What happens when an athlete eats spinach everyday? In terms of the amount of nutrients per calorie, leafy greens like spinach are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Athletes need to consume foods that are full of nutrients to fuel their bodies. Nutrients from food are needed to train, recover, and perform optimally. Nutrients from supplements, vitamins, and powders are generally not absorbed properly, and some may not even be safe for extended use. Each nutrient from food has a specific role in the body, like building muscle, or reducing inflammation (which speeds up recovery). Adding spinach to a routine can benefit athletes in many ways.
Spinach increases the production of proteins in muscles, making them both stronger and more efficient. Researchers in Sweden found that the nitrates in spinach increased muscle strength in mice, particularly fast-twitch muscles. Along with physical strength, nitrates also increase endurance, as well as reducing the oxygen requirement of exercise (also talked about in our beet post here) (1).
Spinach also keeps your mind sharp, which is great for athletes, particularly ones competing in team sports. In a multi-year study from Rush University, participants who ate leafy greens like spinach were found to be an average of 11 years younger in terms of mental capacity (2).
Eyesight can also be preserved by consuming spinach, which is specifically important to athletes who compete outdoors in the sun. Researchers at Ohio State found that two antioxidants in spinach, lutein and zeaxanthin, reduced eye damage from ultraviolet light by 50-60 percent (3).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day for adults, and drinking juice is a simple way of meeting their recommendation. Spinach is particularly dense in nutrients, just one cup of spinach contains (% of daily recommended amount):
Vitamin K → 987%
Vitamin A → 105%
Manganese → 84%
Folate → 66%
Magnesium → 39%
Iron → 36%
Copper → 34%
Vitamin B2 → 32%
Vitamin B6 → 26%
Vitamin E → 25%
Calcium → 24%
Vitamin C → 24%
Potassium → 24%
Protein → 11%
Along with vitamin B1, phosphorus, zinc, choline, vitamin B3, selenium, pantothenic acid.
**It is important to note that Omega-3s are beneficial polyunsaturated fats. Since our bodies can’t make them, it is important that they are obtained through foods like spinach, fish, and nuts. This is why omega-3s are important for athletes:
- faster recoveries
- reducing inflammation
- decreasing muscle soreness
- Burning fat while maintaining muscle mass
Hernández A, Schiffer T, Ivarsson N, Cheng A, Bruton J, Lundberg J, et al J. Physiol. (Lond.) 2012 Aug;590(15):3575-83
2) Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). "Eating green leafy vegetables keeps mental abilities sharp." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150330112227.htm>.
Chitchiumroonchokchai, C. Journal of Nutrition, December 2004; vol 134: pp 3225-3232. News release, Ohio State University.