The mighty avocado—or as I like to call it, "nature's mayo"—packs a superfood punch. Clinical dietitian Gretchen Spetz, MS, RD, LD, tells us all about avocado health benefits, and why athletes should incorporate this fabulous fruit into their diets.
What vitamins/minerals are found in the avocado, and how do they specifically aid athletes?
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated ("good") fat, says Spetz. In fact, 75 percent of the avocado is made up of monounsaturated fats, "which helps to protect heart health," she says.
That same fat is helpful in allowing the body to absorb vitamins and nutrients. The caretenoids lutein and xeaxanthin, antioxidants found in avocados, are important for eye health. "Caretenoids are best absorbed by the body when fat is present, and avocados naturally contain fat," says Spetz.
In addition to keeping their hearts healthy and their eyes keen, athletes need to maintain their immune systems to ensure quick recovery and avoid downtime due to illness. According to Spetz, the fiber in avocados does the trick. "Fiber [also] promotes healthy gut function," she says. If you're tired of eating bananas or consuming sugary sports drinks, "avocados contain more potassium than a banana," and this is "important for maintaining electrolyte balance and preventing cramps."
My favorite benefit of the avocado has to do with its anti-inflammatory properties. "Folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6 [are all] anti-inflammatory vitamins that are beneficial to athletes, since they help to reduce systemic inflammation caused by exercise stress," Spetz says. All of these lovely vitamins are packed into our little green friend. "This promotes a quicker recovery for the athlete," adds Spetz
How much is too much?
I put avocado on just about everything, from burgers to eggs to salads, so I asked Spetz if athletes should be concerned about their alligator pear intake. She replied, "There is no unsafe amount of avocado; however, it is important to remember that avocados are a calorie-dense fruit due to their high fat content." The average avocado contains approximately 230 to 250 calories; according to Spetz, "Most athletes will benefit from consuming 1/4 to 1 avocado [per day], depending on their activity level and calorie needs."
What's the long and short of it?
Sometimes it's hard to get it out of our protein-driven minds that other muscle-friendly foods should be incorporated into our diets, so let this be a lesson to you. There are lots of ways you can prepare and eat avocados. It makes a great topping for lean proteins, and it's the perfect mayonnaise replacement due to its creamy texture. Avocado can also be blended with basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil to create a nutritious pesto for pasta or a lean steak, or it can be smashed onto toast for a quick energy-boosting snack.
Below are two of my favorite preparations for this fit fruit.
Avocado and Blood Orange Salsa
This salsa/guacamole hybrid is great on fish, chicken or pork. It is a "Taco Tuesdays" staple in my house.
- 1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 blood orange, peeled and segmented (Note: you can cut the segments in half if you think they are too big.)
- ¼ red onion, diced
- ½ jalapeno, diced
- 1 lime
- Cilantro, roughly chopped
Toss the avocado, blood orange, onion and jalapeño in a mixing bowl. Add as much or as little cilantro as you like. Squeeze the juice from half a lime over the mixture and gently toss everything together with a spoon. Makes 2-3 servings, depending on your portion size.
If ever a fruit and a protein were truly meant for each other, it would be the avocado and the egg. This dish marries the two in a warm embrace of deliciousness.
- 1 ripe avocado, halved with the stone removed
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Hot sauce
- Side of whole wheat toast if you're feeling sassy
Preheat the oven to 425o. Scoop out the avocado pit to ensure the eggs will fit. Slice a small portion off the back of each half so they remain upright on the baking sheet. Place each half on a baking sheet pitted side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Crack one egg into each pit. Carefully place the backing sheet in the oven, and bake for 15-18 minutes, depending on the desired doneness (15 minutes for runny, and so on). When done baking, place the halves on a plate and top with a few shakes of hot sauce and a sprinkle of cilantro. (Hint: roughly chopped bacon also makes a great topping. I'm just saying.) Spoon out the yum and enjoy!