HPN 6: Our Top 6 Nutrient-Dense Foods To Add To Your Diet Now, and Why

April 19, 2019


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We are back with Holistic Performance Nutrition episode 6. On this show, coaches Tawnee and Julie share six of their favorite nutrient-dense foods for athletes. We breakdown what makes these foods so good for athletes (including plant-based athletes!), and give our buying tips, favorite brands, cooking methods, nutrient profiles, and more.

Quick links mentioned on this show:

Common deficiencies in athletes:

  • Iron – crucial for athletes, especially female athletes who are more prone to anemia.
  • Magnesium – ATP production from fatty acid oxidation, muscle relaxation, bone remineralization.
  • Vitamin D – aids in the absorption of calcium.
  • Calcium – excreted in high sweat sports.
  • Vitamin B12 – formation of red blood cells and DNA regulation.
  • Zinc – Post-exertion tissue repair, immune boosting, fights infection.
  • Selenium – aids in immune function and cell repair.
  • Vitamin E – aerobic athletes need more because our cells undergo more oxidative damage; E is a well-known free radical scavenger.
  • Protein – endurance athletes need it for maintaining aerobic metabolism; aids in recovery and wound healing.
  • Adequate nutrients can mean quicker recovery time, lower infection rates, less fatigue, and ultimately, can help athletes reach their desired performance levels.
  • Eat to Compete – breakdown of athletes’ needs and what foods to find them in.


1. Liver

  • Contains more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food.
  • Meat from pasture-raised animals are 2-4 times higher in omega-3’s than meat from commercially raised. Also benefits communities, the environment, the farmer.
  • Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A.
  • All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12 (50x more than steak).
  • Best source of folate.
  • A highly usable form of iron.
  • Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper.
  • An unidentified anti-fatigue factor.
  • CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardiovascular function.
  • A good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA. there because they help the body get rid of toxins
  • Myths:
    • The liver is full of toxins? The liver neutralizes toxins, but doesn’t store them. Toxins are stored in our fat tissue and nervous system. It does store: Vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, Folate, copper and iron. All of which are an excellent source of high-quality protein.
    • Too much Vitamin A?
  • Buying & cooking:
    • The best choice is liver from animals that spend their lives outdoors and on pasture.
    • 100-gram serving of beef, lamb, bison or duck liver (about 4 ounces) 1-2x a week, providing about 50,000 IU vitamin A per serving. Chicken liver, which is lower in vitamin A, may be consumed more frequently.
    • Marinate overnight in lemon juice or ACV with garlic and herbs to neutralize the flavor. Pat it dry and fry medium heat in butter until really brown on the outside and rose on the inside. Add tamari sauce.
    • Julie’s favorite cooked liver recipe is to slice the liver thin (no more than 1/4th inch) then dredge it in a mixture of almond flour, salt and lots of pepper. (Almond flour is just a replacement for those who don’t eat grains.). Fry on both sides in ghee or lard. I usually cook up the whole liver at one time then either heat up the leftovers during the week, or snack on it cold. It’s a great substitute for a power bar or other on-the-go meal.
  • Summary: Not all liver is the same. Incredible sources of B12, A, Iron, Protein, and trace minerals. Great for stress and energy.
  • Supplement Form: Ancestral Supplements, PaleoValley, Vital Proteins

Sam’s Liver Pate recipe:

  • Ingredients:
  • 1lb liver
  • ¾ cup cashews
  • 1 white sweet onion
  • 1 apple
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • 6 tbsp coconut oil
  • Directions:
  • Pour boiling water over cashews and soak during prep and cooking.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp of coconut oil in skillet over medium heat
  • Sauté onions for about 5 minutes, until soft and slightly translucent. Add apples and spices, and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the apples are very tender.
  • When skillet ingredients are almost done, rinse and drain cashews then put in food processor with 3/4 cup warm water and lemon juice. Process for 1 minute, until a cashew butter/paste is formed.
  • Add sauté ingredients to food processor and blend until incorporated and smooth.
  • Add more coconut oil to skillet if necessary then sauté livers for about 3-4 minutes per side. Do not overcook! The middle should be pinkish/purple.
  • Place cooked liver in food processor, and make sure to scrape all the goodness from the bottom of the skillet in there too. These bits are packed full of flavor. If you’re feeling fancy and have extra white wine on hand, you can deglaze the pan and add to food processor. Not a necessary step though.
  • Turn food processor on and slowly add 4 Tbsp of coconut oil (or substitute with Kerry Gold butter). You should get a thick, creamy pâté that’s delicious warm (if you can’t wait to eat it) or chilled in the fridge (where it’ll keep for four days).


2. Seaweed / Sea Vegetables

  • 1 tbsp offers ½ to 35 mg bioavailable iron w/ vitamin c to increase bioavailability.
  • We lose a considerable amount of iodine in sweat per hour of aerobic exercise, especially when hot and humid.
  • 1 tbsp contains:
    • 500% daily recommended iodine
    • 16% vitamin C
    • 13% manganese
    • 11% B12
    • 3% iron
    • 3% zinc
  • Among other vitamins and minerals, sea vegetables are similar profiles to minerals found in blood.
  • Multiple studies show anti-inflammatory benefits from consumption of the sulfated polysaccharides in sea vegetables.
  • Wakame, a specific type of seaweed, has high iodine.
  • Helpful for hypothyroid:
  • Brands:
    • Vitalchoice.com has awesome pre-made seaweed salad that you can buy frozen if you can’t find any good quality sources near you. This is where Tawnee shops and also gets salmon roe (high in DHA) and wild Alaskan salmon.
    • Sea Tangle Noodle Company Kelp noodles – 54 mcg iodine per serving; available on Amazon, in stores and on Thrive market.
    • Emerald Cove products – their wakame is good.
    • Nori sheets are tasty, convenient snack BUT read ingredient labels and watch out for those made with harmful vegetable oils (canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, etc).


3. Sardines

  • Bone Health – calcium, D, phosphorus, B12, protein
  • Nutrient breakdown:
    • B12 – 338%
    • Selenium – 87%
    • Omega-3 – 61%
    • Protein – 45%
    • Vit. D – 44%
    • Calcium – 35%
    • Iodine – 24%
    • Iron – 10%
  • With health of the sea declining, what fish are safe to eat?
  • Look for small, saltwater, oily-rich, silvery, soft-boned fish.
  • Sardines fit this description – bottom of the aquatic food chain, feed on plankton, and are not going to be a big source of heavy metals like mercury or other contaminants.
  • When buying canned make sure you get those in olive oil and avoid those packed in bad vegetable oils like soybean oil, etc. Can also get packed in water and add your own fats.
  • Eat the bones, always!!! Great calcium source.
  • How to eat:
    • Grilled, sandwich, on toast, salad topper
    • Straight from can
    • Nutritional yeast, turmeric, dill, cayenne
    • Sprinkle sardines with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
    • Combine sardines with chopped onion, olives, or fennel
    • Top sardines with chopped tomatoes and basil, oregano, or rosemary.
    • Balsamic vinegar gives sardines a nice zing
    • Make a sauce with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, pressed garlic, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper
  • Brands:


4. Chia seeds

  • Runner up: flax seed, hemp seeds
  • High in omega-3 fatty acids, great for plant-based diets.
  • 1 oz contains:
    • 10g fiber
    • 12g carbs
    • 8.6 g fat
    • 4 g protein
  • Chia is not high in carbs but still getting in that valuable fiber, great for LCHF or keto diets.
  • Gut health booster: It’s also considered an insoluble fiber and prebiotic food, meaning that chia seeds are non-digestible fibers that feed good gut bacteria and are fermentable in the gut, creating short-chain fatty acids, good for gut!
  • Benefits:
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Healthy skin
    • Mental function
    • Heart healthy
    • Aids digestive system
    • Bone health
    • Normalizing blood sugar
  • Brands
    • Nutiva is the brand Tawnee buys, but many good quality organic products out there, check your health market or online shops like Thrive market.
    • Get whole seed form rather than pre-ground form.


5. Chocolate (cacao)


6. Sauerkraut (or kimchi & other fermented foods)

  • In addition to taking a probiotic supplement with set ingredients, it’s good to eat some wild strains of probiotics from food sources too.
  • It’s not a one size fits all as far as understanding exactly what grows in cultured foods, but research does show a complex ecology of beneficial bacteria present in sauerkraut fermentations.
  • Dog health too! Tawnee gives her dogs sauerkraut per vet recommendation, which is helpful for allergies by balancing and boosting gut microbiota (side note: keto for dogs is a thing!).
  • You don’t need much for the benefit, about a tablespoon or so several times a week.
  • Benefits:
    • Can improve or mitigate digestive issues like leaky gut
    • Can help with food sensitivities and allergies
    • Immune function
    • Reduce inflammation
    • Increase nutrient absorption
  • The microorganisms in sauerkraut feed the good bacteria in gut. However, if you’re already dealing with a gut dysbiosis (overgrowth, infection, etc.), talk to your practitioner on whether sauerkraut is a good idea or not. In some cases it is, some cases not.
  • Can keep bowel movements regular or improve quality.
  • If you’re sensitive to histamine or knowingly histamine intolerant, then usually best to avoid fermented foods (along with some other foods on this list).
  • Preparation and where to buy:
    • Make your own – recipe in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
    • If you’re in Orange County, CA go to Fermentation Farm
    • And if shopping locally, look for anything raw, unpasteurized and refrigerated with “live and active cultures” from a trusted health market our source. (Farmers markets may have as well.)

One Comment

  • MorganArritola says:

    As a fellow all-foods-stinky lover, I had to try the liver pate. It's so delicious! I didn't have cashews so I used a mix of pumpkin and sunflower seeds and it's damn tasty! Thank you so much and having you two share your knowledge is great.

    Thank you!

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