If you run, hike, swim, snowboard, cycle, attend crossfit, or actively engage in any other sports, then you’re probably aware that your body requires extra nutritional supplementation in order to function properly. Simply put, athletes need more nutrients than less-active people. They demand more from their bodies and thus must compensate with the right nutrients to keep up performance and recovery. Unfortunately, today’s athletes have been duped into believing that in order to maintain proper health, they must consume a wide range of animal products, supplements, and power gels. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions in the field of sports and fitness. In this post, I am not interested in arguing whether athletes should be vegans or not. I simply want to challenge the traditional approach and illustrate that the nutritional needs of an athlete can be met through natural means. I believe all athletes can benefit by consuming more fresh, organic greens and fruits in a blended concoction commonly referred to as a “green smoothie.”
To keep the body performing optimally, you must consistently replenish the following seven essential nutrients: calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc. Traditional athletes accomplish this by taking multivitamins and supplements. In my personal practice, I have found it beneficial to disregard tradition and instead blend green smoothies made from dark leafy veggies and fresh fruit. While I do not consider myself an “endurance athlete,” I live an extremely active life. Here is my idea of a good time: last summer I climbed Mt Shasta (a 14,179 foot tall mountain in Northern California) in four hours and forty-five minutes. The following day I decided that I needed to climb more mountains so I scaled nearby Mt Mcloughlin (9495 feet) and Mt Thielsen (9182 feet) in one day. Mind you, I have never taken artificial supplements and base my success and endurance largely on my diet.
Let us now look at the essential nutrients needed to sustain prolonged exercise, as well as how one can get these elements in natural form.
1.) Calcium is essential because it prevents muscle cramps and helps strengthen bones. According to the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) most athletes don’t meet their need for daily calcium intake. Lack of calcium can lead to a slew of problems, such as, osteoporosis and hormone imbalance. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended daily dose of calcium ranges between 1,000-1,500 mg per day. Most people think that the best way to get calcium is to drink a glass of milk. Few people are aware that dark leafy greens are just as effective at loading the body with calcium. According to the USDA, one cup of milk has 314 mg of calcium (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov). A cup of collard greens has 357 mg of calcium. That’s 63 mg more than a glass of milk. Thus a green smoothie crammed with collard greens can meet ones need for calcium no worse than milk.
2.) Iron is another common element that athletes are deficient in. One of iron’s primary functions is to carry oxygen to cells and eliminate carbon dioxide from the body. Most sports nutritionists recommend eating red meat to get your daily dose of iron. In traditional sports nutrition it is rarely mentioned that tomatoes, apricots, pomegranates, currants, olives, Swiss chard, and parsley are also excellent sources of iron.
3.) Magnesium is essential for athletes. Its presence is vital in more than 300 chemical processes that sustain basic human function and health (http://triathlon.competitor.com). These functions include blood pressure regulations, muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve function, immunity, and cardiac activity. Foods that contain high amounts of magnesium include: almonds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, spinach, beet greens, collards greens, and dates. Adding these foods to your green smoothies will aid your body in many of its metabolic processes.
4.) Potassium is easy! Every good smoothie needs a banana. According to the USDA, one cup of mashed banana has more than 800 mg of potassium. If you’re not a fan of bananas, here is a list of other foods that are high in this essential nutrient: avocado, beet greens, spinach, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, nectarines, and pears.
5.) Selenium is critical to antioxidant production. Athletes who don’t get enough selenium in their diet experience more cell damage and take longer to recover from strenuous exercise. Regular consumption of Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, and seaweed will ensure that your body gets enough selenium.
6.) Sodium retains water in the cells and prevents dehydration. Fresh fruits and vegetable are better at helping cells retain water than any sports drinks on the market. Period!
7.) Zinc levels are directly correlated to endurance. Athletes who have lower than recommended zinc levels in the body will struggle to perform at their peak. According to the ICPA (www.chiro.org) zinc is also crucial for tissue repair. Here are some foods that contain high amounts of zinc: pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, water melon seeds, peanuts, bee pollen, sweet peppers, spinach, parsley, and seaweed.
In addition to the seven essential nutrients, sports enthusiast also require higher than normal amounts of protein. If you look at the nutritional composition of most dark green, leafy veggies, you will find that they rival many types of meat in essential amino acids (protein). For example, one pound of romaine lettuce or kale provides you with roughly the same amount of protein as a quarter pound steak (www.drfuhrman.com). One pound of greens may seem like a lot, but when you blend a pound of greens in a smoothie, it’s not too difficult to consume it in its entirety. After all, large, muscular animals like elephants and cows get their protein from greens.
In a nutshell, my message is simple… “Stop spending money on expensive supplements and instead, blend a smoothie!” I am so confident that green smoothies rival conventional supplements, I’m making a documentary about it. One week ago I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary about how green smoothies affect endurance athletes. For more information on my project, check out this link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sergeiboutenko/powered-by-green-smoothies-feature-film
If you pre-order my video your contribution will help me fund this documentary.
Sergei’s Green Power Smoothie
1 cup spinach
1 cup Swiss chard
1 cup collard greens
1-2 stalks of celery with dark green leaves
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 peach, pitted
4 dates, pitted
2 Tablespoons bee pollen (optional)
Add enough water to blend everything in the blender. Blend until smooth and enjoy!