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Raw Foods that Improve Endurance

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Many people are surprised when they learn that a successful athlete does not consume meat. That surprise increases by a factor of ten when the athlete is a vegan. Athletes like hockey player Andreas Hanni, nine time gold medal Olympian Carl Lewis, 2009 Mr. Universe Billy Simmonds, boxer and bodybuilder Amanda Riester and ultramarathon runner Catra Corbett have proven that you don't need to consume animal products to be a high-performance athlete. In fact, their meat-free lifestyle may be why they have been so successful. It's been discovered that endurance athletes – marathon runners and cyclists, for example – have a lot more mitochondria in their muscles compared to sprinters and weight lifters. It has been theorized that one can increase their mitochondria by doing endurance training, and it has been proven that one can make the most of whatever mitochondrion they already have by eating whole foods, particularly leafy greens and root vegetables.

Mitochondrion are membrane-bound organelles found in most eukaryotic cells (aka cells with a nucleus, etcetera), and they act as battery packs within our cells. Mitochondria have a genome of their own and replicate themselves independently of the cells they inhabit. I won't bore you with the theory of how they came to be, but, suffice it to say, they have a life of their own and eating vegetables appears to improve their capacity.

The Best Raw Endurance Foods

  •  Arugula
  • Beet greens
  • Kale
  • Basil
  • Butter leaf lettuce
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Radishes
  • Cabbage
  • Strawberries
  • Currants
  • Gooseberries
  • What makes the foods listed above “the best” for endurance? They all contain useful amounts of nitrate. Some more than others, of course, but one is sure to find a few that they like and may already consume. According to a study conducted at the Karolinska Institutet, in Sweden and published in the journal Cell Metabolism, February 2, 2011, Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans, “Nitrate, an inorganic anion abundant in vegetables, is converted in vivo to bioactive nitrogen oxides including NO [nitric oxide]. We recently demonstrated that dietary nitrate reduces oxygen cost during physical exercise, but the mechanism remains unknown. In a double-blind crossover trial we studied the effects of a dietary intervention with inorganic nitrate on basal mitochondrial function and whole-body oxygen consumption in healthy volunteers. Skeletal muscle mitochondria harvested after nitrate supplementation displayed an improvement in oxidative phosphorylation efficiency (P/O ratio) and a decrease in state 4 respiration with and without atractyloside and respiration without adenylates. The improved mitochondrial P/O ratio correlated to the reduction in oxygen cost during exercise. Mechanistically, nitrate reduced the expression of ATP/ADP translocase, a protein involved in proton conductance. We conclude that dietary nitrate has profound effects on basal mitochondrial function. These findings may have implications for exercise physiology- and lifestyle-related disorders that involve dysfunctional mitochondria.”

    Despite the rhetoric of the past, nitrate is good for health. Both fruits and vegetables contain nitrates, but root vegetables and leafy greens, contain the most, with Arugula being number one. Grains contain nitrate as well, but I have only chosen the foods with the highest content of nitrate or else the list would be pages long. In any case, getting your nitrate from raw whole foods is best.

    Nitrate from meat and meat products are what spawned the anti-nitrate hysteria of decades past. Foods like hot dogs, sausage and smoked meats contain nitrate but also amines. Nitrate and nitrite are not carcinogenic themselves, but nitrite formed from dietary nitrate could possibly respond to dietary amines to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. It is those carcinogenic nitrosamines that could possibly lead to cancer, though this has only been proven in lab animals.

    Anyone who doubts that a vegan diet can fuel great athletic performances need only look to the very impressive Catra Corbett. Just last year she ran her 86th race at 100 miles – the Razorback 100. She finished the overall winner, beating all male competitors as well as winning the women's race!

    Fortunately, vegan athletes (raw and cooked) are becoming more vocal about their lifestyle and demonstrating through their athletic performances and general physicality the benefits of the lifestyle. For those who may be on the fence about a dietary switch, this is very important. Statistically, vegans make up less than 5% of the US population and there is a persistent stereotype that vegans are weak and frail, apparently, surviving on nothing more than their own smug sense of moral superiority. LOL. Many people have never known any vegans personally, so having high-profile athlete ambassadors matters.

    In an interview, Amanda Riester, winner of the 2011 Natural North America Bodybuilding and Fitness Championship said, “A lot of people are very surprised that I can be as strong as I am on a mostly raw vegan diet. At this point, anyone that knows me knows I’m a vegan because I make a point to wear a VEGAN item everyday. A tank, shorts, my purse... even my license plate reads VEGAN. I am very proud to be so strong and so healthy on a vegan diet. I pride myself on being an ambassador for the vegan lifestyle!”

    With more advocates and role models like Amanda, showing the world that vegans can be strong, supple and very healthy, the absurd stereotypes surrounding veganism would finally end. And since we now understand WHY it is possible for vegan athletes like Catra Corbett to outdo her meat eating rivals, both male and female, we can be certain that any aspiring vegan athlete who is willing to train hard and eat the right foods can be a champion too.  


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