Edible and Functional Mushrooms – Which Are Best for Athletes?

Do you think that mushrooms are eaten only for their taste, because they do not have any valuable nutritional values? It’s a myth! Forest mushrooms, farmed mushrooms and, finally, functional ones, are very healthy and, unfortunately, underestimated. If you are a physically active person, many of their specific properties may be of particular interest and use to you. Learn about their capabilities.

Anna Urbańska

Expanding on the theme of mushrooms in an athlete’s diet, it is worth clearly separating food mushrooms from functional ones. All of the mushroom species listed below are edible, but food mushrooms are used as an ingredient in healthy meals, and the functional ones are more in the form of dietary supplements. They are consumed in specified doses, such as in powdered form or as extracts. If you are an active person, both groups of mushrooms will be of interest to you, and consciously incorporating them into your menu can allow you to get surprising results.

4 advantages of food mushrooms in an athlete’s diet

Both farmed and forest edible mushrooms are very healthy. Athletes often underestimate them and rarely put them on the menu, because they are not a significant source of specific macronutrients. Indeed, they will not significantly increase the proportion of protein in the diet (they contain from 1 to 5 g/100 g of it), but their consumption can bring other benefits to the bodies of active people. Here are some of the main benefits of eating mushroom meals for active people.

1. Mushrooms are a significant source of minerals important to athletes

There can actually be a lot of minerals in food mushrooms. They contain potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese... and several other trace minerals in various proportions. The exact mineral content of mushrooms depends largely on their species and the environment in which they grow.

In terms of calcium content of popular edible mushrooms, the richest are birch boletes. 100 grams of birch bolete is as much as 880 mg of calcium, several times more than in, for example, milk or plant-based drinks. For athletes, calcium is crucial in the remodelling of cartilage. For this reason, mushrooms can make a great addition to the diet after an injury, especially after fractures.

Some mushroom species also contain significant doses of iron. This information can be very valuable for active people who have problems regulating haemoglobin, ferritin and other dietary iron-related parameters. In mushrooms you will find non-heme iron, which is less absorbable than, for example, iron from meat. Eating mushrooms, therefore, cannot be the only measure taken if you realistically want to improve your blood count. Nevertheless, they can introduce an extra dose of iron into the menu. In practice, this may be most relevant for athletes on plant-based diets: vegans and vegetarians.

IMPORTANT: the growth environment has a major impact on the composition of mushrooms. They absorb valuable elements from the soil, but toxic metals such as lead, arsenic or mercury can also get into them. For this reason, it is better not to pick forest mushrooms in industrial areas and near busy roads.

2. Mushrooms contain priceless vitamin D

Mushrooms are the only (besides the sun) source of vitamin D that is not of animal origin. They contain quite significant amounts of vitamin D2 and another (less known) form of it: vitamin D4.

Most vitamin D is found in forest mushrooms that grow in the sun:

  • forest chanterelles will provide about 10.7 μg of vitamin D/100 g,
  • ceps – even more than 50 μg of vitamin D/100 g,
  • champignons – about 1.5 μg of vitamin D/100 g,
  • other farmed mushrooms (e.g. oyster mushrooms, shiitake and portobello) – less than 1 μg of vitamin D/100 g.

Interestingly, studies have shown that vitamin D synthesis in mushrooms occurs in their cells under sunlight even after they are picked. If you want to increase the content of this vitamin in mushrooms, expose them to the sun. It works even when the mushrooms are already cleaned and sliced! Mushrooms synthesise vitamin D rapidly in this way. 15 minutes in the sun can produce an additional 17 μg of vitamin D for every 100 grams of fresh mushrooms.

Vitamin D2 from mushrooms is considered a less active form than the more popular vitamin D3. Nevertheless, it is possible in the body to convert vitamin D2 into a form that is used by cells. According to studies, eating mushrooms can directly contribute to raising the 25(OH)D parameter in the blood, which quite reliably reflects the saturation of the body with vitamin D.

This is another strong argument for including mushrooms in an athlete’s diet. For active individuals, it is suggested that the concentration of this parameter oscillate in the upper half of normal, that is around 40-50 ng/ml. This is very important, because for physically active people, vitamin D deficiency means, for example: more frequent infections that exclude from training and participation in competitions, higher risk of injury and lower efficiency of muscle protein synthesis.

Although mushrooms are a good vitamin D supplement, even if you eat a lot of them, don’t give up on the supplementation recommended for all Poles. A diet rich in mushrooms will not fully cover the body’s needs for this component.

Read also: “How to Soak up the Sun All Year Round”.

There are several other important micronutrients in mushrooms, most notably B vitamins, and there is also a lot of vitamin A in the yellow varieties of edible mushrooms (such as chanterelles and saffron milk cap).