By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Many people who are committed to sports, exercise and strength training sometimes do not understand the importance of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. These foods can impact endurance, performance and stamina. Many people understand the importance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, but pay little attention to the importance of micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables.
The micronutrient content of fruits and vegetables has an important role to play in maintaining health and optimising exercise performance, energy production and tissue recovery during periods of exercise training. Certain nutrients can’t be synthesised by the body so it’s essential that a person consumes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to support daily training and recovery.
A sub-optimal intake of fruits and vegetables can lead to fatigue, muscle damage, lack of muscle strength and impaired immune function; all of which can have detrimental effects on training and recovery for competition or general sports performance and fitness.
Athletes and people who may be exercising intensively may also have an increased risk of illness and infection. Due to a higher need for anti-oxidants they need to have a higher intake of these invaluable nutrients and can get there with an extra helping of fruits and vegetables. Juicing is a great way to consume that extra requirement. In a study that looked at anti-oxidants in exercise, the most beneficial prescription – a daily diet containing five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables.
Certain nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and minerals such as magnesium and potassium found in fruits and vegetables have a role in maintaining the integrity of the immune system and muscle contraction and strength. These nutrients act as free radical scavengers and reduce free radical damage which can increase the destruction of healthy muscle cells and tissues thus reducing performance, endurance and strength. Intensive exercise will deplete these vital nutrients.
Vitamin C is a natural anti-oxidant which can help reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress and supports a healthy immune system by supporting white blood cell production. Some foods high in Vitamin C are berries, oranges, capsicum (peppers), guava, grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale.
Vitamin E is also a free radical scavenger and may improve stamina during exercise. Plant-based sources of vitamin E are found in olive oil and other cold-pressed nut and seed oils, kale, tomato, spinach, watercress and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Magnesium and potassium are important for energy production, muscle contraction, relaxation and muscle strength and healthy nerve function. Magnesium and potassium rich plant foods are green colour vegetables, cauliflower, beetroots, bananas, avocado, apricots and figs.
B vitamins such as B1,B2,B3,B5,B6 and folate(B9) are also very important for energy metabolism, muscle and nerve conduction and can be found in legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Quercetin, a flavonoid found in fruits and vegetables, has unique biological properties that are likely to improve mental & physical performance and reduce infection risk during intense exercise.
Consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults due to its ability to improve oxygen utilisation during exercise as mentioned in the Reboot weekly recipe, it has also been shown to reduce blood pressure due to its ability to increase dilation of the blood vessels.
Dark green vegetables are full of nutrients vital for athletic performance and should be eaten regularly – high in calcium, vitamin c, magnesium, zinc, iron and many other nutrients.
Adding more fruits and vegetables into the diet can be done easily by having fruits and vegetables as a snack and it should be at the top of the snack list. Enjoy celery, carrots, capsicum (peppers) and cucumber sticks with fruit. They are a very nutritious source of plant carbohydrate.
Juicing is a great way to increase your natural consumption of fruits and vegetables, a great addition to refuel with carbohydrates, phyto-nutrients, anti-oxidants and electrolytes, here is a great electrolyte rich vegetable juice Summer Games Inspired Sports Juice that you can consume before or after exercise to improve performance and recovery.