5 Key Performance-Enhancing Superfoods

November 21, 2014
athlete

I just watched the Showtime documentary Stop at Nothing the other night, this powerful film profiles Lance Armstrong’s obsession with winning, fame, and power.

Watching that film got me thinking about the one thing that all serious competitive athletes have in common is – they have a very powerful desire to win.  In order to win, an athlete knows they need to set goals, train hard, and that means that they need to be able to push through pain and overcome adversity.  Often they have to make sacrifices in other areas of their lives to truly commit to their chosen sport.

The better an athlete gets at their sport and the tougher the competition gets – the harder it gets to stay on top.  I understand the immense pressure Lance Armstrong and other serious athletes are under to win.

Unfortunately, Lance chose to take the illegal and unethical path of using banned substances to gain an unfair edge. It eventually cost him everything – his Tour de France titles, all his lucrative contracts, and the respect of the world.  His actions and choices led to disgrace. I hope one lesson that young athletes can learn from Lance’s mistakes, is that it is not worth compromising your character to win, and that trying to rely on the “quick fix” might come back to bite you in more ways than one.  Because even some of the legal substances that athletes think will help them gain an edge can potentially lead to deficiencies in other areas of performance or recovery, and potentially even serious health trouble (ranging from dehydration to cramping and even organ dysfunction).  Just because a product might make your muscles look bigger, does not mean that they are necessarily stronger, or will make you be able perform better.

The good news, is there are a number of natural and healthy ways for athletes to gain a competitive edge today. One area that all too often gets overlooked is the power of using foods to improve performance and recovery. And the cool thing about nutritional approaches?  Beyond the performance & recovery benefits, they can also offer other health benefits ranging from disease prevention to brain function and balancing mood.  The first step is simple -

Just get the junk out!

Realize that the majority of people (yes, even athletes too) are eating way too many processed foods and getting too much sugar (read about what happened to a man who ate 40 teaspoons of sugar a day in just 60 days – which is a little more than the average teenage boy gets).  The more processed foods in your diet – the more energy the body has to expend on detoxification, the more bogged down the body will become, and the less energy you will have for your training. Processed diets are nutritionally deficient – and athletes need nutrients to perform and recover. Another thing that happens to the body when the diet has too much sugar or processed ingredients – inflammation.  An athlete’s enemy, inflammation leads to swelling, pain, and can degrade performance, range of motion, flexibility, and recovery. Inflammation raises our risk of overuse injuries, asthma, and almost every major disease.  Simply cleaning up the diet and staying properly hydrated, and getting more plant-based foods, high quality grass fed or organic proteins, and cutting out the junk – will give an athlete an edge over the competition.

Got a clean diet and ready to take it a step further?  Check out these superfoods to see if they can help to take you and your performance to the next level.

5 Performance-Enhancing Superfoods:

1. Mushrooms

Although not typically the first thing that comes to mind when talking about athletic performance, mushroom’s are one of nature’s most powerful superfoods – and could be an athlete’s secret weapon.  Mushrooms are a type of fungi, or bacteria that can offer a wide range of health benefits ranging from immune-boosting to performance-enhancing effects. They have been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years.  Although you will get health benefits from adding a few button mushrooms into your omelette, for performance enhancement, athletes will want to look to medicinal-grade mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane. An ideal way to incorporate them into an athlete’s diet is with certified organic mushroom powders, which can be added to things like smoothies, soups and drinks.  Interested in seeing how mushrooms can boost your performance?

A local company called Mushroom Matrix, offers organic mushroom powders, and have extended a 10% off coupon for me to share with you, enter: rebalancelife at checkout to get your 10% discount. Some Mushroom Matrix organic powders to try:

  • Cordyceps, is one of the best mushrooms for athletes, because it boosts oxygen delivery and ATP synthesis – which is critical for energy production. Cordyceps support energy, stamina, recovery, and endurance. Discovered by Tibetian herdsman, cordyceps mushrooms are unique in that they grow on insects.  Other potential benefits of cordyceps include: reducing inflammation, supporting a healthy mood, a healthy weight, healthy cholesterol levels, as well as anti-tumor effects, and blood sugar management.
  • Reishi mushrooms are adaptogenic, which means they adapt to help support the body recover from physical and mental stress.  Often called “the mushroom of immortality,” reishi mushrooms support the immune system and the cardiovascular system.  They support aerobic capacity and recovery.
  • “Fit” formula, which combines both Reishi and Cordyceps powders into one to create a powerful formula to support respiration, endurance, and recovery.

Make sure to choose organic when purchasing mushrooms or mushroom powders/supplements.

2. Beetroot juice or powders 

Google beetjuice and performance, and you will find a plethora of articles touting the benefits – “beets are like legal blood-doping” and “like taking performance enhancing drugs.”  At the Olympic training center in London – athletes were eschewing the brightly colored sports drinks and downing bright pink cocktails of beet juice, pineapple, ginger and orange juice instead. The benefits of beet juice come from their high content of nitrates, which are converted in the body into nitric oxide – which causes blood vessel dilation, and improves energy production and usage – which makes the body more efficient, and supports the heart to do it’s work.  You can juice whole organic beets, or buy a beetroot powder. I recommend if you do incorporate beets/use a powder, to make sure it is non-GMO or organic. Add some spinach, chard and celery to your drink too – as they also are high in nitrates.  One example of a organic beet powder to try is Superbeets organic beet powder, just 1 teaspoon is equivalent to eating 3 organic beets.

One thing to point out with beetjuice – it can change the color of your stool and urine.  So don’t freak out the day after trying beet juice when your toilet water looks pink.

3. Chia seeds

From the book Born to Run: “In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.” An ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds may rival mushrooms as one of the oldest performance-enhancing foods. Chia seeds gave the ancient Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle.  Chia seeds boost endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reduce inflammation.  Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, and are also high in fiber, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium – all important for athletes.  Omega 3s are shown to lower inflammation – critical for recovery and injury prevention.  Unlike flax, chia is rich in antioxidants, which means it will not go rancid after grinding, and helps to prevent free radical damage.  Chia seed are uniquely hydrophillic, so when they come in contact with water, they form a gel-like substance.  This chia gel slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to level out bloodsugar and maintain energy/endurance.  Chia gel also holds on to water, which helps to maintain hydration – very important for an athlete.  Always make sure to consume chia seeds with plenty of water or liquids to prevent dehydration, I like to soak the chia seeds for about 5 minutes before consuming to ensure they are hydrated.  Add chia seeds to your smoothie, or make chia pudding.

4. Virgin Coconut Oil

Medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) which are found in coconut oil have been known in the body building industry for a few decades as a superior form of fat.  Medium chain fatty acids are more readily converted to energy by the body, so it is also less likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oil is more easily digested, so it is less likely to cause stomach upset than other fats. Taking coconut oil in the morning helps to train the body to use fat as fuel, instead of glucose.  If an athlete can get their body out of sugar-burning mode – that can be a key advantage over the competition.   I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of coconut oil to your morning smoothie, chia pudding, or oatmeal.  A 1978 study also found that coconut oil increases the body’s production of hGH within 30-90 minutes of ingesting it.  Coconut oil has some other key advantages – first, it is a m

5. Goji berries

Another ancient superfood with a rich history, the goji berry is a small red berry that has a slightly tart flavor.  Also known as wolfberries, they can be eaten raw or made into a tea. Goji berries are known to naturally increase the body’s production of human growth hormone – which is known to improve performance and also has anti-aging effects.

Using nutrition is a healthy and ethical way for athletes to improve their performance, endurance, and recovery.

Note: although some foods can impact performance immediately, others will take longer to build up into the system – so allow up to 4 weeks of consistently taking them to reach the full benefit. Also, some people might notice a difference/benefit from adding superfoods, while others may not.

The other benefit of adding superfoods to your diet – is that they can offer many benefits beyond just performance and recovery enhancement – ranging from immune-boosting to disease-prevention.

A final word of advice to gain an edge? Don’t undervalue recovery.  Like all things in nature, the body has a yin and yang, and in order to perform at your best – you need to be allowing your body the time to recover in order to perform at your best (read: The Yin and Yang of Sports Recovery and  Are you Headed for Performance Burnout?).

Some links to studies/articles:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Are You Headed for Performance Burnout?

August 6, 2014
runner
Categories: Sports Nutrition
  • Have you been suffering from low energy, or frustrated with your athletic performance?
  • Do you need to eat every 2-3 hours or you get “Hangry” (angry-hungry)?
  • Do you find that you are constantly craving sugary foods?
  • Do you rely on excesses of caffeine, sugar or need daily naps to keep you going?
  • Do you get frequent stress fractures?
  • Suffer from performance anxiety?

Your metabolism could be in sugar-burning mode, which means you could be headed for performance burnout, or worse.  Not good for an athlete, or anyone else for that matter.
Surprisingly, it is actually quite common for athletes to be hiding a “dirty little secret”….sugar addiction.  Sugar addiction is very common and is a slippery slope. It is pretty easy see how and why it can happen:

  • Because it sneaks in & athletes tend to rely on it. Yes, you do need to replenish lost glycogen after a hard workout, but many athletes aren’t regularly balancing out their bloodsugar with some protein or fat too.  A lot of sports nutrition products have a lot of sugar, so athletes get used to relying on sugar before and after workouts, and get on what I call “the sugar rollercoaster.”
  • Because they carbo-load. A lot of carbs convert right into sugar in the body, so eating too many high glycemic carbs will spike the blood sugar. In fact, some carbohydrates (like pretzels, breads) spike blood sugar even higher than a candy bar!  Having a serving of starchy carbs (like sweet potato, or rice) with dinner the night before/after a big workout is a good idea, but a giant portion is not needed (and the excess will only get stored as fat).  And snacking on simple carbs all day long will put you on a sugar rollercoaster. Balance out the carbs with some blood sugar leveling protein and healthy fats (see the Rule of Three below).
  • Because they can. People who workout a lot might be able to eat lots of sugary junk foods and not gain weight (but too often they are replacing nutrient dense choices for empty ones). It can often drive an athlete’s less active friends crazy exactly how much junk food an athlete can put away and not gain an ounce! Yes, one of the benefits to working out regularly, is that you do get a little more leeway in your diet for splurge foods than the average couch potato.  So why not reward ourselves with a treat after a hard workout? Just because you can swing by 7-11 and drink a large blue Slurpee or polish off a whole box of Little Debbie cakes every day after your long workouts and still have less than 14% body fat does not mean you should.  Splurge foods should not be used to replenish the body after a hard workout.  Unfortunately, you can not truly “exercise off” the impact that excess sugar, chemicals, and trans fats has on the body.

Even though endurance athletes might “burn” off the calories; the impact of the sugar, chemicals, additives, colorings, and trans fats will not support recovery, performance, or overall health. And although you might be able to get away with it for a while, relying on refined sugar and processed foods for energy is going to come back to bite you eventually.  Take Dwight Howard of the LA Lakers for example. Addicted to sugar, Howard reportedly was eating the “equivalent of 24 Hersey bars per day.” And even though he “looked the part,” and had a low body fat percentage, Howard was not “feeling the part,” and his blood glucose numbers were showing that he was running on sugar, and could be headed for trouble even off the court – read Nutrition in the NBA to learn more. Also read: Lochte Ditches Fast Food to Go for Gold.

Here is the thing, if you are eating too much sugar for a long period of time, your metabolism becomes kind of “lazy,” it learns to rely on sugar, and gets less effective at converting fat into energy. This can negatively impact an athletes’ performance.  When this happens to non-active people, it amounts to weight gain – with a lot of it in the midsection.  Even athletes can end up with weight gain, especially off season.  Over a long period of time, repeatedly spiking the blood sugar can lead to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance where the body is no longer able to effectively process the sugars. When this happens, the sugar is not effectively being delivered to the cells (resulting in low energy/fatigue), and the sugar stays in the bloodstream longer.  Elevated blood sugar over several years raises the risk of most major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimers and dementia.  And kids are not immune to the dangers of excess sugar.  We are seeing a rise in diseases affecting kids (like diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) that were once thought to hit only in adulthood.

  • Worried if your sugar intake is impacting your health?  Ask you doctor for a fasting glucose test, A1c test, and also consider having your your liver enzymes checked – non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is rising in this country, largely in part to excess soda and HFCS intake.

So how do you get out of sugar-burning mode, into fat-burning mode?  One of the biggest reasons that so many of us are hooked on sugar is because we have been led to believe that fat is bad for us. The truth is, most people who eat too much sugar are simply not getting enough healthy fat in their diets.  I am not talking cupcakes here – I am talking about healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts, chia or hemp seeds, fatty fish, and olives.  Did you see the cover of the June 12 Time Magazine titled, Ending the War on Fat? It had a curl of butter on the cover. Yes, butter (go for grass fed) is a healthy fat! Grass fed butter contains something called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is well-known in the bodybuilding industry to burn fat and make you lean.  Yep – pretty ironic that all those years we were told to eat margarine instead of butter. Margarine is loaded with trans fats, the worst kind for our health!!

One of the keys to a strong metabolism, good energy, disease prevention, and balanced health is to keep the blood sugar under control throughout the day – so I recommend following a “rule of three,” which means you should always get at least one of the three each time you eat:

  • Healthy Fat (coconut oil, chia, hemp, fatty fish, nuts, olives, avocados) – too much fat is not good right before a workout however. My favorite fat for athletes is coconut oil – because it is easy on the digestion and as a medium chain fatty acid, it converts quickly into energy.  Add a teaspoon or two to your morning smoothie and see if you feel more energized, level, and less “hangry” after your workout.
  • Protein (seek high quality grass fed proteins, fish, nuts, or plant proteins like hemp)
  • Fiber (such as that found in plant-based foods, chia seeds), even better if you can pair the fiber with some protein or fat too!

Another key factor for avoiding performance burnout is allowing the body to recover properly.  Read The Yin & Yang of Sports Recovery for more info.

Struggling with sugar issues?  I have been there too. Most Americans are just getting too much of it.  That is why I created my One Week to Break Up with Sugar eCourse – offering tips and suggestions for helping people to get it out for good!!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Top 5 Supplements (Pretty Much) Everyone Needs

June 28, 2014
Vitamin D

A very common question that comes up a lot is – “Am I getting all the nutrients I need from my regular diet?”

The short answer is – probably not.

I am a big proponent of obtaining the majority of our nutrients from foods, because they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals – all of which enhance the absorption and utilization by the body. In some cases, eating certain foods together can even magnify the benefits of nutrients, read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more.  But there are a number of reasons that we might not be getting all of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis.

One reason for nutrient deficiencies is simply that we simply might not be eating enough nutritious foods.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be too high in packaged, processed and fast foods which is probably lacking in some key nutrient.  And to make things worse – processed foods also tend to deplete nutrients within the body, because the body uses them up trying to metabolize foods that are high in sugar, trans fats, and preservatives!  So they are a double-whammy!

But even people who eat a high quality diet rich in plant-based foods could have deficiencies for any of the following reasons:

  • Poor soil quality. Even if you get the most stellar diet full of plant-based foods; because soils are increasingly becoming depleted, much of our food is becoming more depleted as well. Buying organic certainly helps, as organic food tends to be grown in better soil, and your body won’t have to deal with all the pesticides either.
  • Low stomach acid.  If you have low stomach acid, you might not be effectively breaking down and absorbing the nutrients you take in.  Low stomach acid becomes even more prevalent as we age.
  • Digestive trouble: Food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, or another gut issue can also inhibit absorption and utilization of nutrients.
  • Anti-Nutrients.  Some compounds in foods prevent the body from absorbing nutrients, these are called anti-nutrients. For example, phytic acids which are in grains, nuts, and soy; bind to and prevent the uptake of important minerals like zinc and magnesium. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting can in many cases reduce or elminate phytic acids.
  • Missing Key Co-factors:  Did you know that in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins, that you need to have some fat with them as a carrier?  Or that in order to get calcium into the bone, that you also need vitamin D, magnesium and other key co-factors?  So even if you are drinking lots of green juice, if you are not getting enough healthy fat with it, a lot of the nutrients are not being absorbed.
  • Prescription medications. Some prescription medications can lead to vitamin, mineral and hormone deficiencies, read the book Drug Muggers by Suzy Cohen, RPh to learn which medications deplete which nutrients, and how to replenish them.
  • Genetic defects – having a genetic defect – such as a methylation defect – can lead to a reduced ability to convert certain nutrients into their useable form.  This can even lead to an increased risks for diseases such as elevated homocysteine.  If you want to know if you might have a genetic defect such as under-methylation, or a reduced ability to handle free radicals, a company called Neurosciences offers several genetic tests that are also very reasonably priced.

How Can You Tell if You Have Deficiencies?

There may or may not be symptoms at all, but nutrient deficiencies can show up in many different ways – ranging from fatigue, weight gain, migraine headaches, neurological symptoms, focus issues, and much more.

If you do decide to supplement, you might still have questions – which nutrients do I need, and how much should I take?  If you want to know exactly what nutrients you are deficient in, in order to more effectively target your supplementation – consider getting the SpectraCell Micronutrient test – which tests white blood cells to measure the functional levels of 35 nutritional components including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids.

When supplementing, I always caution people against buying the cheapest option, or whatever is on sale. Poor quality supplements tend to be poorly absorbed, and worse – they might even do harm. For example, cheap calcium supplements that do not contain the key co-factors for absorption into the bone, can cause the calcium to migrate to where it should not go, potentially causing calcifications of the arteries, and an increased risk of heart disease.  Read: Dietary Supplements, Quality is Key.

But in general, there are 5 supplements that pretty much everyone can benefit from:

1. Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin”

Referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a fat-soluble pre-hormone that in synthesized from exposing the skin to the sun. Not surprisingly after years of slathering on the sunscreen – many Americans are now low in vitamin D levels. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D.

  • Why is Vitamin D deficiency a concern? I can not emphasize the importance of this nutrient enough – having optimal levels of Vitamin D could literally save your life!! It is estimated that a large percentage of breast cancers could be prevented with optimal levels of vitamin D. Insufficient levels of vitamin D raises our risk of fractures and osteoporosis, inflammation, leaky gut, MRSA infections, heart disease, and breast cancer. Vitamin D plays a role in cell growth and immune system function. It is so important to our immune systems, that vitamin D is shown to be more effective in preventing the flu than the flu shot. A 2012 University of Copenhagen study found a link between low vitamin D and heart disease, and a study at Oregon Health and Science University linked low vitamin D levels to multiple sclerosis.  Several studies have also found a link between low vitamin D status and difficulty losing weight. Read: Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D to learn more.
  • How to get it:  The sun is our best source of vitamin D.  And you don’t need a lot – 15-20 minutes most days of the week – should do the trick for most.  But because vitamin D is so critical, an insurance plan (supplementing) is a good idea.
  • If supplementing, you always want to buy vitamin D3 (not D2). Most adults can benefit from 2,000 IU of D3 a day.  But have your blood levels of vitamin D levels checked, because if they are low (below 30 ng/ml), your doctor might temporarily want you on a higher dose.  Below 20 ng/ml is the danger zone where fractures and cancer risks skyrocket!  What if you are supplementing and your D levels are not rising?  You could have a genetic defect that reduces your ability to convert Vitamin D.  Or you could be deficient in a very important mineral needed for the conversion of vitamin D – magnesium!

2. Magnesium: “The calming mineral”

Magnesium is another nutrient that could save your life – literally!  In emergency rooms they give magnesium to people who have suffered a heart attack, because studies have shown that IV magnesium after a heart attack offers protection to the heart muscle.

It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium which is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, nerve health, bone building, and heart health. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in serotonin production, protein building, and the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP). Magnesium helps rid the body of toxins and acid residues, and is also needed for the synthesis of vitamin D and absorption of calcium.

One of the most important minerals for our heart health, magnesium is also emerging as an important mineral for cancer prevention.  A study from Sweden reported that women with the highest magnesium intake had a 40% lower risk of developing cancer than those with the lowest intake of the mineral.

Heavy alcohol consumption depletes magnesium, which could be one reason that drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day raises our risk of breast cancer.  About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones.

Magnesium has been found in studies to stimulate the release of adiponectin, which is known as a “fat-burning hormone.”  So low levels of magnesium could be causing us to hang on to fat longer!  Magnesium has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, another important factor in a healthy metabolism. Low magnesium levels can lead to muscle cramping, migraine headaches, and could even be a factor in a sluggish metabolism.

Food sources of magnesium include leafy greens, seeds (like pumpkin), avocado, broccoli, and beans. But perhaps the best (and most delicious) way to get magnesium is from raw cacao – the main ingredient in dark chocolate, or try these yummy almond butter cups.
If supplementing, look for citrate, malate, orotate, glycinate (avoid oxide form, which is poorly aborbed and more of a laxative).

3. Omega 3s“Brain and mood food”

Two kinds of polyunsaturated fats – the omegas – are called “essential” because the body can not make them, so they must be obtained from the diet. Having the right balance of essential fatty acids is important in preventing inflammation. Ideally we should be getting a 1:3 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats in our diets.  But because most processed foods are made with cheap soy, cottonseed or vegetable oils; which are high in omega 6s we are getting closer to 1:20 ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s.  This sets us up for chronic inflammation.

Omega 3 fats are important for healthy brain function, to support a balanced mood, for heart health, and have even been studied by the US Military to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Omega 3s are found in fatty fish, some nuts, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and also in grass fed meats, and pastured chicken eggs.  You can supplement with a high quality fish oil.  And I like to take chia seeds every day too. Omega 3s reduce inflammation in the body, which is very important for disease prevention.  This article can help guide you on choosing a high quality fish oil. (note: high doses of fish oil can thin the blood, so they should be stopped a few weeks before any surgery, and consult a doctor if on medication).

4. Probioticsfeeds the digestion and immune system

Humans have trillions of bacteria in our bodies, in fact we are made up of 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, so technically we are more bacterial than human! Bacteria live in our digestive system, our skin, and mucus membranes – our bodies are literally teeming with them.  There are between 500 and 1000 different types of bacteria in our guts alone!  Bacteria play an extremely important role in our metabolism, digestive and immune system health. Perhaps even more than we currently realize.

When it comes to bacteria, it is all about balance.  Research shows that ideally we should have 20 times more beneficial bacteria than the unhealthy kind to maintain a healthy immune and digestive system.  A balanced inner ecosystem is very important for digestion, immunity, mood, and even has an impact on your weight. There is even some very good research suggesting that it could be a player in the fight against heart disease and diabetes.

You can get good bacteria from fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chee, kombucha tea, and yogurt.  But most people do not get enough fermented foods, so I recommend that most everyone takes a high quality probiotic supplement to make sure to keep the good bacteria outnumbering the bad.

5. B Vitamins – the “Stress vitamins”

The B vitamins are critical for a healthy metabolism and are needed in order to convert our food into energy.  Often referred to as the stress vitamins, the B vitamins are water soluble, so they are not stored in the body for long, and stress causes us to excrete them more.  B vitamins are important for energy, mood, sleep, nerve function, detoxification, digestion, heart health, and more.  Here are some of the key ones:

  • Vitamin B12 is important for energy, mood, memory, and focus; a deficiency can cause anemia and nerve damage. Because B12 is naturally only available in animal proteins, it is very common for vegans to be deficient unless they are supplementing. Having inadequate levels of stomach acid can also cause a B12 deficiency. Food sources include: sardine, cod, tuna, chicken, beef, and salmon.
  • Vitamin B6 is important for metabolism of protein and sugar, sleep, anti-inflammation, gallbladder health, and hormone balance. A B6 deficiency can lead to PMS, low levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters, and gallbladder trouble.  Taking birth control and hormone replacements depletes B6.  Food sources include tuna, turkey, chicken, salmon, beef, sweet potato, beans, and banana.
  • B9 (Folic Acid): Important for prevention of colon cancer, heart disease and stroke, and birth defects. Folic acid deficiency can show up as elevated homocysteine, which can damage blood vessels and raise the risk of heart disease.  This can happen despite adequate dietary intake of B vitamins if someone has problems with methylation (conversion of the B vitamins).   Poor methylators should take the active methyl forms of B12 (methylcobalamin) and folic acid (methylfolate).   There is a genetic test for methylation, talk to your doctor if you want the test – available through companies like Neuroscience, Inc.

Getting your B vitamins from a high quality multivitamin can be a good way to go, because you are getting a little insurance on the other key nutrients that could be missing as well.  Find one that contains the Methlycobalamin form of Vitamin B 12.  I prefer capsules or liquid over tablets – because they are better absorbed.

Other important B vitamins:

  • B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is important for skin and adrenal health, blood pressure and the thyroid.
  • B1 (Thiamine) is needed for carbohydrate metabolism and can be useful with digestive issues.  Food sources include animal proteins, fish, eggs, and dairy.
  • B3 (Niacin) is important for the production of hormones, including the stress hormones. Higher doses can be toxic to the liver.
  • B2 (Riboflavin) deficiencies could lead to migraine headaches.

Those are the top 5 supplements that I find that most people need.  You can either get them from a high quality multi-vitamin But below are some other common nutrients that can cause problems if there are deficiencies:

  • Iodine: Important for thyroid health and prevention of breast cancer, iodine is known to uptake heavy metals, which can interfere with thyroid health. One of the best food sources of iodine are the sea vegetables, particularly kelp.
  • Zinc: Important for hormones and growth, low zinc levels can lead to short stature and delayed growth/puberty in kids.  Zinc is also important for detoxification and immune health.  One sign that you could be zinc deficient is a lack of sense of smell or taste. Food sources include oysters and cashews.
  • Selenium: a very important trace mineral that is important for the immune system, thyroid health and even skin and breast cancer prevention.  One of the best food sources is Brazil nuts – in fact, they are so rich in selenium that you can eat too many of them. Just about 4 a day can get you to optimum levels of selenium.
  • CoQ10: Very important for energy production and cellular health, our production of CoQ10 declines with age.  Another thing that severely depletes our CoQ10 levels are taking Statins.  If you are taking a statin – ask your doctor about supplementing with CoQ10.
  • Calcium: Our needs for calcium vary throughout our lives, but one group that is probably not getting hitting their calcium requirements are teenagers, who need about 1,300 mg/day. But taking calcium alone is not going to get the job done.  Calcium needs to be taken with the co-factors magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and trace minerals in order to be absorbed into bone.  Even milk is missing some of the key co-factors for absorption. Read Got Fractures? for more information about building strong bones in kids. The calcium supplement that I recommend is Algae Cal, because it is a foods-based calcium and contains the co-factors needed for absorption.  But make sure to still get your calcium from foods too – broccoli, sardines, sesame seeds, and dark leafy greens.
  • Iron: the most common deficiency worldwide, being a vegan increases the risk of iron deficiency anemia because the best food sources tend to be animal-based proteins like red meat.  But be careful, as some iron supplements can upset the stomach, and it is possible to get too much iron. There is also a genetic defect that causes iron to accumulate too much, which can be very dangerous to health – those people should avoid supplements with iron, and limit iron rich foods, and avoid alcohol which can worsen the problem.

Many people can benefit from some high quality supplements. But you also want to be careful to not overdo it – especially with vitamins that can accumulate in the body – like the fat soluble vitamins. And even if you do choose to supplement, realize that supplements alone can’t replace a healthy diet, and those taking prescription medications or who have an existing health condition should consult with their doctor first.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

June 10, 2014
smoothie

One of the most interesting things about sweet potatoes, is that despite having “sweet” in their name, and tasting sweet, they are low glycemic.  Low glycemic foods gradually raise your bloodsugar. Sweet potatoes spike your bloodsugar significantly less than a regular white potato!

They are a nearly perfect food with high fiber, rich in vitamins like beta carotene (which gives it’s flesh the rich orange color), and have been shown to aid in recovery for athletes. Read 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance to learn about how sweet potatoes and other foods are good for performance and recovery.

I actually prefer yams over sweet potatoes, because they are darker in color, which means richer in vitamins and nutrients (sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably and confused). So this recipe should really be called yam pie – but that does not sound as good.

Last night we had roasted sweet potatoes and I sprinkled on some cinnamon and swirled in some applesauce into them.  It was so good – it tasted like a cross between apple and pumpkin pie.   So today I decided to recreate that yumminess with a Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie smoothie!

Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cooked sweet potato/or yam (I prefer using roasted) – you could also use pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut water
  • 2 Tablespoons chia seeds
  • 6 raw cashews (ideally soak for 2-6 hours, then drain) – you could use 1-2 Tablespoons hemp hearts, or a scoop of vanilla Warrior Blend protein powder instead – this adds creaminess
  • 2-3 Tablespoons organic applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon* (or more if you prefer – I do!)
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, or raw coconut meat (supports energy & metabolism)
  • dash of pink Himalayan salt (I add this to all my smoothies – brings out the sweetness, flavors, boosts the trace minerals, supports the adrenals).
  • Splash of pure vanilla extract.
  • Ice as needed to thicken

Directions:

  1. Put the water and coconut water into the blender, add the chia seeds and let them soak for 3-5 mins.
  2. Then add in the rest of the ingredients – blend.
  3. Add ice as desired to thicken.
  4. Taste and adjust.
  5. Serve & enjoy!

Whip this up before heading to the gym, because it is chock full of superfoods for peak performance!!

* Cinnamon is a wonderful spice for supporting healthy blood sugar levels. The more common form of cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia cinnamon. Cassia has coumarin, a compound that is toxic to the liver in high doses. Although less common in the U.S., Ceylon type of cinnamon is considered “true” cinnamon, and it does not contain coumarin.  It might be a little more expensive, but I find Ceylon to be milder, a little sweeter, and more complex – definitely the best cinnamon choice!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Yin & Yang of Sports Recovery

May 24, 2014
yin-yang
Categories: Sports Nutrition

All things in nature require a balance of yin and yang – dark and light, white and black, male and female, and so on.  The human body is that way too – it needs balance in order to have optimal health, or homeostasis. Yet too often, we are so focused on working out harder, getting faster, and pushing ourselves; that we forget that we also need to support the body to heal and recover!  This can potentially lead to fatigue, performance issues; injuries, burn out, and even adrenal fatigue. And in kids it can even lead to slow growth or delayed puberty.

Here are some tips to help make sure your athlete is recovering properly:

Free Radical Repair:
Athletes can suffer up to 200 times the free radical damage compared to less active people.  Scientists have found that a diet rich in antioxidants may help with exercise recovery by reducing muscular damage.   Plant-based foods are all good sources of antioxidants and fiber, especially berries.  Dried berries are a good addition to trail mixes, especially goji berries which are known for stimulating Human Growth Hormone.  Here is a list of 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance – if you are using some of these foods already – great!  If not, see how you can fit them into your diet, and see if you notice a difference in performance and recovery. And make sure to get organic for The Dirty Dozen to avoid pesticides. 

I find smoothies to be one of the easiest ways to pack in the nutrition – I like to use coconut water as a base, because that will support hydration and help replenish lost glycogen, and then add in superfoods like chia or hemp seeds, and toss in some berries for free radical repair.  I also like to make a “secret salad” in my smoothies – by adding in some baby spinach or a greens powder – you can’t even taste it!  Another good addition is a teaspoon or two of coconut oil, which is a healthy fat that is converted to energy quickly.

Muscle Building and Repair:
Proteins are the building blocks for our muscles, and also critical for detoxification channels. When it comes to protein – quality is key.  Focus on grass fed beef, and organic chicken, pork, and pastured eggs. Conventional animal protein can contain hormones, antibiotics, and also resistant bacteria. Eating some protein within a half an hour of your practice or game is a good strategy for building and repairing muscle tissue. Just know, it does not have to be a big serving – overdoing the protein is a common mistake – especially with the protein powders and bars.  A handful of nuts is an easy and portable option, or if you like bars, look for organic or non-GMO options, and ones with the fewest ingredients (that you know what they are).  But too much protein taken in one sitting simply will get stored as excess fatty tissue, and in excess can be hard on the kidneys over time.

Again, smoothies are another way to get protein – add a scoop of high quality protein powder (I like Warrior Blend or a grass fed whey if you can handle dairy). I am also recommending avoiding rice-based protein powders unless they are certified clean from a 3rd party source, since many were found to have high levels of heavy metals.  And I recommend avoiding soy protein – it is poorly digested, and usually genetically modified (unless it says non-GMO or organic), and in large amounts can increase estrogen levels. Fermented soy like miso is fine.

Make sure to balance out the workouts – with strength and flexibility. Too much cardio can cause excess catabolism, which can lead to muscle loss. So that is why it is important for endurance athletes to including weight bearing activities, so they do not break down muscle. Weight bearing activities are also important for bones  And working on flexibility is also helpful to prevent injuries and muscle aches.

Preventing Chronic Injuries:
Chronic injuries can be a sign of poor form or over-training, or they could indicate that there is chronic inflammation.  It is important for all athletes to try to have an inflammation-lowering diet.  Getting plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet (fish oil, chia seeds, nuts, grass fed beef, pasture-raised eggs), can help to prevent and reduce inflammation. It can also support mood, brain function, and more. Again, smoothies are a great way to get those chia or hemp seeds!   Food that promote inflammation?  Processed foods, sugary foods and drinks, trans fats, added chemicals, and omega 6 fats like soy and vegetable oils. Limiting those foods is important too.

Undiagnosed food intolerances in another potential reason for chronic pain and injuries. Food intolerances can create systemic inflammation in the body. Other signs of food intolerances – migraines, unexplained muscle aches and pains, focus & attention issues, gas, bloating, bed wetting after age 4 (usually dairy), mood imbalances, weight gain, hormone imbalances, rashes/skin issues, anxiety, acne, frequent colds/infection, and much more. 

How do you know if you have an intolerance? It is not easy because the symptoms can be delayed, and hard to pin down. A food intolerance test can identify over 150 foods and chemicals for intolerances. Another way to go if there is a suspected food sensitivity is to eliminate it for a week or two, and then reintroduce and see if there is a reaction or a return of symptoms. If there is an intolerance, I recommend working with a nutritionist or health practitioner to heal the gut, which is often the root cause of the intolerance.

Hydration:
Proper hydration is not only important for performance (even mild dehydration can negatively affect performance), but it also is important for recovery – it is critical for life!  In addition to water, endurance athletes regularly need to replenish lost sodium and  electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and chloride with their fluids.  They could do this with hydration replenishers*, eating hydrating foods, or you can make a simple recovery drink with a pinch or two of mineral-rich Pink Himalayan sea salt, the juice from ½ a lemon, and a touch of honey (if desired). Here is a list of some hydrating foods.

Don’t fear high quality salt – Americans are told to get the salt out of their diets, and I do recommend tossing out all the processed pristine white table salt (sodium chloride), which is totally devoid of minerals, and can contain anti-caking ingredients.

However, unprocessed, high quality pink Himalayan or another mineral-rich crystal salt (like Celtic) contains sodium that is bio-available to the body, and also delivers over 80+ trace minerals that are important to overall health – including bone health and mineral balance. High quality mineral-rich salts often have a color – grayish for Celtic gray salt, and pinkish for Himalayan.

Chronic dehydration can lead to chronic fatigue and adrenal issues. Signs of adrenal fatigue? Dark circles under the eyes, lightheadedness, (especially when going from sitting to standing), sensitivity to light, sluggishness or difficulty waking in the morning, and sometimes being “wired but tired” at night. Replenishing lost minerals and sodium after exercise is critical to supporting the adrenals.

*Always make sure your athlete has some electrolyte replenishers in their bag – I like Skratch packets, or Clif shot blocks (they make one that has higher sodium content for those that need it, and it is made out of sea salt), because they don’t have the artificial colors and other chemicals that many other sports drinks have.  If you don’t like the idea of those, or salting your water, consider using trace mineral drops – like Spectramins, an ionic trace mineral complex. A “concentrated” seawater that may be recommended for mantaining normal pH, electrolyte levels, and proper mineral balance.. I usually pair Spectramins with Rehydration which supports the adrenals and the uptake of water into the cells – together they make “designer water.” Read more: Is Water Enough?

Rest & Sleep:
On your days off from workouts – try to let your body rest and recover!  And make sure to get plenty of good sleep – that is when the body does most of the repair, detoxing, and growth.  So turn off the TVs, iPads and iPhones (don’t bring them in bed!), and hit the pillow at a decent hour, especially if you have an early morning practice the next day. Taking the time to focus on recovery can go a long way to improve performance and help to prevent burnout, injuries, and chronic fatigue.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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15 Superfoods for Peak Performance

January 21, 2014
bigstock-chia-seeds-in-a-rustic-oval-wo-40769023

The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you.  Premium fuel today?”  Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon!  I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time.  It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.

That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition.  Athletes are kind of like high performance cars.  Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance.  Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings.  The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.

Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves.  But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should.  Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.

Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).

One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods.  Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.

At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.

15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:

  1. Chia Seeds – Without a doubt, chia seeds are my number one recommendation for athletes. An ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds gave the Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle.  Chia seeds are an essential addition to the athletes’ diet, boosting endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reducing inflammation.  Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, and are also high in fiber, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium – all important for athletes.  Omega 3s are proven brain and mood food, which can help athletes with focus and attention – to keep their head in the game. Omega 3s are shown to lower inflammation – which is helpful to reduce inflammation – critical for recovery and injury prevention.  Unlike flax, chia is rich in antioxidants, which means it will not go rancid after grinding, and helps to prevent free radical damage.  Chia seed are uniquely hydrophillic, so when they come in contact with water, they form a gel-like substance.  This chia gel slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to level out bloodsugar and maintain energy/endurance.  Chia gel also holds on to water, which helps to maintain hydration – very important for an athlete  Always make sure to consume chia seeds with plenty of water or liquids to prevent dehydration, I like to soak the chia seeds for about 5 minutes before consuming to ensure they are hydrated.
  2. Raw Cacao – Exercising increases the formation of free radicals, so a diet high in antioxidants is important for athletes.  One of the most nutritionally complex foods on earth, cacao has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) score of 95,500 per 100 grams, making it one of the best sources of antioxidants, which is helpful in preventing free radical damage. But perhaps what is even more important for athletes is that cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac health and bone building. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP), critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions. Cacao is also rich in potassium, iron, polyphenols, flavanols, theobromine, and proanthocyanidins.  Cacao offers a long list of health benefits including reducing heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and brain function, lowering stress, relaxing muscles, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much more.  A recent Journal of Physiology study suggests that antioxidants in cacao may help bolster exercise endurance. Try this Choco-Banana Super Smoothie – which contains 5 Superfoods for Performance (chia seeds, cacao, coconut water, pink Himalayan salt, and banana).
  3. Coconut water – often referred to as nature’s Gatorade, coconut water is an excellent hydration tool, naturally rich in electrolytes and also a source of natural quick energy.  When athletes sweat, they lose fluids and electroytes, coconut water helps to replenish the lost fluids, electrolytes, and also provides a natural source of carbohydrate to replenish lost glycogen (energy) stores.
  4. Himalayan Sea Salt – along with fluids, athletes lose sodium and other minerals when they exercise and sweat, which need to be replenished.  High quality air dried sea salts or pink Himalayan salts contain beneficial minerals and trace minerals that are missing from table salts.  Table salts also contain anti-clumping additives which are not in natural sea salts.  I recommend that athletes use only the highest quality salts when they are making foods at home – put a pinch of Himalayan salt into smoothies (it brings out the sweetness and flavors too!), and always cook with high quality salts, which along with the sodium contain a number of important minerals that the body needs.  Sometimes when we crave salty foods, our bodies are seeking minerals – which are lacking in processed and packaged foods.
  5. Bananas – are a an excellent complex carbohydrate to consume 30 minutes before a race, one banana contains approximately 467mg of potassium, an energy-supplying electrolyte which provides protection to the cardiovascular system. Green tipped bananas contain a prebiotic which aids in digestion and the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  High in vitamin B6, bananas help to support sleep, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), and white blood cell formation. Bananas are also known for minimizing muscle cramping.  Slice them and top cereals, oatmeal, or add them to smoothies.
  6. Coconut Oil – might seem like an odd food to include in a list of superfoods for athletes.  But it is a very unique fat that can offer athletes a lot of benefits.  First, it is a medium chain fatty acid, which is more readily converted to energy by the body, so it is also less likely to be stored as fat.  Coconut oil is more easily digested, it is less likely to cause stomach upset than other fats. Coconut oil is also a natural antiviral and antibacterial, which supports a healthy immune system.  It can be used topically as well to help with skin irritation and dryness. I recommend adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to your morning smoothie, or oatmeal.
  7. Sweet Potatoes – Despite their naturally sweet taste, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index which means they can be absorbed and used gradually, preventing the blood sugar from spiking and crashing. Sweet potatoes have been shown to improve blood sugar, even in Type 2 Diabetics. One of the best sources of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes raise our blood levels of vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin and is best absorbed when eaten with some dietary fat, so don’t be afraid to put a little grass-fed butter on them!  That will help you absorb the nutrients!  Sweet potatoes are a good carbohydrate source for athletes and also helpful in preventing inflammation, which aids in recovery.
  8. Teff – The word teff means ‘lost,’ a reference to the fact that the grains are so small that if you dropped them, they will be nearly impossible to find. An ancient North African cereal grass, teff has an good balance of B vitamins, amino acids/protein, calcium, zinc, and is an excellent source of iron to help prevent anemia. Teff has as much protein as an egg, is gluten free, and has a nutty, molasses-like flavor.
  9. Berries – Eating foods high in antioxidants is critical for athletes, who can suffer up to 200 times the free radical damage compared to their less active counterparts.  Scientists have found that a diet rich in antioxidants may help with exercise recovery by reducing muscular damage. Blueberries, acai, pomegrante, and goji berries are all good sources of antioxidants.  Berries are also a good source of fiber.  Snack on them, or toss them into a smoothie or on top of your cereal.  Dried berries are a good addition to trail mixes.
  10. Almonds – a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, riboflavin, monounsaturated fats and protein; almonds are nutritional powerhouses.  A small handful of almonds a few times a week can be helpful in lowering cholesterol, and preventing heart disease.  Almonds are useful in nervous system and muscle recovery. Other tree nuts are also beneficial, such as cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
  11. Kale – High in nutrients like vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, folate, zinc and iron, kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. Sneak some into your smoothie, or chop it up and add it to soups, or omelettes – kale packs a big punch.
  12. Quinoa – Often considered a grain, quinoa is not a grain, but a seed.  Naturally gluten free, quinoa is a good replacement for grains.  It contains high levels of both carbohydrates and protein, with all nine essential amino acids, which are critical to many biochemical functions. Quinoa has a rich history as a sports nutrition tool. The Incas used it to increase the stamina of their warriors, helping them to run long distances at high altitudes. Quinoa is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.
  13. Raisins – offer a quick source of concentrated energy, and are also a good source of potassium and magnesium, which helps to balance our body’s pH, and also is important for athletes to replenish when they work out and sweat.  Raisins also contain calcium, and a substance called boron, both of which are important in building strong bones.  Athletes need to make sure they are getting plenty of bone-building nutrients to prevent stress fractures and breaks.  Raisins also contain fiber, which helps promote good digestion.
  14. Hemp Seeds – an excellent vegan source of easily digested protein, hemp seeds contain all 10 essential amino acids. Just 3 Tablespoons of Hemp Seeds = 11 grams of protein. Hemp seeds provides an array of minerals including zinc, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Hemp seeds contain a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, hemp seeds contain an especially beneficial type of omega-6 fat called GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which supports anti-inflammatory hormones and facilitates fat-burning.
  15. Avocados – are full of healthy fats that help to reduce our inflammation, boost the absorption of certain vitamins (fat-soluble ones), and are actually a high fiber food. Avocados are a good source of carotenoids, vitamin K, vitamins B5 & B6, vitamin c, folate and potassium. Avocados promote bone and heart health, and help manage blood sugar.  Adding avocados to smoothies can make them light and fluffy and boost the fiber, vitamin content, and help to keep you satisfied longer.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Hydrating Foods to Beat the Heat

August 5, 2013
watermelon
As the thermostat goes up, so does the body’s requirement for fluids.  Dehydration can occur when the body loses fluids, does not take in enough – or a combination of the two.  When the body loses a significant enough amount of fluids, lost electrolytes should also be replenished along with the lost water.  Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and are important for the proper functioning of nerves, muscles, and to maintain proper fluid levels in the blood and cells. The minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine and phosphate are all electrolytes.

 

According to some recent studies, certain plant-based foods hydrate better than plain ole’ water, because in addition to their high water content, they come paired with natural electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins.  So eating plenty of plant based foods, or having a glass of freshly pressed organic juice is a great way to rehydrate the body on a hot day.

 

Move over Gatorade, and make room for these naturally hydrating foods:

 

  • Watermelon: Over 90% water, watermelons also contain many of the things the body loses with sweating – including natural sugars, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.  Rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and lycopene, watermelon is also helpful in protecting the body from free radical damage that comes with exercise and sun exposure. Lycopene was even shown to provide the body with a little bit of internal sunscreen (read more: Eat Your Sunscreen).
  • Celery: Crunching on celery sticks on a hot day can help to return lost sodium and potassium to the body.  Sodium gets a bad rap, but the body needs organic sodium – which is found in foods like celery, coconut, and high quality natural salts like pink Himalayan. Sodium works in conjunction with potassium to regulate fluids and nutrients in cells and is important for maintaining mineral balances, digestion, metabolism, nerve function, and more.  I also love to add a few celery stalks to my fresh pressed juice too!
  • Grapes: An excellent source of potassium and manganese, grapes can help us stay cool and hydrated. They also contain resveratrol – a nutrient associated with anti-aging, anti-inflammation, and many other benefits, so grapes can help keep us looking and feeling young.  There is almost nothing more refreshing than a handful of grapes on a hot summer day, except maybe frozen grapes!  Pop some grapes into the freezer – they are kind of like nature’s popsicle.
  • Cucumber: Another high water content vegetable, cucumbers are also a good source of vitamin C, and an anti-inflammatory compound called caffeic acid, which is why putting cucumber slices on your eyes can help reduce puffiness.  Cucumbers are a refreshing addition to a salad and are great in a fresh pressed juice.
  • Coconut water: Referred to as “nature’s Gatorade,” coconut water supports hydration with 5 different electrolytes – sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.  Coconut water so closely matches the profile of human blood, that it has been used as intravenous fluid in a pinch.  In addition to it’s hydrating properties, coconut water is a good recovery tool for athletes because it also contains natural sugars to help to replenish lost glycogen stores.

Some other foods, that despite not being high in water content, when paired with fluids, can help to rehydrate (and even prehydrate) the body as well:

  • Avocado: One regular avocado contains almost twice as much potassium as a banana! Avocados also contain phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and zinc – which is important for carbohydrate and protein metabolism.  Avocados are rich in vitamins B, C, E & K, and are also surprisingly high in fiber – with 1/2 an avocado containing almost 7 grams!  The healthy fats in avocados can help us to feel satisfied, provide us with lasting energy, and are a great addition to a salad because they boost the body’s ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
  • Chia Seeds:  Chia seeds are not high in water content, but they are a great hydration tool because they are uniquely hydrophilic – meaning each little seed can absorb approximately 10-12 times of it’s own weight in water.  When chia seeds come into contact with fluids, it soaks them up and creates a gel. Chia gel can prolong hydration by retaining electrolytes in body fluids, making it an excellent tool for hydration.  Always make sure to take chia seeds with plenty of water, or they will soak up fluids internally, potentially increasing dehydration.  A great addition to a smoothie, athletes can use chia gel to pre-hydrate before their workout or competition.  Read Pre-hydrate with Chia to learn more.
  • Sea vegetables: Not your typical sports nutrition food, seaweed and other sea vegetables should be in more athletes’ bags!  Containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean, when taken with water, seaweed is an excellent hydration tool for replenishing lost minerals from sweating.  Seaweed are rich in calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc.  Perhaps best known for their iodine content – sea vegetables like kelp can be useful for boosting the function of the thyroid gland.
On hot Summer days, I love to start my day with a hydrating smoothie or chia pudding, and then refuel later with a refreshing and energizing fresh pressed juice.  Find my healthy chia pudding and “green lemonade” recipes in my free Cooking with Superfoods ebook.
Watch this segment on Hydrating Foods on Fox 5 San Diego, August 2013.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Chia Seed Pudding

November 19, 2012
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Chia seeds are a superfood – they are high in omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, and many other nutrients.  They are also high in a very unique fiber – that is hydrophillic – meaning it soaks up a lot of liquid, creating a gel.  This gel helps to keep us hydrated, give us energy, and slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.  Great for athletes, and anyone looking to boost their energy, endurance, and overall health. Chia seeds make a delicious, nutritious and easy to make – pudding!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut or almond milk
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen organic blueberries, or pomegranate seeds or other berry
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts or hemp seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract (and/or cinnamon)
  • optional – a few drops of stevia or a drizzle of agave

Directions:

  1. Stir chia seeds and vanilla into milk, put in refrigerator for 10 mins*.
  2. Top with blueberries, nuts, and a few drops of stevia or a light drizzle of agave (if using), serve.

*If you would like to serve it warm, warm up milk in a saucepan, stir in chia seeds, take off heat and and allow to sit and soak up milk for 3-5 mins.  Top with cinnamon and nuts or hemp seeds – serve.
Great for breakfast, a snack or dessert!

Make ahead idea:
Put all the ingredients in a glass container before bed, give it a stir, cover and put into refrigerator.  Ready in the morning for breakfast or to take to work for a snack.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Lochte Ditches Fast Food to Go for Gold

July 26, 2012
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This weekend at the London Olympics, athletes from around the globe will compete for the ultimate prize – a gold medal.  Some will be at the games for the first time, while others, like Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, are returning to win more medals, and maybe even knock a certain rival off the top of the podium.

Preparing for the Olympics requires a rigorous training schedule.  Endurance athletes can burn thousands of calories each day, so they need plenty of fuel. Swimmers are notorious for eating a crazy amount of food, a 2008 New York Post article described Olympian Michael Phelps’ famous 12,000 calorie daily diet.  Ryan Lochte used to fuel his swimming with regular visits to McDonalds for chicken nuggets, saying at the time that “nutrition is not really my forte.”

But just because athletes can burn off junk food, doesn’t necessarily mean they should eat it. More athletes are realizing that fast food just doesn’t make you go any faster.  Every 100th of a second counts in swimming, so athletes that want to stand at the top of the podium must scrutinize every aspect of their training to gain a competitive edge, including nutrition.

In 2010 when a knee injury kept him out of the pool, Lochte decided to take nutrition and his swimming a little more seriously (read more).  Now more prepared than ever for the 2012 Olympic games, Lochte recently said, “The best thing I did was change my eating – no more fast food.” He has also said,  “If you don’t put the right nutrition in your body, you won’t perform at your best.”

The 200 and 400 individual medley races are highly anticipated rematches between Lochte and Phelps, and the playing field appears more level than it was in Bejing.  At Olympic trials, Phelps was faster in eight of the 50 meter splits, Lochte took seven, and they tied in one.

Could ditching fast foods be what Lochte needs to edge out Phelps this go-round? Without a doubt, Americans will be glued to their seats (and TV sets) to see who comes out ahead when these two highly decorated swimmers face off.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Choco-Banana Super Smoothie

July 7, 2012
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We are big drinkers in our house – smoothie drinkers that is.

We put our Vitamix to work every morning, starting almost every day with a smoothie.  I find smoothies to be a great way to sneak in superfoods like chia seeds and greens powders, and also veggies too. My daughter was getting really tired of the fruit smoothies, and so for a while she was skipping her morning smoothie – so she wasn’t getting her superfoods.  So I decided to make her a Chocolate Superfood smoothie one morning, and now it is her favorite (she actually prefers hers without the banana, my son likes extra banana, so it is adjustable)!  If you make it without the banana, just add an extra ice cube or two to thicken it up.

Have you heard about the study that found chocolate milk to be a great post-workout drink?  This drink offers all the benefits of chocolate milk, plus so much more (and by being non-dairy, it is not mucus-producing like dairy can be.  And many people can not digest the lactose in milk).

This smoothie is like having a yummy chocolate milkshake for breakfast (great for a pre or post workout snack too).

Choco-Banana Super Smoothie

Makes two smoothies (approx. 5 oz. each)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of coconut water
  • 2 Tablespoons of raw cacao powder (I like Sunfood)
  • 2 Tablespoons of chia seeds (put in coconut water to soak & soften for 3-5 mins first)
  • 1 small handful of baby spinach or a 1/2 scoop of greens powder (such as Barleans Chocolate Silk Greens or Green Vibrance)
  • a small pinch of pink Himalayan salt (or air dried sea salt) – things adds minerals and brings out the sweetness – don’t skip it!!
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (I like Sun Warrior)
  • 1/2 a frozen banana
  • 2/3 cup of ice
  • Optional: 1-2 teaspoons of almond butter
  • Optional: sweeten to taste with your favorite natural sweetener (like Stevia, Agave nectar (I like Natures Agave) or raw honey to taste)

Put everything into blender except ice and frozen banana.  Blend to combine well.  Then add frozen banana and ice, blend well.  Serve immediately.

This smoothie has so many benefits:

  • Good source of magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin D3, magnesium, and Vitamin K – great for bone health and athletes.
  • Alkalizing
  • High fiber content, to boost digestion
  • Contains probiotics – which boost immunity and digestion
  • Excellent source of omega 3s.
  • Good source of protein and carbohydrates, and a little sodium, all great for post-workout.
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Contains adaptogens – which help the body to regulate the hormones and endocrine system.
  • And best of all, it tastes great!

So give it a try at home and let me know what you (and the kids) think!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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