Nutrition Myth Buster: Are Fruits Athlete Friendly?

Fibrous fruit is good for active athletes
Fibrous fruit is good for active athletes

“Dear Volleyball Magazine: I was told by my summer trainer that fruits are bad for you and should be consumed in moderation at most. Should I be avoiding fruits and sticking to whole grains as my source of carbs during the season? Are particular fruits better than others for athletes?”

Fruits fuel athletes!

The truth about fruits is they are an extremely powerful fuel source for every athlete on the planet. Why? Carbohydrates fuel muscles and are the key to elite athletic performance. Once you consume a carbohydrate, whether it is starch or sugar, it is eventually converted to glucose in the liver and quickly shuttled to working muscle cells when your body is active. The great thing about fruits is they are so diverse that some can be consumed before, during or even after a game to ensure proper performance.

Fear of fruits has become yet another fitness and nutrition myth. Unfortunately due to popular fad diets, many athletes and “experts” have developed a phobia of fruits for fear of adding unwanted body fat. The truth is that many fruits are loaded with fiber, which slows digestion, while others digest quickly when you need simple sugars the most. As athletes, we want fast digesting, higher sugar foods anytime we are active.

Which fruits should athletes eat and when?

1-hour pre-game
These fruits should be more “insulin regulating” (higher in fiber and slower digesting).

Fibrous Fruits
Apples, pears, blueberries, peaches: Eat the skin! With this added fiber these fruits will hit your blood stream during your warm-up and throughout set #1.

Citrus Fruits
Oranges, grapefruit: Don’t forget the pulp! This fiver slows digestion.

TIP: Always consume whole fruits instead of juices hours before a game. Juice substantially speeds up digestion time, resulting in a large insulin spike and a potentially unwanted crash pre-game. Save your juices and lower fiber fruits for during and post-game.

During & post-game fruits
Lower in fiber and faster digesting to reach working muscles while you play.

Bananas and grapes
Bananas and grapes are higher in fructose, which takes slightly longer to reach working muscles during a long match. They are lower in fiber then apples and oranges, still reaching your blood stream during a game.

Dried Dates and Figs
The ultimate during and post-game fruits. Higher in glucose, their sugars reach your muscles cells within minutes helping you push to finish a match or recover after one.

Fruits preserve muscle
Contrary to popular belief, protein is not the only thing that preserves muscle. We all know that Popeye consumed plenty of spinach to grow his pipes, but recent research is suggesting that apples are the key to a toned athletic physique.

A recent study out of the University of Iowa found a waxy substance in apples called ursolic acid that reduced muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) and increased muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). Numerous studies have now confirmed that this compound found in apple skin promotes insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which is a very anabolic hormone and key to post exercise recovery. Blood glucose, body fat, triglycerides and cholesterol were also lowered when ursolic acid consumption increased.

Why is this important? Over the course of a grueling volleyball season, many athletes experience muscle loss. In addition to quality protein sources, the next time you are at the grocery store pick up a bag of apples—your muscles will thank you.

Fruits are nutrient dense
In addition to carbohydrates, fruits are also loaded with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that are essential for optimum performance and longevity in athletes. Every contractingmuscle and every healthy organ working hard as you pass a volleyball utilizes more than just the sugar found in fruit.

Nutrient dense fruits for athletes

This “super food” contains trace minerals and vitamins along with anthocyanins and flavonoids. These last two prevent obesity, improve insulin sensitivity and even prevent memory loss.

High in folate (vitamin B-9) and calcium, which are essential for proper nervous system and muscle function.

Red Grapes
Red grape skin contains the phytochemical “resveratrol,” which prevents blood clots, reduces risk of heart disease and enhances fat metabolism.

Rich in potassium, omega-3 essential fats, zinc, energy producing B vitamins and the strong antioxidant vitamin E.

Oranges, Lemons, Limes
Citrus fruits improve lung function in athletes with asthma. They are high in vitamin C, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps reduce the swelling in lungs from inflammation.

Game Day Recipe: Protein Pancakes

Makes two servings

4 egg whites
1 ounce chopped almonds
¾ cup large flake oats
½ t cinnamon
1 t vanilla extract
½ cup fat free, plain Greek yogurt
1 chopped apple (with skin)

Mix egg whites, oats, cinnamon, chopped apple and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Stir until thick. Pour half of bowl contents (1 serving) into a pan sprayed with olive oil. Lightly brown the first side, flip, and then brown the other side. Check to ensure the center is cooked. Once on the plate, spread a thin layer of plain Greek yogurt over the pancake before garnishing with chopped almonds and cinnamon.

Nutrient profile(1 serving)

Total Calories: 397
Protein: 22 g
Carbs: 53 g
Dietary Fiber: 8 g
Fat: 12 g
Saturated: 2 g
Monounsaturated: 5 g
Polyunsaturated: 5 g

Vitamins and Minerals
Thiamin: 0.5 mg
Riboflavin: 0.5 mg
Folate/Folic Acid: 37 mcg
Calcium: 95 mg
Magnesium: 149 mg
Potassium: 500 mg
Zinc: 2.5 mg

Originally published in December/January 2012

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