Did you know that by incorporating more raw, green vegetables like kale into your diet daily, athletes can improve endurance, energy levels, and postpone fatigue during exercise? Did you also know that they contain powerful anti-cancer properties? Am I catching your attention yet? Continue reading “The 10 Most Super Superfoods: Part 7 of a 10 Part Series”
By now I’m sure that most of you have heard of “doping with beets” to help extend endurance and improve performance, especially when it comes to running and cycling. As an athlete, we’re always looking for ways to optimize training and performance as long as it’s practical and actually works. We all know there’s no real substitute for putting time and work into training. However, incorporating beets into your diet is a simple, naturally effective way to increase the length of your workouts or find that extra edge in endurance or speed. I want to share with you the latest science behind beets and how to incorporate them into your diet to help increase your athletic performance.
Beetroot is a highly nutrient dense vegetable that is high in folate, manganese, potassium and copper. Vitamins A, B and C; antioxidants beta-carotene and beta-cyanine; fiber, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron are also present.
What gives beetroot its pigment are known as betalains and there are two types. Betacyanins, which are vibrant red/violet in color, and betaxanthins, which are yellow in color. Both forms of betalains contain nitrogen and they work as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Beets are also naturally high in inorganic nitrates (NO3-), which the body uses to make both nitrite (NO2-) and nitric oxide (NO). Nitrite is known to protect the blood vessels from injury, while nitric oxide expands blood vessels and therefore increases the flow of oxygen to the cells. This, in turn, increases both the power available to the muscles and the length of time that the muscles can exercise without tiring. NO is made naturally within our bodies but we can dramatically increase its availability by eating nitrate rich food. Studies have shown that drinking beet juice decreased oxygen needs by 19 percent and increased exercise endurance time by 17 percent. A more recent study shows that participants were able to maintain a higher power output for the same amount of oxygen consumed. This led to a 2.7% improved performance compared to the placebo (beetroot juice treated to remove the nitrate).
About 1-2 cups of raw beetroot juice provides the amount of nitrate needed for the average person to increase their blood nitrite, which occurs about 2-3 hours after drinking it. For more elite athletes, it’s likely that you’ll need to use beetroot juice for several days in a row to get a meaningful boost in blood nitrite and hence performance. (I usually use beets daily for about two weeks prior to an important race). However, just going out, buying your own beets and putting them in the food processor or blender doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the benefit. The nitrate content of vegetables (including beetroot) varies significantly according to the soil it’s grown in, the time of year, the fertilizer used, and how soon after being picked the beets are juiced. I highly recommend growing your own or buying organic from a local farmer who can tell you more specifics about their crops. There is also bottled beetroot juice available online for those of you who want a known nitrate content. (Personally, I still use whole beets as I didn’t notice a difference with the bottled beet juice).
Another thing to keep in mind is that the nitrates in beets are converted into nitrites by friendly bacteria in our saliva. This conversion is not instantaneous, and the use of mouthwash or toothpaste too soon after drinking beet juice may wash the nitrates out of your saliva. (As a dental hygienist, I recommend brushing before you eat). Drinking beet juice slowly may increase the time nitrates are in contact with these bacteria, increasing the conversion to nitrites.
Like all supplements, individuals will respond differently to the performance enhancing benefits of beet juice. There is always a chance that no performance benefit will be seen, even at the highest dose given. But they could also provide the race winning boost, so go ahead and try adding beets to your diet and see what happens.
16 oz water
1-2 beets (chopped)
1-2 leaves of kale
1 T chia seeds
1 T flax seed (finely ground)
1 scoop Vega All-In-One Nutritional Shake Powder (Mixed Berry or Vanilla Chia Flavor)
1-2 T goji berries
1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries
1 T MacroLife Naturals Macrogreens
1 inch slice of fresh ginger
1/4 inch slice fresh turmeric
If you’re not eating this super food daily, you’d better start. Blueberries may be small, but they’re certainly not lacking when it comes to being loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants help to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage to cells resulting from free radicals produced during periods of strenuous activity or stress. Whether you’re an athlete or not, we all have stress in our lives so eating foods to help combat that is important. Blueberries have been shown to increase memory, reduce the risk of heart attack, prevent cancer and also promote healthy blood pressure. Researchers believe the high concentrations of anthocyanin, a very powerful antioxidant that gives blueberries their color, is responsible for the protective benefits.
The one Super food you’re probably not eating enough of: Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are one of the most optimal carbohydrates an athlete, or any person for that matter, can consume. I’m not just talking runners here. They’re highly beneficial for anyone who lives a sedentary lifestyle to any athlete looking for more strength, endurance or speed. Sweet potatoes offer a superior complex carbohydrate source that is stored, and then efficiently broken down for future energy needs. Complex carbohydrates serve as an important component of a healthy, well-balanced diet and contribute to weight loss. Because carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, I recommend complex carbohydrates (non-stripped, whole) ideally make up around at least 60% of daily total calories to fuel you for whatever you do.
I usually eat one sweet potato per day or at least four times a week. Here’s why I think you should eat them, too:
- They’re relatively low in calories. A medium-sized sweet potato (2″ in diameter, 5″ long) offers around 103 calories and 24 grams of carbs.
- Sweet potatoes are high in fiber (around 4g or 15% of your daily value). People often ignore the importance of fiber consumption. Fiber not only helps to satisfy you, it also helps you to feel fuller for longer and helps keep your digestion healthy.
- They’re packed with 35% of your daily value of Vitamin C, which helps for immune support and absorption of iron. They contain the highest amount of Vitamin A (beta-carotene) than any other root vegetable, have all the B Vitamins except B12, are high in magnesium and potassium, which will aid in diminishing cramps and preventing muscle spasms, contain all minerals except selenium and are a complete source of protein, helping to protect cells and muscles to recover and regenerate.
- They’ll help you lose weight. As stated above, they’re low in calories and high in fiber. Both play a huge role in weight loss. They also have a high water content to hydrate your body and also keep you fuller for longer and prevent overeating.
- Sweet potatoes are cheap and very easy to cook. If you store them in a cool, dry place, they’ll last for 6-8 weeks. I throw a couple in the oven to bake and have quick and easy snacks before or after my workouts or leftovers for dinner. They’re very versatile. You can bake, boil, mash, grill, roast, shred for use in baking recipes, blend in smoothies or cut into wedges to make fries (I highly recommend baking them with no oil).
- They’re delicious, wholicious and taste amazing alone or in any recipe.
Baked Cajun Sweet Potato Fries
- 3-4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean (organic when possible). I personally like a mixture of Japanese sweet potato and regular sweet potato. The Japanese variety are mild yellow in color and not as sweet.
- 2 Tbsp water in spray bottle
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1.5 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Leave the skin on and cut sweet potatoes into thin, even match sticks with a very sharp knife.
- Transfer to two parchment paper lined baking sheets and spray with water. Then sprinkle with seasonings.
- Arrange in a single layer to ensure they crisp up. Then sprinkle with seasonings.
- Bake for 15 minutes and flip/stir to cook on the other side. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until brown and crispy. You’ll know they’re done when the edges are dark brown and crispy.
- Remove from oven and either serve as is, or drizzle with a bit of maple syrup or honey to offset spiciness.
- Serve plain or with your favorite dip, such as ketchup.
Power up for anything with this super seed! While Chia seeds have gained popularity over the last decade, they are far from new. The Aztecs and Mayans used these seeds dating back to 3500 B.C. The word chia means “strength” and was thought to be more valuable than gold. It was also the inherent dietary staple of a tribe of super-runners in the Copper Canyons of Mexico known as the Tarahumara Indians, which you may know about from the book “Born to Run”.
What exactly is a chia seed? It’s a small black or white seed (no significant nutritional difference between the two) that’s not much bigger than a poppy seed. While it may be small, it certainly packs a punch when it comes to its nutritional content. It is one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3. In fact, one serving (2T), has five times the amount of omega-3 than a 1/4 c serving of walnuts. It contains as much calcium as a 1/2 c of milk, has 2 times the amount of iron and magnesium than one cup of spinach, has as much potassium as 1/3 of a banana and more than twice the fiber of a cup of oatmeal. It’s also loaded with protein, antioxidants and tons of other vitamins and minerals. I include them in all pre and post workout recovery drinks.
It’s super powers for any athlete include:
Need a quick and easy recipe for Easter that’ll also satisfy that craving for something sweet? Try this one using one of my favorite superfoods, Maca.
As an elite athlete, I’m always looking for ways to help compliment my diet to ensure that I’m getting the highest quality nutrition. I always want to be able to perform my best, recover as quickly as possible and stay strong and healthy so I can keep training. Eating a diet filled with a variety of whole foods helps me do this. In my mind every whole food is a superfood, but I’d like to share with you my favorites and some of the most powerful.
For my marathon debut, I decided to go big. Why start with any other marathon other than the USATF National Championships in LA? I had nothing to lose. So I signed up and was accepted into the elite field. I wasn’t really thinking at the time that the field would be completely stacked with professional runners and Olympians. This was also my first race of the season and I wanted it that way, I wanted to be as fresh as possible. I also had some ambitious goals in mind and that was/is to make Olympic Trials 2016 and this could be the place to do it. To do that, I had to run a 2:43.
The night before the race the temperature didn’t dip below 69 degrees. This one was going to be hot! The race director even moved the start up by fifteen minutes to help combat the record high temps. I wasn’t really thinking about the temperature though. I couldn’t take my eyes off the pack of male African runners whose nice easy stride was so mesmerizing and quite calming. I fell in line right behind them and tried to shut my brain off from all the pre-race thoughts and feelings that drive me crazy before the gun goes off.
Once all the women were lined up at the start, I knew there was no turning back now. All my hard work for the past 3 months (well really years, all my previous training and racing was helping to lead up to this) was going to be put to the real test. 90 seconds to start…..30…..10…3,2,boom! I immediately settle in with the second pack and try and just relax. Breathing was quite easy at a 6 minute pace. I felt great and was trying to stay as conservative as possible as everyone usually goes out to fast. I was pretty comfortable but knew it was still very early and anything could happen. I did not anticipate such a huge 3 mile decent right off the bat though. Even though I didn’t feel it, I knew my quads would take a beating later.
Miles 4-8 were very hilly, which I also was not expecting. This was supposed to be a flat, downhill course that was also pretty fast. Coming from Montana, hills are my strength and every time we hit one, I would close in on more women. I tried not to think about hitting hill after hill, but by mile 9, my body felt depleted of something and I couldn’t figure out what. I still felt pretty strong, everything was feeling good, but I couldn’t hold my pace. I dropped to 6:40. I had a plan of what and when to eat/drink/take electrolytes and had been doing so accordingly. What in the world was happening? Still I pressed on. Miles 11-14 more hills and it was getting hotter. Again, I tried not to think of either and just kept telling myself that I could do it. I trained for this, I’m fine, I’m not going to die, pain is temporary and everyone else is suffering just like I am.
When I hit mile 15, I knew my game plan had changed and I just needed to finish. I began cramping in my quads and hamstrings, but not severely. I was taking all the sodium I could and keeping myself hydrated. It was all uphill until mile 22 and then all downhill from there. Mile 18-19 is where the cramping got bad and I was doing anything to not think about it. I was trying to listen to the crowd of people cheer us all on, but it was specifically helpful to hear people yelling my name. I knew I just had to keep my legs moving and finish. I was by now way off pace and ready to be done. The last 5 miles were super frustrating as I wanted to run faster, but couldn’t. I saw a couple women that I had worked so hard to pass, move in front of me. Still, I remained mentally strong and just kept telling myself that the faster I ran, the faster I was finished. I crossed the line in 2:59:40. I was about 15 minutes off my goal, but glad to be done.
Immediately after the finishing, my legs seized up and I could barely walk for about an hour afterwards and it was slow going for a while from there. I was mainly just trying to get water down and some food to balance things out again. When I got to the elite conference room I noticed several disappointed women, knowing that they didn’t make their time goal either. In chatting with some of them later, no one was expecting the hills and the heat to be such a game changer.
To sum things up, I would say that this was a great learning experience for me. Things didn’t go how I had planned, but nothing is ever perfect and you have to roll with it. I feel I did a great job taking in the unexpected and dealing with things as best I could. I have my first marathon under my belt and I broke 3 hours. I found out what some of my weaknesses were and will focus on them to prepare for my next race. The biggest take away is that I was left very unsatisfied with my time and it’s already fueling the fire to find my true potential. Please keep following me on my journey to make the Olympic Trials. I will have many more race reports as the year goes on. Cheer me along as I press on towards the goal.
-Lindsey Hintz, M.S. in Holistic Nutrition, is the founder of Wholicious Living and consults people from around the world. She loves working with anyone and everyone, but especially athletes looking to better their performance.