Beet juice for stamina
Recent research shows that this ruby red root veggie may be more effective at boosting energy than caffeine, or nearly anything you'll find in the supplement aisle. When UK researchers asked male athletes to down either 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice or a placebo, those who gulped the real thing cycled for up to 16% longer, an effect scientists say isn't achievable by any other known means, including training. To bolster your performance, invest in a juicer and grab some fresh beets, which are in season year-round. Or look for bottled beet juice, which can be sipped straight or blended into a pre-workout smoothie.
Pomegranate for muscle strength recovery
The antioxidants in pomegranate have been linked to enhanced memory and brain activity, and now researchers at the University of Texas at Austin report that pomegranate juice helps improve muscle recovery. Researchers recruited volunteers who were randomly assigned to maintain their normal diets and add 4 ounces of either pomegranate juice or a placebo twice a day. Both groups performed resistance-training exercises, but those who gulped pom experienced significantly less muscle soreness and reduced muscle weakness for up to 7 days. Pomegranate is a winter fruit, but you can find frozen options year-round. Just thaw and add to oatmeal, parfaits, or garden salads. Small shots of 100% juice are also a good option
Blueberries to reduce inflammation
To test the anti-inflammatory and recovery effects of blueberries, researchers at Appalachian State University recruited well-trained athletes and fed them about 9 ounces of blueberries daily for six weeks, plus another 13 ounces an hour before a two-and a-half-hour run. The results were impressive. In addition to a reduction in inflammation, blueberry eaters experienced a boost in natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in immunity. When fresh blueberries aren't practical, reach for dried or freeze dried options to stash in your gym bag.
Tart cherries to fight pain and regain strength
At the University of Vermont's Human Performance Laboratory, researchers asked men to drink either 12 ounces of a tart cherry juice blend or a placebo twice daily for eight days. On the fourth day of the study, the athletes completed a strenuous strength-training routine. Two weeks later, the opposite beverage was provided, and the training was repeated. Scientists found that the cherry juice had a significant effect on pain reduction. In addition, strength loss averaged 22% in the placebo group compared to just 4% in the cherry group. Fresh tart cherries are only in season in late summer, but frozen and dried options are becoming easier to find, as is 100% tart cherry juice.
Watercress to reduce DNA damage
A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that watercress, a peppery green from the mustard family, effectively countered the "wear and tear" effects of exercise. Healthy young men were given about 3 ounces of watercress daily for eight weeks, and asked to participate in treadmill workouts that included short bursts of intense exercise. Another exercise group did the workouts without watercress as a control. The men who missed out on watercress experienced more exercise-induced DNA damage, and the benefits were seen after just one dose. In other words, those who ate the green for the first time just two hours before hitting the treadmill experienced the same benefits as those who had munched on it daily for two months. Watercress makes a wonderful salad base and, like spinach and kale, it can be whipped into a smoothie.
By Staff Contributor Cynthia Sass MPH, RD