Athletes often concentrate on eating to fuel their performance in specific ways. For example, Olympians are extremely strict about the quantity and timing of their meals. But it's just as important to consider how food can help anyone—even weekend athletes—prevent injury and recover faster from strenuous exercise.
The key is incorporating more antioxidants into the mix. These help protect the body from problem-causing molecules called free radicals. You're exposed to these through everyday pollutants, and the breakdown of certain medications, but they're also produced as part of the body's normal process. When your body is acting efficiently, these free radicals get flushed away, but sometimes they linger and end up causing cell damage. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals, and render them harmless.
When doing your grocery shopping and meal prep for the week, consider these antioxidant-rich choices:
Fruits and Vegetable:
Berries: If you're going to go with one fruit, make it a dark berry like blueberries or blackberries. The key phytochemicals they contain can not only prevent cell damage, but studies have shown that they lower inflammation, which is crucial for injury prevention and recovery.
Prunes: Although they have a reputation more as a digestive aid (which is also a big benefit), prunes are very high in antioxidants. In fact, they have twice the amount as black plums, from which they're derived.
Oranges: Dark-skinned fruits get the most attention for their antioxidants, but oranges also pack an impressive amount as well. Along with peaches, mangoes, and watermelon, they also boast beta-crytoxanthin, which has been shown in some studies to lower the risk of arthritis.
Dark greens: All hail the kale. Leafy greens are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, so load up on options like spinach, kale, collards, and Swiss chard. All of these are also great for lowering inflammation, and putting more dietary fiber into your meals.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are the go to fat for reducing inflammation. Reducing the inflammation around an injured area will help reduce pain and promote healing. Some studies have even shown that with the correct amount of omega-3s pain killers and drugs a like may not be necessary. Examples: salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts.
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that reside in your stomach. They help with digestion and extremely important to athletes. Probiotics increase antioxidant absorption which helps speed up recovery. Not only that, probiotics also boost the immune system. Examples: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh.
In general, eating more vegetables and fruits, along with healthy fats and lean protein,can keep your immune system stronger, minimize muscle aches, and get you bouncing back faster from even a boot camp workout.
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