By now, most of us are familiar with the Paleo diet or some version of a diet comprised of whole foods. Good chance you have read John’s “Just Tell Me What To Eat” article a few times but stop after the first part…
Eat With Abandon: Meat, Fish, Fowl, Seafood and Eggs…is where most of us tend to stop.
It is simple to hammer down a hefty portion of bacon,eggs, steaks, roasted chicken, and grilled pork chops; it would make any caveman proud. But what about a Power Athlete ? We know to feed the machine and blow through our Johnnie WODs, we gotta have carbs. So we load up on sweet potatoes, oats and rice so we can enter carb-bliss like Buzz Aldrin trying to reenter the earth’s atmosphere. Even though we try, there is still a glaring hole! The veggies guys. I’m sure your mother told you to eat your green stuff but most of us have no idea why we NEED it and what role vegetables play in making us healthy.
At Power Athlete, we take eating your veggies to another level by following a ROYGBIV guideline.
ROYGBIV is an acronym for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet
We don’t just want you to eat your veggies, but eat the rainbow. Let me take you on a tour of colorful recommendations – it will make it so much easier to follow.
So what does color have to do with a healthy diet anyway? One word: Phytochemicals. Phytochemicals is actually an umbrella term for non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventing properties. There are literally thousands of known phytochemicals and probably quite a few unknown with various properties such as fighting free radicals, detoxification, and protecting and regenerating essential nutrients. But these phytochemicals seem to work best synergistically so maintaining a variety of colors is optimal for reaping the benefits of these nutritional powerhouses. From an athletic performance perspective, phytochemicals are extremely important because they not only provide nutrients to protect our mitochondria, but the fruits and veggies also contain vitamins and minerals essential to the function of those cells.
Minding Your Mitochondria
For anybody that doesn’t remember their middle school science classes, the mitochondria are your cell’s powerhouses. They take the food we eat and oxygen we breathe and turn it into ATP (energy). And the more energy tissue demands, the more mitochondria its cells will require. The cells that make up the brain, heart and skeletal muscles can have mitochondria taking up 40% of their cellular space!
From a health perspective, the more mitochondria you have, the healthier they are and the better you will feel. From a performance perspective, the more mitochondria you have and the healthier they are, the harder you will be able to train or compete without fatiguing. So what does mitochondrial health have to do with colorful fruits and veggies?
By examining ROYGBIV, we can dive deeper into how these corresponding colors can help us have healthy, happy mitochondria.
Taste the Rainbow
Carotenoids are pigments responsible for the oranges, yellows and some of the reds found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, yellow, orange and red bell peppers, and tomatoes. Some carotenoids convert to Vitamin A which is itself a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants battle free-radicals that are naturally produced when the body makes ATP. Antioxidants keep the mitochondria protected from these radical oxygen species and running efficiently. Conversely, there are other carotenoids that don’t convert to Vitamin A, like lycopene another powerful antioxidant. Reddish fruits and veggies are often times a good source of Vitamin C and Folate, both of which are crucial to proper mitochondrial function. Folate is necessary for detoxification and has become increasingly studied due the prevalence of people who are now being tested for genetic mutations that affect the way their cells utilize folate.
Chlorophyll is responsible for the green color we find in foods like kale, spinach, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Though the chlorophyll itself isn’t the substance within these foods that specifically affects our mitochondria, many of these green foods contain other components that are essential to maintaining proper function. Foods like spinach and chard provide a rich source of Magnesium. Magnesium is utilized by the mitochondria to create ATP. Some studies have even shown that a Magnesium deficiency led to a decrease in cellular mitochondrial density. Less mitochondria equates to less energy. Manganese is another important nutrient that we readily get from our green leafy veggies. The mitochondria utilize manganese to produce manganese superoxide dismutase which is another potent antioxidant.
Anthocyanins are the flavonoids responsible for the blue, purple and deep red/blue found in foods like berries, cherries, eggplant and purple cabbage. Something else purple cabbage, purple cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables can provide is sulfur. Sulfur is extremely important in helping to create neurotransmitters, especially GABA which functions as the brains “OFF” switch allowing for adequate rest and recovery. But sulfur rich veggies also have been shown to help the mitochondria by preventing mitochondrial permeability and possibly cellular death under oxidative stress.
Betalains are pigments responsible for the deep red color found in beets. Some of the most intriguing studies done on betalains show extracts of red beet root produced cytotoxic effects on prostate and breast cancer cells.
The positive effects that brightly colored fruits and veggies have on our cells, particularly our energy producing mitochondria, is well documented. In my opinion, you would have to be a fool to chase performance without including these bad boys in your daily diet. If you find yourself reaching for the same broccoli, zucchini, and baby spinach every time you stroll through the produce section of your grocery store, stop and take another look around.
Your gainz will thank you!
Former collegiate volleyball player and 7 year competitive CrossFitter. 6x CF regional qualifier and 1x CF Games qualifier. Began coaching CrossFit in 2009 while working towards a Bachelor's in Nursing. Studied functional medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging in 2013 with specific emphasis on nutrition and hormone regulation. Continues to blend love of coaching and wellness as Head Trainer and Co-Owner of CrossFit Katy and Functional Nutritionist at Specialty Healthcare and Wellness in Houston, TX.
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