sports nutrition

Athletes, endurance, and aspirational vegetables

I am a parent and one of the usual meal time challenges even with teenagers is persuading them to eat vegetables. See Vegetable added everything for my last post on the issue of sneaking in the veggies. I was amused then to see this mix in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Not just vegetables but “athlete’s mix”! And yes, we bought some and the high school athlete even ate some. (American readers can admire the bilingual packaging. I missed it when I lived in the US for five years. I kept flipping the cereal box over to practice my French but all I got was more English.)

Lately with all the fuss about protein, even here–see How to Get Lots of Vegan Protein (Tracy) and My new challenge! (me)–we can forget how much vegetables matter for health, well-being, and athletic performance.

In a recent research review the Precision Nutrition team asked Do veggies improve endurance?

I’ll let you go read the full report and just quote their conclusion,

“Supplementing with nitrate for three days, using levels that you can get with eating 200-300 g spinach made male cyclists use less oxygen to do more work.

This improvement came mostly from improving the efficiency of individual mitochondria.

There may be other relevant factors involved. For instance, when we eat food-based nitrate, bacteria in the mouth and gut reduce nitrate to nitrite, which is then converted into nitric oxide (NO). NO signals smooth muscle to relax, which increases vasodilation (opening of blood vessels) and thus improves blood flow. In fact, 8th century Chinese doctors used potassium nitrate to treat cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension and angina (as well as garlic, which also improves NO production).

What does this all mean? If you plan to do any endurance type race I’d say chow down on at least a big container of baby spinach (312 g) for each of the three days leading up to the race, and see if you beat your personal best. Worst case scenario — you’ll eat a little more salad.”


4 thoughts on “Athletes, endurance, and aspirational vegetables

  1. Well, if it means getting veggies into some people by rebranding. I feel sorry for adults who have problems with many different veggies. I sincerely think parents have to try hard and not give up to fast. Latter words are from my sister-doctor who has 2 young children herself.

    But sorry, kinda ridiculous. As a child growing up in Ontario, I couldn’t quite figure why my classmates complained about eating this or that veggie. And they were only complaining beans, peas, ordinary stuff compared what I was eating in the 1960’s -1970’s in Kitchener-Waterloo (bok choy, yu choy, bitter melon, etc. stuff we had to get from Toronto’s Chinatown). But I was raised on a diet that was 80% Chinese home cooking. (Thank you mom for this legacy. I do carry it onward gratefully.)

    I honestly was horrified even as kid, to taste boiled veggies in non-Asian homes.

    My mother did/still does prepare veggies in all kinds of way, with salads the last type. (My parents learned about making salads ….from us, their Canadianized teenagers.)

    It was tasty to us. The other reality was that if we didn’t eat that was put in front of us, we had to find something else healthy on the table to eat or be hungry. We were poor…which believe me, can be a powerful motivator for a child to try the food at least in small amounts. (I absolutely disagree that low income suggests unhealthy eating. It demands parents pay even more attention to what they must buy at reasonable prices at grocery stores and farmers’ markets.)

    Yes, it was flash stir-frying which didn’t seem to catch hold for non-Asians until late 1970’s onward in Canada.

    All my 3 siblings who have children, do carry forward Chinese cooking techniques. It’s convenient, fast, etc. Every sister-mother has made conscious effort with their hubbies, to cook whole and minimize the junk food. Not perfect but proof where generational habits and attitudes towards veggies has very long term effects..which I can say now it’s 85 yrs. and longer across 3 generations. My oldest niece is 27 yrs. old

    So work that backwards before my parents…the previous generations would have eaten veggies. My family roots are rural, village peasant prior to Mao and hence they couldn’t afford much meat.

    Make veggies brushing teeth. If you don’t eat them daily, you feel lousy, constipated, etc.

    Sorry off track from veggies and athletic performance. Dont’ even think about. Just eat a diverse range of veggies that aren’t overcooked.

    I’m sure there will be some who will tell stories of running marathons and being vegan.

  2. Although I can’t weigh in on the research behind vegetables improving endurance- I haven’t researched the topic, let alone read the entire article you quoted- I am going to guess that OF COURSE THEY DO- at least when compared to many of the options in the standard American diet… and whether vegetables are “proven” to significantly improve endurance or not, they are so necessary for the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need! Which of course, you know…

    Really, I just wanted to comment on the product’s packaging. Is that advertising and marketing at it’s best, or what? I think it’s laughable… however, if that’s what it takes to get young athletes to eat their veggies, I guess it’s working!

  3. Very interesting about the spinach. Seems Popeye was right! I’m good on eating veg but lousy on spinach. I probably should give it a try.

  4. I have been very spoiled thus far to have one 3 year old that eats a wide variety of vegetables, but unfortunately my 10 month old is a very picky eater. I know I was growing up, but that came from the fact that my parents fed us canned vegetables most of the year (came from our garden the summer before), but they just didn’t have the same flavor as fresh. As an adult I have come to love so many more vegetables by experimenting with their flavors and textures. If you’ve never checked it out, there are some great recipes by the Sneak Chef on how to incorporate fruits and veggies into foods your kids may already like. One is a great recipe to sneak spinach and blueberries into brownies. What teenager doesn’t love a good brownie? You could also go vegan with sneaking it by adding them pureed to black bean brownies for a super healthy snack/dessert. Especially since black bean brownies are traditionally made with dark chocolate. I know I will have to go the sneaky route with the little one until he discovers what flavors/textures he loves in veggies. Eating is a journey, much like all things in life.

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