February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to focus on the life-sustaining organ that delivers vital nutrients to your entire body. You’re already staying fit and taking supplements to support total health and wellness, and there’s no doubt you’ve heard of (and may be eating) several of these foods that benefit the heart. But did you know they can also enhance your workout performance? Check out these multi-tasking foods that keep your ticker in great shape and give you an edge in the gym.
Wild Salmon
Fatty fish such as wild salmon offers up a super serving of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a heart-smart super food to add to your plate regularly. Numerous studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to lower the risk of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias) as well as triglyceride levels. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends having a 3.5 oz. serving of fish (preferably fatty fish) at least two times a week.
A Japanese study published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry in 2014 found that supplementation with a specific omega-3-rich fish oil oil such as eicosapentaenoic acid (or EPA) for eight weeks improved exercise economy and reduced the amount of exertion perceived during exercise.
Green Tea
Though both black and green tea contain a variety of beneficial nutrients, green tea is reported to have the highest concentration of a robust type of antioxidant called polyphenols. Green tea has been studied extensively in humans and has been found to benefit the heart by lowering both cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
According to the AHA, oats contain the highest proportion of soluble fiber than any other grain, making oatmeal an excellent whole grain food choice to keep LDL-cholesterol levels low and lower your overall risk of heart disease. A half-cup serving will give you 4 grams of dietary fiber (the AHA recommends getting 25g of fiber daily).
A Penn State study found that male cyclists who ate oatmeal for breakfast, which also keeps your blood sugar levels stable longer, were able to exercise significantly longer than subjects who consumed a high glycemic index breakfast of puffed rice cereal.
Cherries are chock-full of antioxidants, particularly a type of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins provide a wealth of benefits, including their ability to prevent tumor formation, keep vision sharp and boost heart health. In 2013, findings from a prospective cohort study of young and middle-aged women with 18 years of follow-up led researchers to observe that a higher intake of anthocyanins amongst participants was associated with a 32 percent reduction in the risk of a heart attack.
A study conducted by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University found the addition of cherry juice to the diet of long-distance runners minimized muscle pain after an endurance event.
Another food touted by the AHA as heart smart is potassium-rich bananas. Why? Americans consume way too much sodium and potassium lessens the effect of sodium in the bloodstream, thus helping to keep blood pressure levels in check.
Potassium is lost when we sweat, and we need it to prevent cramps and muscle spasms from occurring. A medium banana contains about 422 mg of potassium and is a great way to replenish post-workout. A banana can help before a workout, too. Eating a banana about an hour before a long run or other endurance sport is a great way to provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs to perform during exercise. A study at Appalachian State University found a banana to be as effective of a carbohydrate source for trained cyclists as a carb-rich energy drink.
Another fiber-rich whole grain recommended by the AHA, quinoa is a great plant-based protein source full of vitamins and nutrients that is both cholesterol and gluten-free. Quinoa is so versatile, it can be served for breakfast (treat it as you would oatmeal, with additions such as flavorful berries or a bit of honey) or as a savory substitution to brown or white rice. Quinoa is a cholesterol-lowering food, which helps prevent a cardiac disorder known as atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries).
Quinoa is one of the few foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, which we must get from our diets since our bodies can’t make them. Essential amino acids are necessary to prevent muscle loss and help us recover after a workout. MS&F
A study at Waseda University in Japan conducted over a 10-week endurance training period found that men who consumed a beverage containing green tea extract were able to increase the proportion of whole-body fat utilization during exercise while subjects who drank the placebo beverage were not.


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