Considering the punishing toll most pro and elite athletes put their bodies through, is there any wonder why they constantly are seeking to find that competitive edge?
With optimum performance and optimum recovery at a premium, more and more athletes are juiced -- but not in the A-Rod, Armstrong sense. Instead, these competitors are doing it the natural way by grabbing a glass and downing some of these beneficial beverages, many of which may already be in your kitchen.
Watermelon Juice: There's a saying in the sports world, "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Fortunately, there's watermelon juice to aid with just such pains. Long held by athletes as reducer of post-training muscle soreness, watermelon contains the amino acid, L-citrulline, which according to a recent study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry and as reported in the October 4, 2013 New York Times, effectively relieves (however, does not fully eliminate) exercise-induced muscles aches. The study found cyclists who consumed 17 ounces of fresh watermelon juice one hour prior to an intense interval regime had less post-training soreness.
As an added bonus, L-citrulline's ability to convert into nitric oxide (NO) -- think beetroot juice -- increased muscles protein and elevated athletic performance.
Extra Sip: Watermelon juice's high water content helps the elimination process, so your body can excrete excess sodium and water common in bloating.
Beetroot Juice: Containing a number of beneficial properties (the most important, being nitrates), this red liquid is gold. Beetroot and other dietary nitrates, like hawthorn berries, produce higher levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the blood, therefore increasing blood flow by opening up blood vessels. The results: a higher delivery of oxygen to the muscles, improved cardiovascular endurance and faster recovery.
Professor Andrew Jones, Ph.D., head of Sport and Health Science at the University of Exeter in England, has done numerous studies related to athletic performance and beetroot juice. One of those studies, involving elite rowers, found consuming 200 to 500 milliliters twice daily (one dosage taken two hours prior to exercise), showed a significant improvement in high-intensity training, especially near the end of their respective tests.
Extra Sip: Beetroot also helps to control high blood pressure and promote cardiovascular health.
Pickle Juice: From pregnancy cravings to deli sandwiches, pickles have been a mainstay. So, too, has its dill-flavored juice, when it comes to reducing cramps and preventing hydration for numerous athletes.
Rich in sodium, magnesium and potassium, pickle juice is seen by trainers, nutritionists and researchers alike as a drink with enough, if not more, electrolytes than many of the popular "ade"-type drinks currently on the market. Pickle juice provides athletes a two-for-one punch with sodium and vinegar in just one shot.
A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in May 2010, illustrated how a group of young men in Utah were given 2.5 ounces of either straight pickle juice or deionized water once their exercised-induced and electronically stimulated cramping began. The group downing the pickle juice stopped cramping within 85 seconds, while those who drank water continued to seize up. The findings determined that pickle juice relieved cramping 37 percent faster than drinking water, and 45 percent faster than drinking no liquid at all.
Yet the true secret weapon in pickle juice may be the vinegar.
Dr. Kevin C Miller, Ph.D., ATC, and assistant professor at North Dakota State University, believes, based on his own studies on cramping, the pickle brine helps cure cramps because it triggers a nerve reaction.
Dr. Miller notes the rapidness in which the craps are eased (once the juice is ingested) wouldn't provide it enough time to leave an athlete's stomach in order to produce such a dramatic reaction. Instead, he and fellow researchers suspect the vinegar in pickle juice actually sparks a nerve reflex, which sends out a signal disrupting the misfiring of muscles and therefore stops the actual cramping.
Extra Sip: Pickles provide the gut with healthy flora, which is vital for digestion.
Dark Tart Cherry Juice: Now we know why George Washington actually chopped down the cherry tree. He recognized the enormous upside tart cherries possess.
High in antioxidants, this polyphenol-rich juice reduces oxidative stress, which damages cellular proteins and membranes leading to systemic inflammation, injury and disease. Consequences of prolonged and intense training regimes -- associated with elite athletes -- are excess fatigue, tissue damage and slow recovery, hence the importance of antioxidant nourishment like those found in this delicious nectar.
A published study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition in May 2010, found marathoners who consumed 12 ounces of cherry juice twice daily a week prior to the race and on race day, experienced less post-race muscle soreness and fatigue versus those who took the placebo.
Extra Sip: Rich in melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles), 8 ounces of cherry juice for 14 days -- once in the morning and again two hours prior to bed provided moderate improvement in sleep patterns and insomnia.
Capuacu Juice: First there was cacao, yet leave it to the Amazon to provide athletes with another performance and wellness superstar.
Chock full of polyphenols and flavonoids, Cupuacu contains theacrine -- the same natural stimulant found in cocoa. Locals use this fruit to relieve pain, strengthen immunity, fight aging, boost energy and elevate mental clarity.
The taste (much better than pickle juice for sure) is a cross between a banana and a melon, with a dash of chocolate, and is the perfect addition to a post-workout shake or a healthy dessert.
Extra Sip: Most easily found in a freeze-dried powder, juice or digestive-aid tea at local health food stores.
Apple Cider Vinegar: For those who ever doubted the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Or better yet, debunked the findings of Hippocrates way back when, it is time to listen up. Apple cider vinegar is a medicine cabinet in a bottle.
Its benefits are plentiful, its usage is widespread and its amino acid, raw enzyme and potassium profiles provide athletes with an amazing performance and recovery tonic.
Bring 2 teaspoons of well-shaken (the power house is the "gunk" at the bottom of the bottle) apple cider vinegar to room temperature or warm water upon rising and again post-workout help to over-ride fatigue, reduce inflammation and flush lactic acid.
A study published in January 2010 in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, found 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar taken prior to or with a meal slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream.
Extra Sip: Apple cider vinegar helps the body to maintain a healthy alkaline pH level. When your pH levels are low, your body is ripe for infections, allergies and low energy. Two teaspoons in water daily for 12 weeks can make a difference.
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