• By Julie Stefanski
  • In 2020
  • June 17, 2020

Produce to Perform

By Leslie Bonci, MPH,RD,CSSD,LDN

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but they may provide additional benefits for active individuals. Produce brings the macros ( carbohydrate, fiber, protein and fat ( avocados), the micros ( vitamins and minerals) fluid, carbs, the hydros ( fluid) and the phytonutrients to the plate to help you train and minimize muscle damage and pain.

So why does eating more produce matter?

Athletes who up their produce intake benefit from:
• A higher carbohydrate intake to optimize training and performance
• A higher antioxidant and phytonutrient intake to combat oxidative stress and minimize inflammation
• Improved blood flow
• Improved endothelial function
(Barnard et al. Nutrients, 2019 11(1):130)

Dietary nitrates in foods such as beets, spinach, celery and arugula can help with the:
• Regulation of blood flow
• Muscle contractility
• Glucose and calcium homeostasis
• Mitochondrial respiration and biogenesis
(Van Der Avoort et al. Eur J Clin Nutr 2019;72(11)1485-1489)

Anti-inflammatory foods should be part of every athlete’s fuel box and produce can be a way to keep the pain away.
Studies on tart cherries, berries, and pomegranate have shown that these foods can suppress the enzymes that cause inflammation as they contain polyphenols which are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. So changing what is in the glass to tart cherry juice or pomegranate juice or adding berries to cereal, smoothies and salads may be of benefit.

In addition, produce provides micronutrients, Vitamins A and C that are important to support a healthy immune system, as well as aiding in protein synthesis and wound healing.

Vitamin A containing produce includes:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Papaya
  • Kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach

You can Vitamin C in:

  • Cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Red peppers
  • Citrus fruits/juices
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Produce also provides potassium, a mineral and electrolyte that is essential for fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals. Some of the highest potassium sources include:
• Bananas
• Potatoes
• Dried fruit
• Beans and lentils
• Orange juice

Produce in the blender, the glass or on a stick can help us to score with our pour.

Adding more produce is also another way to meet fluid needs every day. Active individuals have greater fluid requirements than sedentary individuals. Water is fine, but fruits and vegetables provide fluid PLUS!
• Fruit infused water
• Fruit vegetable smoothies
• Strawberry-watermelon slushees
• Crop sicles made with fruits and vegetables.

So how can we up the produce in the glass, bowl or plate?

I am a big fan of starting with familiarity.
• Adding veggies to a pizza or spaghetti sauce
• Adding pumpkin, zucchini or carrots to muffins
• Throwing more produce into a smoothie
• Upping the produce in stir-fries
• Adding more veggies into the burger and on the bun
• Veggie noodles and regular pasta can coexist on the plate
• Use a potato as the “bowl” and top with other veggies
• Sweeten a salad with fruit
• Add fruit as well as veggies to a kebab- think pineapple, pepper, onion and chicken kebabs
• Graham crackers topped with nut butter and sliced bananas or strawberries
• Wraps with nut butters and sliced fruit
• Oatmeal with pumpkin, berries and dried fruit
• Frozen pureed banana “ice cream”
• Dried Beet or carrot “ chips” with hummus or other bean dip
• Salsa with mango added and bean chips

So how can you put the pro on the plate?

Aim for ½ of the plate as fruits and veggies.

Think about how you could add some produce with your grains:

• Veggie fried rice
• Spaghetti sauce on the pasta
• Avocado on the toast
To add some produce to your protein:
• Blended burgers with veggies and mushrooms
• Beans or lentils as great sources of protein
• Veggie burgers or crumbles
Aim for produce in the glass through fruit and vegetable juices as well as smoothies

Bring the eye thrill and gut fill to the glass ,bowl or plate to help make your performance great.

Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN is the Owner of Active Eating Advice by Leslie in Pittsburgh, PA and is the sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs. She was the sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 24 years and also worked with the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins.