We all know vegetables are good for us, but how many of us really get enough of them? Vegetables are by far the best source of naturally occurring essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that we need to live healthy. Although often they take a back seat to protein, without vegetables, it will be hard to get all the nutrients you need out of that steak you’re eating! Keep reading to find out five reasons you need more vegetables in your diet.
Reason #1 – Aids in Recovery and Endurance
Vegetables are full of the good stuff; they have plenty of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals but they also deliver a rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are active phytochemicals that protect against free radicals oxidative damage, which can be brought on by hard workouts. Increasing your antioxidant capacity can therefore help you to recover faster, and may even improve your workout endurance. It has been shown that even after consumption vegetables retain their antioxidant capacity. Dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E and also quercetin, which has been shown to improve endurance exercise capacity and performance. Be sure to eat plenty of salad— there are so many varieties of dark leafy greens to try you’ll never get bored!
Reason #2 – Increases Muscle Pump
That’s right— eating vegetables increases your workout pump! Vegetables are actually the greatest source of natural nitrates. In fact, most supplements that contain nitrates use extracted sources of beetroot or other nitrate-rich foods. Beetroot has been shown in multiple studies to help increase the production of NO or nitric oxide via the nitrate-nitrite pathway, a pathway that doesn’t require oxygen. Increasing NO in the blood helps increase vasodilation of blood vessels, allowing for more nutrients to flow to your muscles, resulting in an expanded pump during exercise! A pump might make you look better in the gym, but it’s actually the process of increasing blood flow to the muscles that can help increase muscle growth. For one, the muscles are getting the nutrients they need to build, and two the increased expansion of size helps trigger protein synthesis! Try beetroot in a smoothie, roasted and chopped up on a salad, or simply try beetroot juice!
Reason #3 – Improves Estrogen Metabolism
Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower deliver estrogen-fighting compounds called indoles that can help reduce estrogen load in the body, by reducing re-absorption, and encouraging elimination. When estrogen levels are too high, the result can be decreased fat burning and reduced muscle building. Be sure to get lots of cruciferous veggies in your diet. Sneak them into your salads, your omelets and eat them as a sidekick to your protein.
Reason #4 – Help You Get Your Daily Fiber
Vegetables are full of fiber, and fiber is essential on any diet. Fiber helps keep our gut clean, removing toxins from building up in our system, but it also helps slow down digestion and keep our blood sugar levels balanced. Low fiber foods like simple carbohydrates like white rice and bread can cause insulin spiking and energy crashes, resulting in hunger, and even fat storage. Vegetables can help bulk up your meals and reduce the onset of hunger, which can be very helpful if you’re following a strict diet. A woman’s daily need for fiber is 25 grams per day. Get your fiber from non-starchy vegetables like squashes, green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
Reason #5 – Vegetables are High Volume
When it comes to dieting for muscle building and fat burning, most of us watch our calories to a certain extent, so leaving room for more of the foods we want is possible. Vegetables are very low in calories, which means we can eat a whole lot more of them, and because of their high fiber content and low sugar content, it actually takes the body more energy to burn them off versus other foods! Stock up on vegetables with every meal— even your breakfast— or try juicing to help get in your daily vegetable needs.
Davis JM, et al. The dietary flavonoid quercetin increases VO(2 max) and endurance capacity. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Meab. 2010. 20(1): 56-62.
Fulford J, et al. Influence of dietary nitrate supplementation on human skeletal muscle metabolism and force production during maximum voluntary contractions. Pflugers Arch. 2013. 465(4): 517-28.
Murphy M, et al. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012. 112(4): 548-52.