cherries for Athletes
In addition to berries, cherries are a great fruit option for athletes. They contain fiber, Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Cherries also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, which have anti-inflammatory effects in the body (5, 6).
Aside from these nutrients, cherries provide a natural, dietary source of melatonin. Montmorency tart cherries in particular are noted for their high melatonin content (7). Thus, consuming tart cherry juice has been researched as a natural way to support sleep quality and duration in athletes (8).
Tart cherry juice has also been found to help reduce muscle soreness and decrease inflammation following exercise. Thus, it can promote a faster recovery from exercise (6), which can be advantageous for athletes.
Best Citrus Fruit for Athletes
Citrus fruits are a healthy option for athletes, as they provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, as well as carotenoids (5). In addition, citrus fruits are an excellent source of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that has many important roles in the body. It is necessary for the formation of collagen in connective tissue, is involved in wound healing, and serves as an antioxidant (9, 10).
Vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism, supports a healthy immune system, and helps to enhance the absorption of iron from plant sources (9).
Athletes should consider adding the following citrus fruits to their meal plan:
- Oranges (all varieties)
- Tangerines and tangelos
- Lemons and limes
Grapefruit and Potential Medication Interactions
It is important to be aware that grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interact with some types of medications. Medications that may potentially be affected by grapefruit/grapefruit juice include: statins to lower cholesterol, certain anti-anxiety medications, medications use to treat high blood-pressure, as well as some corticosteroids (11).
When athletes are taking medication, they should carefully read the medication label to see if potential interactions with grapefruit are noted. If in doubt, make sure to visit with your physician or pharmacist regarding this potential concern (11).
Also note, other citrus fruit such as tangelos, Seville oranges, and pomelos may affect medications similar to grapefruit. These citrus fruits should also be avoided if taking a medication that interacts with grapefruit (11).
Best Tropical and Exotic Fruit for Athletes
When discussing healthy fruits for athletes, there are numerous tropical and exotic fruits that are excellent options for athletes. Fruits such as pineapple, mango, and papayas all make nutritious additions to an athlete’s meal plan.
Consider keeping frozen pineapple, mango, and papaya on hand for making a delicious tropical smoothie. Another great use for tropical fruit is as a topping in a smoothie bowl.
If you have never made a smoothie bowl, check out the ideas Kathryn Piper, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, shares in her blog, The Ultimate Guide to Smoothie Bowl Toppings.
Pomegranates are a nutrient-dense tropical fruit that I find is often overlooked by athletes. In addition to dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, pomegranates are packed full of antioxidants and polyphenols that exert anti-inflammatory effects in the body (5).
Athletes can enjoy pomegranate seeds in a fruit and yogurt parfait, blended into a smoothie, sprinkled on a salad, or as a fruit topping for cottage cheese.
Kiwi: Power-Packed Fruit for Athletes
Although kiwis are small, they are packed full of nutrients and phytochemicals. Kiwis contain the Vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as potassium, copper and dietary fiber. These nutrient dense fruits are associated with numerous health benefits for athletes (5, 8).
Similar to citrus fruits, kiwis are a rich source of Vitamin C. A medium kiwi provides 56 mg of Vitamin C (9), which is more than 50% of the recommended daily value for adults. In addition, to vitamins and minerals, kiwis contain the antioxidant lutein (5, 8).
Melon: Best Hydrating Fruit for Athletes
Consuming a variety of types of melon in the diet is a great way for athletes to consume vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, due to their high-water content, melons can support athletes with meeting their hydration needs.
Watermelon is the most popular melon consumed in the United States (12). Watermelons are ~90% water and a natural source of the electrolyte potassium. They are also rich in Vitamins A and C, as well as the antioxidant lycopene (5, 13).
In addition to watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are also healthy fruit options for athletes. Consider slicing fresh melon to enjoy as a refreshing snack on a hot summer day.
Food Safety with Sliced Melon
When slicing fresh melon, it is important for athletes to keep food safety in mind. Melons grow on the ground where they are exposed to bacteria.
Thus, properly washing the outside of the melon prior to cutting is essential. This will help to prevent the transfer of bacteria onto the flesh of the melon (14).
Once the melon is cut, it is important to refrigerate the sliced melon at a temperature of 40°F or colder. If the (sliced) melon is left sitting out at room-temperature for over 2 hours it should be thrown away. This time frame decreases to 1 hour if the temperature exceeds 90°F (15), such as at a track meet or baseball game.
Consuming sliced melon that has been left sitting out over the recommended time limits increases the potential for bacterial growth as well as the risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Apples: Healthy, Portable Fruit for Athletes
Apples are amongst the most common fruits consumed worldwide. There are over 100 varieties of apples grown commercially within the United States (16).
Apples are a nutritious fruit option for athletes, containing vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. They also contain phytochemicals which have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Apples contain a high-water content (~85% water), thus they can assist athletes with meeting hydration needs (17).
Apples are the perfect, portable snack that can be easily thrown into a gym bag or lunch box. Consider trying apple slices topped with nut butter for a healthy, well-balanced snack or enjoying diced apples as a healthy topping on a salad.
Avocados: Nutrient-Dense Fruit for Athletes
You may be surprised to see avocados on the list of best fruits for athletes. Although many individuals do not traditionally think of avocados as a fruit, botanically they are categorized as being a fruit (18).
Avocados are a nutrient-dense way to add healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to an athlete’s diet. One medium avocado (201 g) contains 322 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 14 grams of fiber (19).
Avocados also contain many vitamins and minerals, including the electrolyte potassium. Potassium helps the body maintain fluid balance, transmits nerve signals, and plays an important role in muscle contraction (20).
Athletes can add sliced avocados to their morning toast, enjoy it with their scrambled eggs, or even blend it into a high-calorie smoothie to boost the nutrient content of the drink.
If you enjoy avocado toast in the morning, make sure to try the recipe Kiran Campbell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, shares on her website for Whipped Avocado Ricotta Toast.
Dried Fruit for Athletes
Dried fruit is a nutritious way for athletes to add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to their meal plan. It contain a wide array of phytochemicals, which have antioxidant effects in the body (21).
Athletes can enjoy a variety of dried fruits in their diet, including (21):
- Raisins, dates, prunes, figs
- Apples, pears
- Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries
- Pineapple, mango, papaya
- Apricots, peaches
In addition to eating dried fruit as a snack, try using it as a topping for oatmeal, added to a salad, or mixed into a trail mix for a nutritious snack for athletes on-the-go.
Tips for Buying Fruit for Athletes
Now that you have ideas for healthy fruits for athletes, let’s take a look at some tips for purchasing fruit.
Buy Fresh Fruit that is In-Season
When shopping for fresh fruit, purchase fruit that is in-season. When fruit is in-season it will be less expensive and more flavorful than fruit that is out-of-season.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a Seasonal Produce Guide that is a helpful reference for determining what fruits are grown each season.
Money Saving Tips for Purchasing Fresh Fruit
In addition to purchasing in-season fruit, it is less expensive to purchase whole fruit and chop it yourself. Purchasing fresh fruit that has been pre-sliced is costly, as you have to pay for the labor associated with the task. Athletes can save money at the store by buying the whole watermelon, cantaloupe, or pineapple and chopping the fruit themselves.
Also, make sure to only purchase the amount of fresh fruit you can reasonably consume within the week. Throwing away fresh fruit that has gone bad is like throwing away money.
Is Frozen Fruit Healthy for Athletes?
Frozen fruit is a healthy choice for athletes. It is flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness. Thus, frozen fruit retains a nutrient value similar to that of fresh.
Frozen fruit is a good way to help athletes prevent food waste, as you do not have to consume it all within the week of purchase. Most frozen fruit will keep in your freezer for ~8-10 months (22). After this time, the quality of the fruit may lessen in terms of taste, texture, and color (23).
Athletes can save money by purchasing a large bag of frozen fruit at the store. Buying a large bag of frozen fruit will be more cost effective than purchasing individual serving size bags. In addition, for fruit that is out-of-season, athletes should consider purchasing frozen.
Keep frozen fruit available for preparing fruit smoothies, to use as an ingredient in overnight oats, or as a topping in a fruit and yogurt parfait.
Is Canned Fruit a Healthy Alternative?
Canned fruit can be a healthy option for athletes when it is packed in natural juices. Athletes should be mindful when purchasing canned fruit to make sure it is not canned in heavy syrup.
Fruit canned in heavy syrup will have a lot of added sugar compared to fruit packed in natural fruit juices.
When possible, it is preferable for athletes to select fresh or frozen fruit. However, canned fruit (in natural juices) can be an easy alternative to keep on hand for a quick snack or addition to the meal.
Best Fruits for Athletes to Support Health and Performance
You are now set with a variety of ideas for the best fruits for athletes to support health and performance. Remember, variety is important, thus athletes should aim to include an assortment of fruit in their meal plan.
For additional sports nutrition tips for athletes, check out my blog: Easy High-Fiber Breakfast Ideas for Athletes.
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Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.