Remember when your mother used to tell you to eat all the vegetables on your plate? It turns out vegetables are not only the nutritional backbone of a healthy diet, they are also packed with vitamins and minerals crucial for overall health and muscle growth. While some vitamins found in vegetables help convert food into energy, others help decrease the free radical-induced inflammation, oxidative stress and subsequent muscle cell damage from training and other stressors.
Dark green, leafy vegetables
When it comes to nutritional powerhouses, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach hold the top spot. They are packed with fiber, iron (which is crucial to building muscle and strength) and magnesium, another essential mineral to muscle development which also facilitates energy production and carb metabolism. Kale is also a source of copper, which is rare to come across in a normal diet. These veggies can be sautéed, steamed or even chopped up for a salad. Their nutritional value is higher than that of their lighter green counterparts. Popeye was definitely on to something!
A growing body of research is rooting for the beetroot and its benefits for athletic performance. Several studies attest of improved athletic performance after beetroot consumption. Whether baked, shredded raw or made into a colorful smoothie, beetroot has been shown to improve oxygen and nutrient delivery to working muscles by expanding blood vessels for greater blood flow. The folate and betaine it contains also help lower levels of inflammation in the body. The trick, however, is to not consume mouthwash or take antibiotics while eating or drinking beetroots. It could kill the bacteria necessary for converting the nitrates in beets to the nitrites your body uses to improve blood flow to the muscles.
High in fiber and with a low glycemic index, sweet potatoes are one of the cleanest sources of fuel available for our body. They are loaded with slow burning carbohydrates, which provides us with a long-term source of energy that helps power you up for a workout and recover your stores of muscle glycogen afterward. They are also rich in vitamin A, which plays an important role in helping our body synthesize protein.
There are many other vegetables out there, and a diet rich in colorful veggies protects your body from the damaging effects of unstable free radicals and combats inflammation. Consuming a diversity of vegetables provides your body with a diversity of vitamins and minerals, as well as helping you in your pursuits. Make sure to take advantage of this bounty of nature and your future self will thank you!