Food is medicine.
Now more than ever, professional athletes are taking the sentiment to heart. Gone are the days of pre-game Big Macs and postgame six packs. Modern athletes know that if they want to play, feel and think at an elite level, nothing matters more than what they put inside their body.
But as hard as professionals push themselves during training, practice and games, it can be difficult to address all of their nutritional needs without supplementation.
"As an athlete, you're constantly dealing with nutrient deficiencies—whether you realize it or not. You could have a perfect diet, but when you train that hard, it can be difficult at times to get (enough nutrients) without additional supplementation," says Kylene Bogden, Performance Dietitian for the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, whole foods will always trump pills and powders when it comes to effectiveness and long-term sustainability. That's exactly why many professional sports teams are turning to nutrient-packed juices and shots as a way to get more good stuff inside their players.
Lumi is one company behind many of these performance-enhancing elixirs. Over 40 professional sports teams utilize their juices and nutrition shots. The company's products are all cold-pressed, certified organic and 100% juice. The Cavaliers have utilized a number of different juices and nutrition shots over the years, including those from Lumi and a local company called Anna in the Raw. While Bogden might be hesitant to drop a handful of pills in a player's palm, she has no issues recommending them the right juice or nutrition shot.
So, what kind of ingredients can be found in these health-enhancing drinks? Lumi sent me a variety of their shots to sample for myself. The Hot Shot, for example, is a two-ounce shot of beet, lime and jalapeño. Beet juice is high in nitrates, which allow blood to pump through the body more efficiently and improves endurance. The United States Women's National Soccer Team is known to consume beetroot juice for this very reason. The heat in the Hot Shot—and there certainly was some heat in the sample I consumed—comes from a compound in the jalapeños known as capsaicin. Capsaicin is what gives certain peppers their spiciness, but it also has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
The Fully Loaded shot, a 2-ounce shot of broccoli leaf, lemon and ginger, packs 35% the RDV of vitamin C and 20% the RDV of vitamin A. Vitamin C is critical for growing and repairing tissue all over the body, and vitamin A serves many of the same purposes. The shot is also high in magnesium, which Bogden says is a critical nutrient for elite athletes. "Most pro athletes, across the board, struggle to consume enough enough magnesium to meet training demands. Magnesium helps with muscle contractions, but it can also aid in digestion and improve sleep quality, as well," Bogden says.
The Gold Rush shot, a 2-ounce shot of turmeric, pear, ginger and cayenne, offers big benefits for the population at large. While cayenne brings the same capsaicin-related benefits as jalapeño, and ginger has powerful medicinal properties, it's curcumin—the active compound in turmeric—that really gives this shot its vitality.
A plethora of research has proven curcumin to be a potent fighter of inflammation. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury, infection or disease. Its purpose is to protect the body and let it heal.
But chronic inflammation can become a health risk. Many common conditions—such as asthma and arthritis—are classified as "inflammatory," and inflammation can contribute to more life-threatening diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Examine, an independent site that collates scientific research and disseminates information on supplementation and nutrition, points to five separate studies regarding curcumin's effects on inflammation before concluding that "there appears to be a decrease in disease states or conditions characterized by inflammation associated with curcumin ingestion," and that curcumin "does not appear to be too discriminatory in which inflammatory states it benefits."
So whether you're dealing with soreness after a workout or a more serious inflammation-related condition, curcumin can help get you right. "An inability to control blood sugar, depression, mood swings—all of those things are byproducts of inflammation. So believe it or not, curcumin is a way to not only improve recovery time, but also help to improve mood and cognition," Bogden says.
In an age where more professional athletes than ever are gravitating toward plant-based eating, these types of nutrition shots and juices are resonating with players. Many feel more comfortable slugging a drink filled with fresh fruits and veggies than popping colorless pills, and once they learn about the performance benefits certain ingredients and nutrients can offer, they're more likely to make them a habit.
"In general, they're realizing that 'wow, I feel lighter, I can wake up easier, I don't feel as sluggish during practice when I adopt more of a plant-based approach," Bogden says. "I've helped them make the connection between the way their body feels and how they're playing and how foods play such a critical role (in that). They understand the correlation. For example, if you have a sleepless night before a game, magnesium can help. It's not just 'here's another pill because it's good for you.' I find when I provide really specific examples as it relates to performance, compliance improves tremendously."
Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images, LumiJuice.com
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