Why Every Athlete Needs Oats

Oatmeal is one of the most beloved breakfast dishes out there; this is nothing new. They’re great for keeping you full, providing you with fiber, and are incredibly versatile, cheap, and easy to prepare. Whether you cook them on the stove, in the microwave, soak them overnight, or even bake with them, oats are a handy grain to keep in your plant-powered kitchen.

Oats are a common food eaten among a wide variety of ages, from kids to teens, and adults, they’re a classic staple grain that most people enjoy. But they’re beneficial for more than just the average person. Athletes can benefit from using oats in their diet for several reasons, which is why they’re often one of the star grains eaten on a body-building program or recommended for a general athlete’s diet. 

If you’re an athlete, you need complex carbohydrates and protein from foods like oats in your dietfrom specific sources to provide you with energy without causing a blood sugar crash, and to repair and refuel your muscles. While some grains, such as brown rice, are healthy and contain beneficial nutrients, their overall nutritional profile doesn’t compare to that of oats.

1. B vitamins

B vitamins are important for a healthy metabolism, energy, brain health, and muscle function. Oats offer an immediate hit of B vitamins, including Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B7 and Vitamin B9. Though eggs are often thought of as a top source of B vitamins, oats have so much more to offer in the B department. Though they’re lacking in B12, they’ll still provide you with an abundance of energy thanks to their B’s. One half cup of oats will provide you with quality B vitamins that will leave you energized for hours.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral for the everyday person, but especially for athletes who are looking to recover properly after a workout. Magnesium helps relieve sore muscles, encourages repair and regrowth of muscle cells, and lowers cortisol in the body, the stress hormone that’s elevated during exercise. While cortisol is helpful when you’re working out and in need of speed and adrenoline, you don’t want it elevated for a long period of time after you workout. Magnesium can help you relax, promotes a positive outlook, encourages healthy nervous system function, and stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain that fuel focus. A lack of magnesium can cause fatigue that no athlete (or anyone else) wants, can lead to insomnia, and can cause inflammation that impairs future workouts.  Oats contain 275 milligrams of magnesium in just 1/2 cup dry rolled oats (1 cup cooked), which is more than a cup of spinach or kale coming in between 24-56 milligrams.

3. Protein

Everyone wants to know how plant-based athletes get their protein, so show them up and have some oats! One serving of oats contains as much protein as one egg, often thought of as the most prized source. What do eggs have that oats don’t? Cholesterol, harmful saturated fats, inflammatory properties, salmonella, and possibly hormones, pesticides, and GMO’s. No thanks- we’ll take our oatmeal instead! Oats contain 7 grams of protein in 1/2 cup of rolled oats. Choose 1/2 cup of steel cut and get 8-9 grams of protein. Oats are an easy way to sneak protein into your smoothie without a powder and can be consumed several times a day in place of other grains if you wish.

4. Iron

Oats contain around 4 milligrams of iron per 1/2 cup. That’s nearly 1/3 of the daily recommended amounts (18%)! Eating iron-rich foods like oats with a source of Vitamin C (such as berries, greens, lemon, oranges, apples, kiwi, and peppers) is an easy way to boost absorption of this important mineral. Athletes need iron to maintain energy just like anyone else, so choose the best plant-based sources such as oats, greens, chia seeds, spirulina, beans, legumes, and even cacao!

5. Beta Glucans

Beta glucans are soluble fibers found in oats that benefit the body in so many ways. First, they keep you full, aid in regularity, assist with removing cholesterol from the bloodstream, and provide a leaner waistline. This is helpful for athletes looking to stay energized, healthy, and keep a toned, lean look to go along with their plant-powered muscles. Oats have been said one of the best foods to reduce excess abdominal weight and are one of the most prized foods for withstanding athletes through long, grueling workouts. 

Oat Notes:

Keep in mind, you want to choose plain, rolled oats (not prepackaged or instant), or you can go for steel-cut as an even healthier, whole option. If you’ve skipped out on oats until now, give this healthy grain a bit more attention in your diet from now on. Are you a gluten-free eater and worried about oats? Just choose certified, organic gluten-free oats so you can get this healthy staple into your diet without worrying about cross-contamination.

To prepare your oats the healthiest way possible, choose non-dairy milk, simple spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and fruits such as berries, apples, banana, and kiwis. Top your oats with some calcium, magnesium, and protein-rich almonds for greater satiety and energy, and toss in a little chia to boost your workout even further.

Pair your oats with other plant-based muscle-building foods for the most benefits and if you’re an athlete, do you use oats daily and if so, what’s your favorite way to eat them?

Image Source: Irene Yiran Wel/Flickr

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Why Cranberries Are an Inexpensive Superfood You Should Add to Your Diet

We all know fruits and veggies are good for us – no news there, right? If you’ve bypassed cranberries as a simple holiday adornment or just an ingredient in cranberry sauce until now, it’s time we gave you some new insight into these magical berries and what they can do for you. Quite honestly, most of us probably associate cranberries with their ability to fight urinary tract infections, which they may do, but they’re much more beneficial for that. Cranberry juice, controversial to belief, isn’t always the best way to get cranberries’ nutrition into your diet. 

Beyond blueberries and more exotic berries (such as goji and acai), cranberries offer their own unique benefits others do not. A relative of the blueberry family, belonging to Heather shrub plant species, the cranberry comes from a flowering plant that grows in water bogs in Canada, The United States and Europe. They’re to be treasured as much as possible since they’re only available through October through December in fresh form. Though relatively inexpensive and easy to find this time of year, they’re a remarkable superfood we’d benefit from using all year round.

Here’s why cranberries deserve a place in your diet:

1. Cancer Prevention

Let’s start with a major benefit – cancer prevention, the topic everyone wants to know more about. Though there is no proven cure for cancer, a plant-based diet has been shown to provide major anti-cancer benefits. But just any old plant-based diet won’t do. A diet based off whole foods (leafy greens, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains) prove to have the most benefits. Cranberries and most berries, offer specific nutrients that serve as cancer’s worst nightmare. Cranberries’ most valuable antioxidants that fight cancer cells are: phenolics,  proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and triterpenoids. They also contain: resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene. All these fancy antioxidants fight cancer cell growth, improve immunity, and ward off disease.

2. Tumor Cell Death

Not only can cranberries improve your chances against getting cancer thanks to their antioxidant benefits, but they have also been found to destroy cancer cell growth when consumed on a regular basis. They’ve been found to promote Phase 1 detoxification in the body, which triggers tumor cell death. Cranberries have specifically been linked to: breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer prevention.

3. Liver Cleansing

Cranberries are one of the best foods to cleanse the liver, though also one of the most overlooked. Their famous ability to improve urinary health and reduce urinary tract infections (UTI’s), is likely due to their antibacterial and antiviral properties that also promote Phase 1 detoxification within the liver. Your liver is the most important organ in your body for filtering out toxins that lead to disease. Cranberries have specifically been found to not only cleanse the liver but also cleanse the blood (which is important since it passes through your liver daily.) Here are 10 more foods that improve liver health further.

4. Reduce Stomach Ulcers

Cranberries kill harmful stomach bacteria including E. Coli and H. plylor (also referred to as Helicobacter pylor). Both lead to stomach disorders, virus development, and stomach ulcers. Cranberries come to the rescue with specific compounds that result in the death of this harmful bacteria and offer protection for the stomach lining. Their high Vitamin C content is another benefit that helps improve immunity. Since the immune system is largely housed in the digestive tract, eating foods that protect your body will also improve digestive health as a bonus. Cranberries even go a step further and help prevent future attachment of stomach bacteria when consumed on a regular basis.

5. Very Low in Sugar

Per 1/2 cup of berries, cranberries only contain 2 grams of sugar, with 3 grams of fiber, which is far less sugar than blueberries coming in at 16 grams, raspberries coming in at 13 grams, strawberries coming in at 8 grams, and blackberries coming in at 13 grams.  While fruit from berries isn’t bad for you, it’s always a plus when such a nutritious food like berries offers lower sugar benefits. Eating fruits and vegetables with a low-glycemic index and plenty of fiber-rich, whole plant-based foods is an excellent way to fight off Type 2 diabetes. 

6. Protect the Heart

Cranberries’ antioxidants have also been found to improve cardiovascular health, resulting in less arterial plaque, improving cholesterol, and improving blood health. Cranberries also improve blood pressure levels, which also increases heart health and prevents heart disease even further.

7. They’re Delicious and Cheap!

Cranberries have a wonderful, delicious tart flavor, with a sweet undertone once you start chewing them. They’re spectacular to include in breakfast dishes as a great, low-glycemic way to start the day. Cranberries go beautifully in oatmeal (overnight or cooked), quinoa porridge, or make a nice ingredient in a healthy pancake recipe. You can also bake muffins or bread with them, toss them into puddings and smoothies, or even use them as a nice garnish for a meal-worthy salad. They’re also cheap! Per 16 ounce bag of frozen organic cranberries at Whole Foods, you’ll only spend $3.00 off your hard earned dollars, which is about $2 less than a bag of blueberries or blackberries (though those are tasty too!) and $1.00 less than strawberries. Get your hands on them now though and stock up so you’ll have a nice stash year round!

The Best Way to Eat Cranberries:

It’s said to eat cranberries raw since processing destroys their nutrients and decrease enzymes that improve their absorption in the body. This is another benefit to eating frozen cranberries, which are frozen at their peak harvest. That doesn’t mean you can’t bake with cranberries from time to time, but do be sure to enjoy them raw when you can, especially if you’re eating them solely for health benefits.

Avoid those trendy, pricey juices made from cranberries (which are heated and highly processed), along with any type of granola bar or other processed foods that include dried cranberries coated with sugar. If you buy dried cranberries, please read the label. Almost every brand (except most organic brands) are processed with added sugar- even the popular Craisins you’re all probably fans of. Since sugar has been linked to cancer, weight gain, and contributes to Type 2 diabetes, it’s just not smart to add sugar to such a nutritious food. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some healthy recipes to enjoy cranberries with:

Don’t limit cranberries to sugary sauces and drinks alone, and certainly don’t reserve them just for the holiday season. Enjoy them all year round in so many, delicious ways!

Do you eat raw or frozen cranberries?