Try These 2 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes for a Health and Performance Boost

Enjoy these performance-boosting pumpkin recipes this holiday season.

Pumpkin is everywhere, from savory soups to hot chocolate, so you're bound to come across this gourd in some way this holiday season. Are people just pumpkin crazy, or is all of the fuss about pumpkin worth looking into? More important, what good is pumpkin to athletes?

Let's take a closer look at pumpkin nutrition.

Pumpkin is a low-calorie way for athletes to add some serious nutrition to their day. Pumpkin is brimming with antioxidants, which help neutralize the unstable free radicals created from stress, exercise, the environment, normal daily body functions and lifestyle choices, such as smoking. These free radicals, if left to their own devices, prey upon the body's healthy cells, making them weaker and more susceptible to disease. The beta-carotene in pumpkin (the compound that gives it its bright orange color) is one of those antioxidants, and Vitamin C is another.

So what does that mean for you as an athlete? It means a stronger defense against disease and illness and more ammunition for growth and repair of tissues, including bones and skin. And let's not forget potassium! Athletes rely on this vital electrolyte, which keeps hearts beating, fluids in balance and prevents nasty muscle cramps. At a whopping 564 mg of potassium per cup (mashed), pumpkin beats out other potassium favorites like bananas (1 medium banana = 362 mg of potassium) and orange juice (1/2 cup orange juice = 248 mg of potassium). And don't forget the pumpkin seeds. They are amazingly delicious and provide a great source of protein and healthy fats.

Finally, be smart about your pumpkin choices. The nutritional benefits might be outweighed if pumpkin is combined with other high calorie ingredients. Buy pureed canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling (which is already sweetened) for pumpkin sauces, quick breads or muffins. And don't be fooled by "pumpkin-spice-flavored" foods. Pumpkin might not even be an ingredient.

These recipes for Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries and Pumpkin Spice Muffins are easy ideas for how to use pumpkin. Both make great, portable snacks for athletes and are a fun treat for the holidays!

Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries

Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, lightly scooped
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, lightly scooped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and coat a 9x5-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice in a mixing bowl. In a separate, larger mixing bowl, combine the oil, pumpkin, milk, granulated sugar, brown sugar and eggs. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until combined. Do not overmix. Gently fold in chopped cranberries and nuts. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
  4. Cool in the pan on a wire rack and remove from pan before slicing.

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Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Pepita Steusel

Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Pepita Steusel

Ingredients for the Streusel

  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (or 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Ingredients for the Muffins

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup butter (I use salted), melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Make the streusel: place the sugar, butter and pepitas in a small mixing bowl. Using the back of a fork, smash the butter and the pumpkin seeds into the sugar, working until combined.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, pumpkin, melted butter and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients, and using a wooden spoon or other large mixing spoon, mix until ingredients are combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Scoop batter into muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: DIET | NUTRITION | POTASSIUM | SEEDS | BUTTER | BREAD | RECIPES | CRANBERRIES | PUMPKIN PIE | FLOUR | WHOLE WHEAT | BROWN SUGAR