Want to boost your athletic performance? Time to eat more spinach. Yep, you read that right: spinach. Popeye was onto something! Here's why plant-based athletes are loading up on this superfood.
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Ecdysterone, a steroid-like chemical found naturally in spinach, can increase muscle growth and speed up recovery (1). Ecdysterone is so performance-enhancing it was actually under consideration to be banned from use in competitive sports.
So just how powerful are the performance enhancing effects of spinach? In one study, test subjects were given one quarter of a bunch of spinach once a day for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, they were asked to run a half marathon. The spinach consumption had “alleviating effects on known manners of oxidative stress and muscle damage” especially during and after high-stress exercise. The study found that participants experienced less muscle damage and quicker recovery due in part by the spinach’s anti-inflammatory properties (2). This means you can get back to training faster, and harder than ever.
There you have it, load up on spinach before your next workout and see noticeable results!
Even if you’re not a plant-based athlete, you would do well to add more spinach to your plate. Talk about a superfood!
Want to give your immune system a boost? Eat plenty of foods naturally packed with Vitamin C. Not only does this super vitamin help protect your body against infection, but it helps repair body tissue, form collagen, and maintain strong and healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron, which – SURPRISE – leafy greens are packed with as well!
Not only do these magical greens help prevent blood clots and heart attacks, but the fiber content can regulate triglyceride and cholesterol levels. The iron (assisted by vitamin C) helps to transport oxygen around your body through your bloodstream. The power tri: Potassium, calcium, and magnesium work together to lower blood pressure.
Fiber, the wonder carb, aids digestion and helps stabilize blood glucose levels in the body — preventing sugar spikes and crashes, and the production of fat deposits near the gut.
According to this 5-year study published in Neurology, eating your leafy greens is key to staying sharp as you age (3). Seniors who eat at least one serving of leafy greens a day showed to have much slower cognitive decline than those (with similar lifestyles) who never or rarely eat their greens. They tested better in both memory and thinking skills.
Just how much “sharper” are these salad eaters? They were cognitively 11 years younger than the folks not eating leafy greens.
This is hardly the first study to link boosted brain health and leafy greens. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found when aging women ate eight servings of leafy greens and five of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), they were able to outperform their non-veggie eating peers on memory tests (4).
What’s so special about spinach and other leafy greens when it comes to brain health? This is still being researched, but experts surmise it’s a combination of all the essential nutrients found in them. Leafy greens are packed with vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin K1, lutein, and beta-carotene — all of which have been linked to boosted brain health and delayed memory decline.
Chlorophyll, the reason greens are so green, has a powerful neutralizing effect on toxins like aflatoxins that are highly carcinogenic. It is also high in fiber to promote good gut bacteria growth.
Beta carotene not only neutralizes harmful free radicals, but it benefits your eye health and skin health as well!
Not a big greens person? The good thing about spinach is it's relatively mild so it can easily be hid into almost any dish. And it's definitely worth the effort. Here's how you can reap the benefits of spinach, even if you're not into salads.
Although the chlorophyll may turn your smoothie green, adding 1 loosely packed cup of raw spinach per serving will not result in a flavor change. Try this easy and delicious vegan green smoothie recipe.
Blend 1 cup of spinach with 1 cup of water (per 6 servings of soup) until smooth. Stir the mixture into your soup when you add the rest of the liquid.
Add it to pizza sauce, pasta sauce, casseroles, stir-fry, lasagna, veggie burgers, and stuffing before cooking or baking.
Eating healthy doesn't have to be boring! Get hearty and delicious plant-based meals that fill up, delivered right to your door! Some of our favorite spinach-loaded dishes include:
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Spinach is not only an athletic booster, but it’s incredible for your heart, brain, gut, kidneys, eyes, and skin.
Spinach is the MVP of leafy greens for those who don't love greens: it’s versatile and easy to sneak into almost any meal.
By Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.