ATHLETES

Spinach: Stronger & Smarter

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).

Press Release: Solved at last - why spinach makes us strong

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%

Omega-3**

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

Sources

1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22687611?otool=karolib&tool=karolinska

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>.

3) http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/news/20041203/eat-spinach-prevent-cataracts

Chitchiumroonchokchai, C. Journal of Nutrition, December 2004; vol 134: pp 3225-3232. News release, Ohio State University.

Sweet Potatoes: Pre-Post-Workout Perfection

Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America, where their early cultivation began in 750 BCE. They have truly stood the test of time, demonstrating that people can live exclusively on sweet potatoes and remain healthy and strong. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of sweet potatoes in pre-Incan ruins in Peru. In the modern era of high-performance sports and competitions, every dedicated athlete should amplify their training, recovery, and performance by adding sweet potatoes to their diets.

Excellent source of:

Vitamin A (beta-carotene) → just 1 sweet potato has over 100% of daily Vitamin A

Vitamin C

Magnesium

Manganese

Quercetin → antioxidant

Chlorogenic Acid → antioxidant

Also a great source of:

Copper, Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B7 (biotin), Potassium, Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin E, Iron, Vitamin B9 (folic acid), Vitamin B3, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B1,

Phosphorous

Pre-workout for high-intensity exercise

Sweet potatoes are high in both potassium and magnesium, which prevent both muscle cramping and muscle spasms. As far as pre-workout foods go, sweet potatoes are complex carbs that prevent energy crashes. They are low on the glycemic index, which means the sugars are processed slowly, providing a steadier stream of energy, improving endurance capabilities. This makes it a great food to eat right before a long marathon or high-endurance activity.

Post-workout nourishment for quick recovery

Sweet potatoes are a great post-workout supplement because they are a complex carbohydrate, which replenishes the body’s glycogen levels. Simple carbohydrates breakdown in the body to glucose, which is a simple sugar, used for immediate energy. When glucose is not immediately used, it is stored as fat. Sweet potatoes breakdown in the body to glycogen, a complex sugar, which restores glycogen that was depleted during exercise. Consuming sweet potatoes after a game or workout will immediately nourish the body with what it needs, facilitating recovery, and preparing the body for the next workout, practice, or game.

Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant

Athletes can experience a significant amount of inflammation and oxidative stress due to high intensity exercise. Consuming sweet potatoes can help to reduce inflammation and non-impact related injuries, as well as protect the body from excessive oxidative stress, too much of which can lead to DNA damage.

Turmeric: Strength, Endurance, Recovery

Turmeric is gaining scientific recognition as having performance enhancing properties. In a recent study on turmeric’s main compound, curcumin, scientists found that it increased the amount of mitochondria in muscle cells (1). Since mitochondria are the powerhouses of the body, turmeric may revolutionize the sports industry, enabling athletes to maximize their performance. Turmeric is highly regarded as being a safe and health-promoting spice that also has the highly sought after effect of increasing mitochondrial density.

Mitochondria are organelles within cells in the body. They are the power plants of the cell, generating energy for the body to use for cellular functions. Mitochondria use oxygen and nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) to produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is a potential energy molecule, similar to money in energy form, that your body ‘spends’ to fuel biological functions like powering the brain, pumping the heart, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, contracting muscles, along with many other processes.

In today’s highly competitive world of sports, elite athletes are focused on maximizing strength, endurance and recovery to get an extra edge, all of which start with the mitochondria. Dietary changes can increase the amount of mitochondria in muscle cells. Increasing cellular mitochondria, referred to as mitochondrial biogenesis, leads to substantial and sustainable performance gains. For years the only known methods to increase mitochondrial density was through chronic endurance and strength training. Boosting the density of mitochondria in muscle cells is similar to upgrading the engine in a car, it increases the rate at which the body converts fuel to usable energy. A surplus of available energy allows increased energy, endurance, strength output, calorie expenditure, and recovery.

In the study, scientists found that curcumin by itself increased mitochondrial density, and when paired with exercise, the benefits were compounded (1). That makes turmeric somewhat of an athletic Holy Grail, especially to an elite athlete like an olympic runner or swimmer, who are focused on shaving hundredths of a second off their time. Given that there are no known toxic levels of turmeric, it combines fundamental and highly sought after performance enhancing properties with unique health-promoting mechanisms that protect athletes from years of intensive training.

Read about some of the health benefits of turmeric in our previous blog post here.

Other benefits associated with increase turmeric intake relevant to athletes (to be covered in later features) are:

  • increased strength and endurance
  • increased muscle growth and faster recovery (anabolic)
  • prevents muscle breakdown (anti-catabolic)
  • increased testosterone / decreased estrogen
  • anti-fatigue
  • increased nitric oxide
  • reduced muscle damage and soreness
  • raised metabolism
  • increased blood flow


Source
  1. http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(15)00190-0/abstract