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June 2012

Could Leafy Greens Be the Perfect Pre-workout Snack?

There is no question that exercise is incredibly healthy, but it also puts stress on the body, creating a build-up of free radicals, which could potentially damage one’s DNA. A small new study, however, suggests that a way to alleviate that stress could be as close as your local farmer’s market.

Looking for an easy way to remember to eat your fruits and vegetables? Buy a clear bowl, stock it with fruits and vegetables and keep it within reach. A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior gave 96 college students apple slices and carrot sticks in either a clear or opaque bowl, and placed them within reach or at a table about six feet away. After about 10 minutes, students were most likely to have eaten the food that was close at hand, especially if it had been placed in a clear bowl.

Source: Privitear, G.J. and Creary, H.E. (2012). Proximity and visibility of fruits and vegetables influence intake in a kitchen setting among college students. Environment and Behavior, DOI: 10.1177/0013916512442892.

Watercress and other leafy greens contain high levels of antioxidants that scientists believe may offer a protective effect against the damage caused by free radicals released during intense exercise. Researchers from Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster recruited 10 healthy men in their early 20s to participate in an eight-week study. The men consumed about 85 grams of watercress (equivalent to a small bowl) prior to exercising intensely on a treadmill. The same subjects served as a control group by performing the same activity for eight weeks without consuming the greens. 

Blood samples were taken prior to eating the greens and immediately before and after the exercise bout. They found that, while exercise caused DNA damage, consuming watercress appeared to attenuate that damage by increasing the availability of antioxidants in the blood. Furthermore, the protective effect seemed to hold, even when the subject ate the watercress for the first time. In other words, eating greens just two hours before exercise offers the same benefit as eating it consistently over a period of weeks. 

Lead author Dr. Mark Fogarty, whose study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, explained that eating a small amount of leafy greens, such as watercress, each day “can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins, which may help protect our bodies and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit. It’s an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research.”

Fogarty also emphasized the importance of proper hydration and exercising at an appropriate intensity, both of which are essential for reaping the benefits of physical activity over the long-term.

Source: Fogarty, M.C. et al (2012). Acute and chronic watercress supplementation attenuates exercise-induced peripheral mononuclear cell DNA damage and lipid peroxidation. British Journal of Nutrition, FirstView Article, 1–9. 


Are you interested in expanding your knowledge of nutrition? ACE recently added 25 new nutrition-focused continuing-education courses from respected provider Nutrition Dimensions. Covering a wide range of topics, such as cardiovascular nutrition, herbal supplements, functional foods and integrative nutrition, these self-paced online courses make it easy to increase your knowledge and earn ACE-approved CECs. Click here to learn more about these and other great continuing education courses available from ACE.

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