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
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:
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.