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Reap the Benefits of Antioxidant Nutrition

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Woman wearing gloves with fresh vegetables in the box in her hands. Close up

By Page Love, MS, RDN, LD, CSSD, USPTA

Does this sound familiar: “Eat your fruits and vegetables?” Or “Eat from the Rainbow?” We all know it’s important to get a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables daily because of the variety of key antioxidant nutrients, fiber and water that these food groups provide. The Mediterranean food pyramid recommends eight to 10 choices a day, while the USDA recommendation is for at least five choices a day from these two groups. For tennis players whose bodies take a beating on the court in hot weather this time of year, choosing to follow the Mediterranean approach will help with better hydration, a higher antioxidant nutrient intake and quicker recovery. Try to get a fruit or vegetable in every meal or snack and you will be well on your way.

Eating choices from all the color spectrums will maximize your chances of meeting key nutrient needs for vitamins A, C and K; potassium; and phytonutrients like leutein and anthocyanin (in red fruits and veggies), which help with tissue health and reducing inflammation. If you have a nagging tennis injury, this variety also will help with healing. If you are trying to better manage your weight, aim to have half of your plate full of colorful veggies. This lowers calories, but still gives you plenty of lighter carbohydrate choices. Just remember to allow for a starchy vegetable as a fuel source; good choices are sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, legumes or peas. These make wonderful sport fueling bases to the performance diet, but still fit in the vegetable category. Providing more choices from these categories for the ALTA snack table at matches also may help secure more wins because your team will be more appropriately fueled.

Here are some top tips for getting vegetables into your performance eating routine:

  1. Make a fruit/veggie juice or tomato juice one of your drink choices. Tomato juice is a great recovery beverage because of the sodium for electrolyte replacement, as well as the antioxidants.
  2. Add spinach and/or tomato to a sandwich or wrap – or, try to eat a whole tomato on the side.
  3. Eat raw vegetables as sides to meals. Consider cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, baby carrots, green peppers, celery, sugar snap peas or cucumber spears.
  4. Have salsa or roasted vegetable dip with baked chips as a snack or tomato sauce with pasta as a recovery meal.
  5. Try soup or salad with plenty of colorful vegetables as a side or meal base.
  6. Add vegetables to pizza, lasagna, spaghetti and other pasta meals or to mashed potatoes, chili, etc.

Here are some of the top choices of nutrient-dense vegetables to incorporate into your sports performance diet: spinach, carrots, kale, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, broccoli, snow peas, red peppers, cauliflower and tomatoes. And some of your best choices for nutrient-dense fruit include: guava, watermelon, pink or red grapefruit, kiwifruit, papaya, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges, strawberries, cherries and blackberries.

Quick ways to increase fruit intake:

  • Choose a fresh fruit one to two times per day as part of your meal.
  • Snack on 100 percent dried fruit in trail mix or try fruit “leathers” on the court for quick energy at a changeover.
  • Have a fruit smoothie, but consider adding some of the other ingredients listed below to make a performance smoothie.
  • Add berries or cut-up fruit to breakfast cereal.
  • Add a fruit-based dessert to a meal, like strawberry shortcake or sherbet sprinkled with mixed berries.

Smoothies are a great way to incorporate both fruits and veggies into your diet and are good nutrition choices before or after a match. Try to include at least one choice from each group:

  • Fruits: berries, banana, cherry, plum, grapes, kiwi, apple, lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, guava, mango, coconut, melon
  • Garden vegetables: spinach, kale, carrots, beets, radishes, celery, cucumber, beet greens, carrot greens, radish greens, ginger, garlic, avocado, bell pepper
  • Starches: oats, cooked barley, whole wheat or rice flour, wheat germ, sweet potato, canned pumpkin or butternut squash
  • Proteins: Greek yogurt, peanut or almond butter, protein powder, cottage cheese, silken tofu, hemp or pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
  • Other liquids: water, milk, fortified almond, soy or rice milk, coconut water, green tea, juice, ice.