Maintaining a balanced diet is essential to performance. In order to reach adequate levels of vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients, we need to eat a wide variety of vegetables. Sounds easy enough, right?
I want you to think back to the last five vegetables you ate. Can you list them? Unfortunately, most Americans limit their veggies to iceberg lettuce, tomato sauce, and the starchy potatoes found in French fries. How sad.
New York Times writer Jane E. Brody shared that “Vegetables are loaded with vital nutrients: potassium, beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), magnesium, calcium, iron, folate (a B vitamin) and vitamins C, E and K, as well as antioxidants and fiber,” in her article titled “Even Benefits Don’t Tempt Us to Vegetables.” Brody also explained that veggies provide excellent nutrients at “minimal caloric cost, an important attribute in a society where obesity is ballooning out of control.”
While we may agree with Brody’s research, many athletes want to know how to 1) choose the best vegetables, and then 2) prepare those vegetables to preserve nutrients.
Let’s start with nine easy-to-find vegetables that pack a punch at the dinner table.
Top 9 Healthiest Vegetables
Broccoli: Big surprise, huh? One medium stalk of broccoli can help build your bones—containing more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin K requirement and almost 200 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C.
Spinach: Another shocker. Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two immune-boosting antioxidants important for eye health. Recent research found that among cancer-fighting fruits and veggies, spinach is one of the most effective.
Red Bell Peppers: Red bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and they are also high in beta-carotene. They are kind of pretty, too.
Sweet Potatoes: High in the antioxidant beta-carotene, this may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some cancers. They are also a great source of fiber, vitamin B6, and potassium.
Avocados: Avocados are rich in oleic acid that may help lower your bad cholesterol, raise your good cholesterol, and protect against breast cancer. They also help increase your absorption of beta-carotene by more than 15x and your lutein absorption by 5x.
Kale: This deep green superfood is high in vitamins and minerals. Kale is a great energy booster and key source of calcium.
Onions: Offering the plant chemical quercetin, onions have been found to fight inflammation. They also contain antioxidants and may protect against a wide variety of diseases including cancer.
Edamame: Young soybeans, edamame have more fiber per serving than shredded wheat. And as for protein, it contains the same amount as roasted turkey. Bam!
Pumpkin: Overflowing in antioxidants, this winter squash keeps skin healthy and the potassium inside helps lower blood pressure.
Now, we have some nice options, but do we know how to prepare them to preserve nutrients? Let’s find out if steaming, cooking, or keeping it raw is best.
The Break Down
In her article “Ask Well: Does Boiling or Baking Vegetables Destroy Their Vitamins?” New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope explained that many people believe raw vegetables contain more nutrients than cooked vegetables, but it actually depends on the type of nutrient.
She referenced a study of 200 people in Germany who ate a raw food diet and found that they had higher levels of one nutrient while other levels were well below average. Apparently some nutrients require cooking in order to release nutrients. “Cooking breaks down the thick cell walls of many plants, releasing the nutrients stored in them,” Parker-Pope said.
But other “Water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin B and a group of nutrients called polyphenolics seem to be the most vulnerable to degradation in processing and cooking,” she shared. “Fat-soluble compounds like vitamins A, D, E and K and the antioxidant compounds called carotenoids fare better during cooking and processing.”
Parker-Pope provided several examples to help clarify. “Canned peas and carrots lose 85 to 95 percent of their natural Vitamin C. After six months, another study showed that frozen cherries lost as much as 50 percent of anthocyanins, the nutrients found in the dark pigments of fruits and vegetables. Cooking removes about two-thirds of the vitamin C in fresh spinach.”
Some more examples Parker-Pope shared show that boiling was better than steaming, frying, or eating raw when it comes to carrots, broccoli, and zucchini. “However, raw carrots have far more polyphenols, which disappear once you start cooking them.” The key is to use the water in soups, gravy, or sauces after boiling. That way any nutrients that leach during boiling can still benefit you.
On the record, frying is the worst method for preserving nutrients. It had to be said.
Now, an interesting point is brought up by writer Sarah Albert with WebMD. Referencing nutritionist Christine Filardo, Albert explained that, “The key is to watch out for cooking vegetables too long, and with too much water.” Filardo recommends blanching your vegetables, “which is when you quickly cook vegetables in boiling water, and remove them when they’re still very crisp, to help preserve the color and nutrients.”
Time is also a critical factor. That’s why Filardo highly recommends frozen vegetables. These are often just as “healthy as fresh veggies, especially if the fresh ones have been collecting dust for a few days in your fridge.” These vegetables are often harvested straight from the field, then blanched and frozen right away.
Plants are beneficial on so many levels from disease-fighting potential, restoring our body’s nutrients, to slowing the process of aging. We absolutely need to eat more of them. Harvard’s School of Public Health recommends between five and 13 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, which rounds out to about 2.5-6.5 cups per day.
If you take their advice and rotate between raw, cooked, frozen, steamed, boiled, and blanched vegetables, your health can only improve. So go shopping, try something new, get energized the right way, and keep up the good work.
With our last blog post, we learned all about the benefits and effects of exercising to the right beat. While many of us have our go-to playlist, it’s always nice to add some fresh tracks. So we decided to ask our ProForm followers what songs get them moving.
Elite athletes prove their ability both in training and in competition. But researchers have found that what’s on their playlist has a huge impact on efficiency, effort, and drive.
NBC News writer Dan Peterson recently published the article “Why Music Makes Exercise Easier.” Peterson referenced the work of leading sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis who explained that the idea of “rhythm response” is directly connected to the “beats per minute (bpm) of a song and how well it matches either the cadence or the heartbeat of the runner.”
When you sync your exercise pace with a song’s bpm, your efficiency increases. To learn more, we found an ample supply of impressive research with habit-changing effects.
In his article, Peterson referenced a study that found, “Subjects who cycled in time to music found that they required 7 percent less oxygen” than other subjects who just listened to music playing in the background.
“Music can also help block out the little voice in your brain telling you its time to quit. Research shows that this dissociation effect results in a 10 percent reduction in perceived effort during treadmill running at a moderate intensity,” Peterson said.
Another study referenced in Peterson’s article discovered that “We increase or decrease our work effort and pace to match the tempo of our music.”
So, along with increased efficiency, less oxygen use, and reduced perceived effort, apparently researchers have found the ideal tempo to maximize performance.
The Sweet Spot
When it comes to pushing your workout, “Findings show there is a sweet spot, in terms of tempo, between 120 and 140 beats per minute,” explained an article published on WebMD by Robyn Abree. But keep in mind that the tempo should reflect your desired heart rate based on your level of exercise. Slower bpm between 80 and 90 bmp are great for stretching, warming up, and cooling down.
While these finding are exciting and certainly back up what many athletes already know, there is a down side to exercising exclusively to music. In 2007, USA Track and Field (the U.S. governing body for running) banned portable electronic devices just a few short weeks before the New York Marathon. That can sure cramp your running style if you’ve been building the ultimate playlist to help you through your marathon strategy.
But we also learned from Karageorghis that, “High-intensity music coupled with high-intensity exercise can cause temporary hearing loss…. During exercise, blood from the inner ear rushes toward the working muscles, making you more susceptible to hearing damage.”
Karageorghis recommends cutting your music-powered workouts to a 2:1 ratio—two workouts with music, then one without. This helps prevent hearing problems down the road—and keeps your mental clarity at peak condition.
Shape Your Workout
Peterson shared a software plug-in tool called Tangerine that can help you find the right beat for your training. “By integrating with your iTunes library, it can build a custom playlist based on the bpm range you provide, while arranging the songs in several different tempo shapes including warm-ups and warm-downs. With the right mix, your brain and feet will be in perfect harmony,” he shared.
To say that sports are the classroom of life may not be far from the truth. In competition, an athlete learns the importance of self-discipline, teamwork, motivation, honesty, commitment, respect for others and authority, hard work, self-evaluation, overcoming obstacles, and more.
One important element of competition, especially on the elite level, is sportsmanship. Webster defines it simply.
sports·man·ship noun \-ˌship
: fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition
: conduct (… graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport
A true athlete works to develop this character trait and exhibits it at every opportunity. Some inspiring examples can be found from the world’s best.
Lutz Long, German long jumper
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Lutz Long set an Olympic record during the heats to qualify for the finals. American Jesse Owens fouled on his first and second jumps and faced disqualification if he fouled a third time. Long, a German, advised Owens to adjust his take-off point to several inches behind the foul line to ensure that he would advance to the next round. Owens took Long’s advice, qualified for the finals, set a new world record and won the gold medal. Long came second. “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens later said.
John Landy, Australian distance runner
Australian distance runner John Landy, the second man to run a mile in under four minutes, was chasing the world 1500m record in 1956 at the Australian National Championships. Another Australian legend, Ron Clarke, was in the lead when he stumbled and fell. As the other runners passed Clarke, Landy jogged back to help him to his feet and abandoned all hope of breaking the world record. However, Landy’s race wasn’t over. Coming from well behind, he displayed amazing speed and endurance over the last two laps to win the race only six seconds outside the world mark.
Lawrence Lemieux, Canadian sailor
Racing alone near the halfway point in his Finn class race at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, Lemieux was in second place in a seven-race event when he spotted two Singapore sailors in the water. Both injured, they were unable to right their boat. Lemieux broke away and sailed to rescue them, waited for an official patrol boat and then transferred the two sailors. He continued his race and finished in 22nd place. After the race the International Yacht Racing Union jury awarded him second place, his position when he went to the aid of the capsized crew.
These accounts were found on playbytherules.net.au. Click here to read more.
It is touching, to say the least, when an athlete steps away from his life’s focus to help someone else. Whether it is a simple tip, a dramatic rescue, or a kind gesture, sportsmanship elevates the competition and those lucky enough to witness the moment.
The boxer Muhammad Ali was quoted as saying, “I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.”
Michael Jordan shared his view of success when he said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
The standard has been set—and it has been waving for all to see for centuries. The idea of chivalry, gentlemanly behavior, and good manners is not a new idea. In 1920, Baron de Coubertin wrote the Olympic Oath, which has been recited at every Olympic competition since.
While holding a corner of the Olympic flag, an athlete from the host nation repeats the following.
“In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”
As we work every day to improve our speed, endurance, strength, and skills, let’s remember that character development is an essential part of being elite. When did you see sportsmanship in action? Tell us about it in the comment below.
Quotations taken from healthdailyonline.com. Read more here.
The skyscrapers and crowds of Boston, Chicago, and London are a common scene for many western marathoners. But to a Kenyan athlete, the red roads and heat of Africa are the everyday norm. Despite a drastic change in landscape, the Kenyan elite are dominating mid and long distance competitions all over the world.
The Kenyan Legacy
An article produced by Active.com author, coach, and exercise scientist Owen Anderson described the phenomenon. “One study found that athletes from just one collection of Kenyans, the Kalenjin tribe, had won approximately 40 percent of all major international middle- and long-distance running competitions in the 10-year period from 1987 to 1997.
“In addition, approximately half of all of the male athletes in the world who have ever run the 10K in less than 27 minutes hail from Kenya.”
Professional running blogger Jonathan Bechtel with RunAddicts.net shared additional insight. “East african runners have a record of dominance in elite distance running. Since pushing themselves into the spotlight by steamrolling the competition in the 1968 Olympics, Kenyans and Ethiopians have enjoyed a peculiar success at international events. Since that time they’ve grabbed 10 of the 20 top times for middle and long distance cross-country races.”
While the vast majority of Kenyan runners originated from the small ethnic group Kalenjins, they make up just 10 percent of the Kenyan population—but they are winning in a big way, explained Bechtel.
So just what are these champions eating everyday? “Whenever a mysterious tribe or part of the earth is discovered, rumors quickly spread about a new superfood or diet with extraordinary health properties…. The Kalinjin diet, it turns out, is pretty plain,” Bechtel said.
Truly, “the Kenyans are doing things right when they sit down at the dinner table, or they wouldn’t dominate international competitions,” Anderson shared. With the goal to find some answers, a group of researchers recently took a weeklong glance at 10 elite Kenyan runners at a training camp near Kaptagat, Kenya.
“Dietary intakes were measured each day for seven consecutive days in December, when the athletes were reaching peak condition for the Kenyan cross-country season. The Kenyans followed their normal diets and weighed and recorded everything that was consumed (both food and drink). The elite Kenyans were given as much food as they wanted, and they ate five times a day,” reported Anderson.
Their results surprised researchers, athletes, and scientists alike. With 76.5 percent of daily calories coming from carbohydrates, these Kenyan runners were way over the average when compared with other countries’ elite runners.
The carb intake of U.S. distance runners measured at 49 percent, the Netherlands and South Africa at 50 percent, and Australia at 52 percent. Anderson described the Kenyan runners of doing a “better job of fueling themselves for their high-intensity training, compared with their ‘peers’ in other countries.”
Most of the nutrients (86 percent) found in the Kenyan diet came from vegetable sources with staples including bread, boiled rice, potatoes, porridge, cabbage, kidney beans and a corn-meal paste rolled into balls called ugali, Anderson shared.
“Meat (primarily beef) was eaten just four times a week in fairly small amounts (about 100 grams/3.5 ounces a day).” In addition to protein gleaned from their plant-based foods, this amounted to 10.1 percent of all calories and a total of 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (75 total grams daily), Anderson added.
And guess what else? The Kenyan runners did not take supplements of any kind. None. Zip. Nada. “The gold-medal-winning Kenyans adhered to the odd philosophy that regular foods could fuel their efforts quite nicely,” Anderson said.
“Ultimately, a close look at the Kalinjin diet reaffirms a lot of things committed distance runners already know. A high carbohydrate diet with a solid nutritional content has long been considered the dietary regimen of choice for endurance athletes, and the success of Kenyan runners only cements that fact,” Bechtel shared.
It’s All About Timing
So what else is it about this group that propels them to such astonishing wins? Anderson reported that the average age of the Kenyans studied was 21. The mean height was about 5’ 9” with little variation. And their body weight averaged 129 pounds with body fat ranging from six to 10 percent.
Aside from excellent genetics, there is one fundamental principle of sports nutrition that the Kenyans were exhibiting, which ultimately enhanced their abilities to train and perform at a champion level. They ate within one hour of finishing their workouts—always.
“This post-workout period when glycogen re-synthesis rates can be maximized, as long as adequate carbohydrate is provided in the diet (as was the case with the Kenyans). When carbohydrate ingestion is delayed after a training session, lower total intramuscular glycogen levels are often the result,” explained Anderson. “They were truly stocking their leg muscles with glycogen, giving their sinews the right fuel necessary for the high-intensity training they were conducting—and avoiding the fatigue which automatically follows on the heels of glycogen wipe-outs.”
Will It Last?
Another study published in the World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics found that distance runners from Kenya consumed an average of 2250 Kcal a day, “more than 1000 less than their average daily expenditure…. Further studies adjusted the figure upward, but did not overturn the fact that most Kenyans are in negative energy balance in periods of intense training. Almost all Kenyans experience a significant reduction in their BMI in periods leading up to a race,” Bechtel added.
Many consider BMI reduction before a race to grant runners a competitive edge, but it comes with a cost. “Muscle fatigue, prolonged workout recovery, and an accelerated deterioration of athletic performance are all associated with low caloric intake, and these effects are seen in Kenyan runners,” Bechtel explained. “While Kalinjin runners shine brighter than any others at their peak, they also burnout faster. Kenyans do not enjoy the same longevity as distance runners from the west, presumably for this reason.”
Despite a questionably low caloric intake during intense training resulting in lower BMI, no one can deny the Kenyans are doing something right. “With their high carbohydrate intake, adequate protein ingestion, and perfect timing of meals, the top Kenyan runners are eating optimally—doing the things at the dinner table which are necessary for them to perform at the world’s highest level,” Anderson concluded.
For additional reading, check out Secrets from the Savannah: What the Diets of Elite Kenyan Runners Teach Us About Optimal Nutrition
And Eating Practices of the Best Endurance Athletes in the World
Sports are very visual. As spectators, we watch our favorite sports stars as they break records and triumph over competitors. From a distance, we ogle their talent, physique, and charisma. But there is one major aspect of an elite athlete’s power that is intangible and often unseen—what happens in their head.
Sports psychology has been a hot topic among researchers for some time. And a recent study by Dr. Michael Young, co-owner of Human Performance Consulting and Athletic Lab in Cary, N.C., stated that the true difference between a “good” athlete and the “elite” is quite simply the mental qualities of that competitor.
Mental qualities, huh? Let’s start with just three: confidence, anxiety, and motivation.
Young referenced a study of world champions and elite athletes that showed “90% of the sample had ‘a very high level of self-confidence.’” According to dictionary.com, self-confidence is defined as “realistic confidence in one’s own judgment, ability, power, etc.”
So how do athletes build this characteristic of gold? “Confidence is usually a result of an athlete anticipating success in their upcoming event.” In fact, that anticipated outcome is “the greatest indicator of confidence,” Young shared.
Jimmy Connors, former World No. 1 tennis champion, shared his opinion in that study. “Never … get negative about yourself…. Sure, it’s possible that the other guy you’re playing is tough, and that he may have beaten you the last time … But the minute you start thinking about these things you’re dead. I go out to every match convinced that I’m going to win. That is all there is to it.”
Young explained that another key element is to act confident. “An athlete should always act as if they are confident even if they are not.”
Building confidence is a great goal for an athlete. In order to reach the very top rung of a sport, an athlete must have a high level of confidence in their abilities. In turn, once an athlete climbs that ladder, his or her successes then produce confidence. Sounds like a pretty sweet cycle.
Are you surprised? We know that most athletes struggle with anxiety during intense training and competition. In fact, more than 50% of contenders sought consultation at an Olympic festival due to stress or anxiety related problems, reported Young. That is one reason why anxiety in athletes is one of the most researched topics among sports psychologists.
And so, the concept of Individualized Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) was born. The idea is that when an athlete is in this ideal anxiety zone, he or she will produce peak performances.
“Stories abound of athletes or teams that performed poorly because they underestimated their opponent (below optimum anxiety levels) or worried themselves out of the game (above optimum anxiety levels),” Young reported.
It becomes essential for an athlete to determine whether their pre-performance mood fits within that optimal zone. “Luckily research has shown anxiety can be reduced through mental imagery, relaxation, and cognitive intervention,” Young said.
Ah, the unicorn of sports psychology. Let’s start by breaking down the two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Young defined intrinsic motivation as “An athletes’ personal drive to achieve their goal. This may be setting a school record, winning a race, or defeating a particular opponent.”
In turn, “Extrinsic motivation is the resulting motivation from an outside source such a parents, coaches, or teammates,” stated Young.
Overall, many researchers argue that the greater determinant of achieving success in sports is intrinsic motivation. Let’s learn why and how.
“There are many people out there who have the talent to succeed but very few who have the motivational drive to do what it takes to succeed,” Young reported.
True champions feel a strong need to “demonstrate their personal competence and self-determination. As a result, they commit themselves to difficult and demanding goals, when these goals are achieved, the athletes’ feelings of self-competence are confirmed and their intrinsic motivation enhanced,” stated Young’s study.
Overall, champions exhibit extreme self-confidence, optimal performance anxiety, and high motivation during their training and competitions. When these characteristics work together, they form a strong, determined, clear-headed, and disciplined athlete. Sound like anyone you know?
Track and field stars like Jessica Ennis, the current Olympic heptathlon champion, are recorded as putting in an incredible 10,000 hours of hard work in the four years of preparation leading to the Olympic Games, explains an article by Inside The Games, a world sport site.
The popular concept of 10,000 hours hit the limelight in 2008 with the release of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “Outliers: The Story of Success.” Recent studies have shown that this idea—to become the greatest at any given discipline, enormous time (an average of 10,000 hours) is required—rings true for many of the world’s most elite athletes.
In a study that included 100 elite athletes from the Olympic and Paralympic summer sports, we learn that the average athlete:
- Commits six hours a day, six days a week to training and competitions
- Has been working toward their Olympic or Paralympic goal for 11 years
- Seriously took up their sport at the age of 14 and now competes in seven international competitions per year
Another article from strengthplanet.com’s Judd Biasiotto, supports Gladwell’s theory and sheds additional light on what may be required to reach the world-class level.
Quoting research conducted by John Lather, a renowned sports researcher, Biasiotto’s article states, “The number one variable related to elite performance is time spent in training.” But not just time is required, Lather emphasizes that it is 20 hours of “quality training—with great intensity…that is required for elite performance.”
But what about attitude and ambition? Does an athlete’s psychological profile play into the equation? Biasiotto answers with, “World class athletes score low in tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, but extremely high in self confidence, mental toughness, and determination.”
A survey of 367 elite athletes conducted by Richard Cox, author of “Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications,” agrees. “Motivation and commitment seems to be the common bond between world class athletes—they all tend to train with high intensity and purpose.”
So, keep running, cycling, swimming, and playing. Your high-quality time and training is getting you closer to your goals. And every time you choose an attitude of self-confidence, mental toughness, and determination, you are entering an entirely new playing field.