But don’t worry — there’s no need to cancel your gym membership! A new study investigates what might be the perfect, free radical-fighting pre-workout snack, and you can find it right in your produce department.
The amazing snack? Watercress! There are already a lot of reasons to eat this pretty veggie. A 2010 study found that watercress might reduce your risk of breast cancer, thanks to a compound that inhibits a protein related to tumor growth, and it’s also packed with vitamins A, C and K (in fact, one cup of watercress provides your RDA of vitamin K!). But what does that have to do with your exercise routine?
To find out, researchers from Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster tracked 10 healthy young men over 16 weeks. For eight weeks, the men ate about a bowl of watercress before intensive treadmill sessions; for another eight weeks, they did the same exercise without eating their greens. The researchers took blood samples before the men ate their watercress, before they exercised and then after they hit the treadmill.
The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, revealed that exercise does indeed increase DNA damage, but eating watercress seems to diminish the damage caused by exercised-induced free radicals by increasing the availability of antioxidants in the blood.
Angela Ginn, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains that free radicals are the byproduct of your cells burning oxygen. “Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to tissues and cells,” she explains. Exercise creates a build-up of free radicals, but so do a variety of other factors, like smoking and exposure to UV rays and air pollution, Ginn says.
“Keep in mind that this was a small study, using a small sample size,” she says of the watercress research. Nevertheless, antioxidants do fight against those free radicals, and watercress and other dark leafy greens such as collards, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and spinach are rich in antioxidants, she says.
It’s always a good idea to eat a wide variety of dark, leafy greens to maintain your optimal health, says Ginn, whether you exercise every day or not. “Once or twice a day, make sure you have at least a quarter if not a half of your plate filled with dark leafy greens,” says Ginn. “You can fight against those free radicals in your body!”
- Watercress may help prevent damage caused by gym workouts (humankinetics.me)
- Eat Leafy Greens Pre-workout (firstnutritionnews.com)
- Leafy Greens Help Prevent Damage Caused by a Workout, Study Suggests (optimumnutrition.wordpress.com)
- The Green Veggie You Should Eat BEFORE You Work Out (self.com)
- Watercress beats stress (scotsman.com)