Aside from being absolutely delicious, vanilla contains chemical compounds called vanilloids that help reduce inflammation in our bodies. Eating foods like vanilla can help remedy the damage of inflammation spawned by heavy training.

The basics:

10 minutes
Multiple servings
Vegan, gluten-free

The ingredients:

3.5 cups water

1 cup almonds (soaked for 8 hours)

3 dates, pitted

1.5 TSP pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Directions:

Place almonds in bowl and fill with enough water to cover, soaking for 8 hours, or overnight.

Discard the soak water from almonds and pour almonds into blender.

Soak pitted dates for 5 minutes in warm water to soften for blending.

Discard the soak water from dates and place dates in blender with almonds.

Add water, vanilla extract, and salt into blender and blend on high for 1 minute.

Pour blended contents through fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove pulp.

Pour yourself a delicious glass of homemade vanilla almond milk!


*Vanilla Almond Milk will keep for about a week if sealed and refrigerated.

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Sweet potatoes are not potatoes. And they aren’t yams either. The whole matter involves a series of bad translations starting back with Columbus’ expedition in 1492. But they sure are sweet! They’re always a savory and creamy carbohydrate to incorporate into your diet. In parts of the world the sweet potato is a staple food – and rightfully so, as they are a nutritionally dense vegetable.

Sweet potatoes are the tuberous roots of a plant called Ipomoea batatas. You can eat the leaves of the plant but they are nutritionally negligible compared to the roots. The sweet potato is only distantly related to potatoes. Potatoes are a nightshade and sweet potatoes aren’t. The sweet potato is actually more closely related to a morning glory.

The sweet potato originated in South America. Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating back to 8000 BC have been found. Around 700 AD the sweet potato made its way to Polynesia. These days, most sweet potatoes come from China. In the United States, North Carolina leads in sweet potato production and is the state vegetable. Of all the 1,000’s of species of sweet potatoes, only a few are grown in agriculture. Many kinds of sweet potatoes are actually poisonous.

So, is a sweet potato a yam?

Yes and no. Yes, if you are in North America and you want to get a sweet potato. No, if you are anywhere else in the world. Then a yam refers to Dioscorea, an African and Asian plant that has a root called a yam, which is completely different than a sweet potato.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other staple foods. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamin A and potassium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value.

Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C. While most people know that vitamin C is important to help ward off cold and flu viruses, few people are aware that vitamin C plays an important role in bone and tooth formation, digestion, and blood cell formation.

Bake them!

When you bake sweet potatoes something happens on the micronutrient level that produces more vitamin C… 24% more in fact! Sweet potatoes have a boat load of vitamin C anyway, but why not get more?

Recipes!

 Baked Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato chips

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Always have lemons on hand. Lemon can be used in almost any kind of cooking – they are like ready-made vitamin C supplement that you can squeeze on or into most foods. Having a lemon water first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.

Lemons are the fruit of an Asian evergreen tree that is thought to have originated in the Himalayan foothills of North-East India. You can make a bonsai lemon tree.

These trees are now abundant throughout the entire world. They were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Spanish conquest spread them throughout the continents. Today, the main producers of lemons are India, China, and Mexico.

The lemon tree produces fruit and a flower. Lemon is a fragrant an distinct smell, often used in aromatherapy. A study by The Ohio State University found that lemon oil aroma does not influence the human immune system, but may enhance mood. 

Also, in a jam, lemon makes a great cleaning agent. It can be used as a wood cleaner and polish, where its solvent property is employed to dissolve old wax, fingerprints, and grime.

Lemon rinds can be very high in pesticides, so always try to buy organic. Plus, you don’t know where your lemons have been as they’ve made their way to your kitchen. Give them a good wash before you roll them around your cutting board, or throw into your fresh filtered ice water. Also, lemons left unrefrigerated for long periods of time are susceptible to mold. And before you throw away that lemon peel, read this.

Nutritional data

The average lemon contains approximately 3-4 tablespoons (50 mL) of juice. Citric acid constitutes up to 8% of this juice. Citric acid is a natural preservative, aids digestion, and helps dissolve kidney stones.

Lemons, believe it or not, are an alkiline food. Yes, they are tremendously acid outside of your body (full of citric acid – to be precise), but once ingested your body converts it into a base that will help your regulate your PH levels.

Recipes

Spartan Lemonade

Lemon Apple pasta salad

Lemon glazed donuts

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Kale is a cruciferous vegetable (Brassica oleracea), and is related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and cauliflower. It contains many of the health benefits typically found in this group of super foods. More about cruciferous vegetables in general can be found here.

Kale has been cultivated by humans for more than 2000 years. It was first recorded by the Romans, and was staple green throughout the Middle Ages. During World War II it was planted in Europe in abundance as it was easy to grow and provided many nutrients that were needed during rationed wartime diets. Today this leafy green is eaten around the world, being a signature part of American, European, Asian, and African cuisines.

This crucifer is a truly a Spartan vegetable. It’s burly, calling home what others call Hell. Many varieties can grow well into winter when most plants don’t stand a chance of surviving. One specific cultivar is called “Hungry Gap” because it will keep your garden producing calories when everything else is long dead for the winter.

Always wash your kale as it is consistently ranked as a food that is known to be pesticide heavy. For this reason always buy organic when you can.

Is kale good for you? Let’s see, inside this low calorie green you will find 

More vitamin C than an orange.

More calcium per gram than milk.

A boat load of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is linked to brain function.

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

45 flavonoids

Sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties

Need some kale recipes?

Try some of these:

Kale and Eggs 

Kale lemonade

Kale and apple soup

Kale fried lotus salad

Kale cheese cannelloni 

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Almonds 101

OK, time to have your mind blown…

An almond is not a nut. It’s a drupe – like a coconut. A drupe is a fruit that has an outer fleshy part that surrounds a pit (or stone), with a seed inside this pit. Typical drupes (also known as stone fruits) include olives, peaches, plums, cherries pistachios, coffee, and dates. True nuts are hard-shelled pods that have a plant’s seed and fruit within a single hard casing. Examples of nuts are chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns.

However, these distinctions are botanical, not culinary. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we’ll refer to almonds as ‘nuts’ , as this is the typical custom in English. (The word ‘nut’ is tricky to translate into other languages for this reason).

Regardless of botanical distinctions, almonds are nutritiously awesome.

Nutritional Data

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Almonds are loaded with monounsaturated fats, the healthy fats found in olive oil and avocados. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders suggested that an almond-enriched low calorie diet can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.

Here are three more reasons to eat almonds:

Be more alkaline - Almonds are the only nut and one of the few proteins that are alkaline forming when you digest them. Many studies have shown the benefits of diets focused on alkaline forming foods.

Boost your brain - Almonds contain riboflavin and L-carnitine. These are nutrients that aid you in your brain activity.

Stabalize your blood sugar - Almonds lower the rise in blood sugar and insulin after meals.

 

How to Toast Almonds

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spread almonds in shallow pan.

Place pan in oven for 20-30 minutes

 

Make Your Own Almond Milk

Ingredients

1.5 cups almonds

4 cups water

Maple syrup (optional)

Honey (optional)

Vanilla (optional)

 

Gear

Blender

Cheese cloth

Big mason jar

Wood spoon

Strainer

 

Directions

Soak almonds for 4 hours. Overnight is best for them to blend easiest.

Blend with 1.5 cups water. Start with slow speed and work your way up. Stir occassionally with wood spoon. Go for 1-2 minutes.

Add any honey, maple syrup, or vanilla, if you are feeling like sweets. Add rest of water. Blend again.

Pour through the strainer.

Hold cheese cloth over top of big mason jar. Pour through cheese cloth.

Chill.

Enjoy.

 

Make Your Own Almond Butter

This is an endurance workout. You’ll deserve every dense calorie of goodness. Patience is rewarded.

Ingredients

3 cups almonds

Directions

Soak almonds for 4 hours. Overnight is best for them to blend easiest.

Put in food processor or blender.

Process for 20 minutes, using wooden spoon to stir often.

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picture credit: secretly healthy

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Michael Mendoza wasn’t always the rippling torso of sinew and muscles that he is now. One fateful day, only 30 yards into a 10k that he’d signed up for and not trained for at all – despite his lethargic attitude to life – he realized that taking his body for granted was a dangerous thing to do. His life was going to change immediately and it all began with his diet. He explains…

“Going vegan was definitely not an overnight process, which is why it bugs me that so many people think they can guilt someone into going vegan. Look, I knew that we tortured animals, but I could have really cared less. They were our food, so who cared if they were ethically treated before slaughter, right?

Vegans and animal rights activists just have way too much time on their hands! Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely an animal lover, dogs, cats, and anything on the endangered species list, but not our food supply.”

Michael explains that he got to where he is by what he calls his “Matrix Effect”. He decided to take that  pill and see just how far the rabbit hole led him. Having already started an exercise regimen with healthier foods and leaner meats, the thought of giving up meat never crossed his mind.

“I was pretty successful in losing a large amount of weight when a book called “Skinny Bastard,” made its way into my hands. I laughed at the notion of vegetarianism but read it anyways. After reading the book, I was horrified and in disbelief. I didn’t want to buy into the fact that our food supply was really tainted. I didn’t want to believe that the government could allow any of these practices to go on. I did more research and eventually adopted a vegan diet. I lost even more weight but reverted into vegetarianism. Years go by as a vegetarian and I had gained a substantial amount of weight back.”

Michael didn’t know another vegetarian or vegan (or “v*gan”, as they are commonly referred to in text) at all by this time. This eventually changed due to social media and he met many others with the same philosophy online. Noticing that many of the vegans he saw online were athletes, he decided to give it a try and go vegan. He bought the book “Thrive” by Brendain Braizer – a successful vegan triathlete – and took his advice.

“I followed his program and had this energy that I never had before. I was able to go faster and further with this new diet. I was running 10k’s and half marathons for fun! I dropped a lot of weight and was in the best shape of my life. All thanks to social media.”

“Another thing that happened was that I learned compassion for animals. I gave up leather and anything related to animal products. Being vegan does open your eyes to the fact that you really don’t need animal products to survive. Heck, being vegan is why I have all this energy.”

But there wasn’t just one tipping point or moments of clarity that Michael puts this down to. He was around 300+lbs, smoked occasionally and drank all the time. He recalls how what he consumed on a daily basis wasn’t good. “My diet was also pretty horrendous. I never ate a single meal without meat and drank at least three cans of diet cherry coke every day.”

“I was at a party and a few friends were talking about a 10K they entered. I had run a 10K for a college final once before, and I was still confident about it. I jokingly said that I was able to run a race, and everyone just laughed at me. To prove them wrong, I signed up for it.  It was a scorcher and well over 100 degrees outside. I met all my friends and we headed to the starting line. Keep in mind, I had zero training and did not prepare for this run at all. They shot that gun and we all started running like rats abandoning a ship. I had a good stride until about 30 or so yards. My lungs started to hurt, my legs started to ache, and I could barely breathe! I took a look back at the starting line and seriously thought about heading back in shame.

300 pound guy trying to run six miles? What was I thinking? I decided the shame of turning back would be too much to handle, so I pressed forward. I decided that I would finish this God forsaken race even if I had to crawl to the finish line.”

As he was bent over double, gasping for air, he was passed by a lady that was in her 70’s. The full horror of his own physical fitness was now washing over him like a cold shower. The alarms were ringing and life was slapping his face from left to right and back again. Time to wake up, Michael.

“She looked like someone that I should help cross the street and here she was passing this guy in his 20’s?! This was ridiculous! So I gave all that I had and passed her up. It was a back and forth race for miles with this lady who should have been knitting at home, not competing with me in a race that I was obviously losing! I finally gave up! She passed me and I was embarrassed. I started to hyperventilate and seriously thought I might die that day. But Like I said, I decided to finish even if I had to crawl across that damn line!”

He eventually finished the race in what he considers to be the worst shape of his life. Sweaty, drained of energy and feeling utterly humiliated and beaten down, it took Michael 1 hour and 52 minutes to cover the 10k. Feeling so drained, Michael had to rest for a few hours before he considered himself good enough to drive home, such was the level of his exhaustion.

“Ever since that day I knew that I needed to get into shape but never really knew how. I was so lazy and eventually lost the passion to get fit. A few months later I took a trip to Europe. My life forever changed since then.”

Some of Michael’s training would include things like uphill sand dune sprints

“In the States I was huge but there were others that were equally large around me. In Europe however, I was the biggest guy in the Continent! It didn’t take very long to realize why! My first day in Venice Italy, I went to a local shop and ordered a pizza and soda. It was such a tiny slice of pizza and the smallest soda I have ever seen! I laughed and thought I must have ordered in the over-priced tourist area!

Later on for dinner, I went to another restaurant and ordered some ravioli. Oh I was super excited! I mean, I’m in Italy eating Italian. Awesome right? Nope! Here comes the waiter with my bowl full of ravioli, 4 pieces. 4 freaking pieces! It was the Twilight Zone here!”

Reverting to type, Michael resorted to what he knew – American fast food. Going to Burger King and McDonalds, he knew he would be in familiar territory. Sadly for him, he soon found that there wasn’t a “Super Size” option for him to fall back on. He quickly understood that he would “either starve or go broke.”

“Slowly but surely I started realizing that these Europeans didn’t have tiny portion sizes, but we Americans had gigantic portion sizes. I also figured out another thing, my feet were killing me. I was walking everywhere. In California, walking was for people who didn’t have cars, not for everyone else.

I came back with a new outlook on life. There was a Starbucks about a quarter mile from my apartment that I would drive to. I never took my car again and started a portion control diet with exercise.”

In regards to training, Michael was a rudderless ship. Not really knowing what he wanted to do, or even how to do it, he was all over the place.

“I started this popular diet called “Atkins.” It was great! I got to eat tons of bacon and eggs and didn’t have to worry about anything. Well, that didn’t last long. I didn’t lose any weight and I felt horrible. I started researching different programs and eventually found one that I liked. It was superset lifting with 33% protein, 33% carbs, and 33% fats. It told me to stay away from fruits and not to do any cardio. I cheated and ate fruits and started to run.”

His vendetta was consuming him. He had a score to settle with 10K of asphalt. He wanted to be able to run a distance that he considered a man of his age should easily be able to do.

“I calculated a full 3 miles around my whole apartment block. It wasn’t easy at all but I was completely motivated. My first run was similar to that 10K I did months before. After about 30 yards in, I was done, but pushed myself to keep going. Days that I wasn’t attempting to run, I started to lift. I was way too embarrassed to hit up a local gym, so I used my apartment gym instead. Luckily we had a decent amount of weights and exercise equipment. I didn’t know what I was doing so I just followed a workout plan.”

The difference in his body wasn’t something he noticed at first. Not overly concerned with how he looked, moreover how he felt, he eventually saw that, over the months, his body was changing in a positive way.

“After months of running, months of eating healthy, and months of dropping pounds, I ran 6 miles without stopping. I didn’t even really notice that I had reached this level of “athleticism.” It was everyday work for me and I had never taken notice.”

There was a quote that I printed up and went like this, “Unless you’re giving 100% every time, you might as well stay at home. So that’s what I did, gave it my 100% every time I went out! Granted, you’re going to have good days and bad days, but I never limited myself.”

“What really made me realize the difference were the compliments from friends and family at how much weight I had lost. I honestly did not notice much changing, it was only till my friends said something that I was able to really look at old pictures of myself, and notice the change.”

But as every Spartan Racer knows, there is an area that every single person has, regardless of strength, stamina, build, body shape, age or mental fortitude. A common bond that we all share and one that we all have to push past in order to make it worthwhile – the comfort zone.

“Yes! Getting out of your comfort zone!”, Michael laughs, “the hardest thing for me was getting rid of the people who were negatively influencing me and hanging out with those who would positively influence me. You cannot get into shape if you’re hanging out with people who do nothing but drink, smoke, and eat horrible food.”

“I put friendships, nightlife and fast food on hold. I told myself that it was a temporary inconvenience and that it would be worth it in the end. Boy did it pay off. I seriously felt like a whole new person afterwards. Accepting that everything I knew about food was completely wrong was hard but necessary. Admitting being wrong about a lot of stuff was tough but was the first step to recovery. Once I accepted that I had no idea what I was doing, I was then able to move forward and learn about food and fitness.”

Offering advice for those open to what he experienced, Michael is quick to lay out some pointers, should anyone want to follow his example.

“It is hard and boy is it tough! If it were easy, everyone would be in shape! You have to want it bad and be willing to struggle for it. Once you get to that point where you have that, “nothing is going to stop me,” mentality, you’ll be successful! Most people quit at the first sign of a struggle and wonder why their “diet” doesn’t work. If there is a wall, you climb it. If there is a ditch, you jump over it. If there is a lake, you swim across it. That’s it. That’s the secret! For every object that gets in your path, you have to overcome it. And that is how you will succeed.”

Obstacles are not there to prevent your progress. They are opportunities to show what your mind and body can do.

Sign up today and we’ll see you at the finish line.

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By Guest blogger Coach Pain DeWayne

It’s a New Year and you have decided to step up to get in the best shape of your life. To some, resolution is a new beginning.  The time is now and sacrifices will have to be made starting with the challenges ahead, it will takes 90% mental and 10% physical toughness to achieve your ultimate goal.  How to stick with your goal is to plan.

Take a pen and pad and write down your plan for the day, starting with your food intake and finishing off with a good productive training regiment NOT A ROUTINE. Routines are predictable and life isn’t.  When starting off with a food plan, it’s a process and to some, it’s very challenging, but it is not impossible to accomplish.  Remember, the workout is only the tip of the iceberg.  You must stay focus and not allow anything to throw you off track.  Fitness is a lifestyle and a journey for which you can and will accomplish.  Start off on the right path and remember, you must crawl before you walk and walk before you run.  When exercising, stick to a moderate program that is sufficient for your fitness level and try not to do what you see others do inside or outside the gym at an advanced level because what works for them may not work for you or it may not be your time to work at that level.  You are a work in progress. Beginning means to start so starts up right for example, food, limit the bad choices you make: pizza, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies and alcohol intake.  You don’t have to necessarily deprive yourself from these choices.  Food is for us to enjoy, not to gorge.  Everything exists in a delicate balance.  Listed below are examples of good and bad nutrition:

 

Fat: Healthy fats vs. damaged fats.  Eat more healthy fats; eliminate all damaged fats

Protein: Naturally raised vs. unnaturally raised animals.  Go organic and natural for animals because these are at the top of the food chain.

Carbohydrates: Whole carbohydrates vs. refined carbohydrates. Eat more vegetables – eliminate refined grains and sugars.

 

Healthy Fats

Almonds

Flaxseed

Pecans

Sunflower seeds

Walnuts

Avocado

Good Fats

Fish – Salmon, halibut, sardines, anchovies

Eggs – organic, hormone free/antibiotic free and fed no animal by products

 

Oils

Coconut oil (best for high heat)

Olive Oil (medium heat only)

Walnut, Flaxseed, avocado oil (Do not heat)

Cod liver oil (Do not heat)

Hemp seed oil (Do not heat)

 

Good Proteins

Grass fed meat (beef, lamb)

Fish

Eggs

Poultry (Chicken & Turkey)

Carbohydrates

Lower-Glycemic Carbohydrates – High in fiber, these are always your best carbohydrate choices any time of the day. Examples: Cabbage, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Broccoli, Kale, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Lemons, Strawberries, Granny Smith Applies

Moderate –Glycemic Carbohydrates – Reduce consumption of these after lunch.  Completely eliminate these carbohydrates after lunch if weight loss is a concern. Examples: Brown Rice, Pinto Beans, Sweet Potato, Squash, Steel Cut Oats, Whole Grain Breads, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Tangerines, Kiwi, Pears, Melons

High – Glycemic Carbohydrates – Eat these carbohydrates only during recovery from exercise.  Avoid them completely if weight loss is a concern. Examples: Banana, Honey, Grapes, Pineapples, Mango

Refined Carbohydrates – Sugars and refined grains are eliminated completely on the maximized living nutrition plans. Examples: Brown & White Sugar, Sweetened fruit juice and honey, fructose, glucose, sucrose, syrups, white rice, white flour, white pasta.

 

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While it’s clear that the fight against obesity and poor health has never had more momentum, it appears that champagne corks shouldn’t be popping just yet. Save those back slaps and knucklebumps for a moment, as things aren’t quite as rosey as we’d like to believe they are.

The Overseas Development Institute recently said one in three people worldwide was now overweight and urged governments to do more to influence diets. 

In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese.

The report predicts a “huge increase” in heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

Globally, the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese – classed as having a body mass index greater than 25 - grew from 23% to 34% between 1980 and 2008.

Spartan Race has been pushing for Americans and indeed those around the world to live healthier and exercise more.

Consider signing up for our FOD . With our Food Of The Day, you will be emailed a different food/recipe that you may like to consider each and every day.

Likewise our WOD – workout of the day – will give you a routine to go through that will not only keep you in shape, but will prepare you for your next Spartan Race. Our WODs are designed to target elements of our races which, when done regularly, will see you attack obstacles with greater strength and confidence.

Sign up your children (ages 4-13) for Spartan Kids so that they can share the pleasure of experiencing what the adults get to enjoy.

Of course, the regular Spartan Race is still waiting for you adults aged 14 and over. Let’s get together and push that obesity percentage down. Sign up your friends and family and have today be the first day of the rest of your lives!

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There is a reason why you see bananas at the end of marathons, triathlons, and obstacle races.  Simply put, you can’t go wrong with eating bananas.  Bananas are concentrated nutrition delivered direct from one raw food, fueling you up with approximate 100 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 422 mg of potassium.   Muscle cramping has long been documented as being related to low potassium levels.  Anyone who has had their legs lock up at the end of a long race can appreciate this, and should consider grabbing one whenever they are around.

Bananas are easy to eat and digest for the most part. They are easily chewed up and swallowed, even if one is running at 90% intensity.  While everyone manages solid food while exercising differently, the banana seems pretty universally accepted as easy to digest while exercising.

In fact, they are easy on your stomach.

Bananas have long been recognized for their antacid effects that protect against stomach ulcers and ulcer damage. In one study, a simple mixture of banana and milk significantly reduced acid secretion. In addition, bananas also help activate the cells that compose your stomach lining, producing a thicker protective mucus barrier against stomach acids.

So, when reaching for your coffee in the morning, reach for a banana, too.  When you are heading to workout, grab a banana to go with you for either before, during, or after your workout.  Simply put, you never know when you might need an extra dose of quality raw food calories and potassium.

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Asparagus: Spartan Food of the Day

Heavy in –  Vitamin K, fiber, vitamin B6

Light on – Calories, saturated fat

If weight management is your goal, think about scripting several pounds of asparagus into your plans.  This veggie is a low calorie source of folate, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. The stalks are heavy in antioxidants, so don’t just cook and eat the tips – just trim off the brown bottom pieces off. (I find these to be great dog treats.)

One cup of asparagus has almost 5 grams of dietary fiber, something important for your digestion.  Long story short, if you are training at peak performance, you will want your digestion system to keep up.  Fiber is your go-to for this.

This is one of those vegetables that seems to defy all the odds in terms of holding up in the fridge, the one item still edible when coming home after a long weekend of racing.

How to Cook Asparagus:

Asparagus can be eaten raw, but is most often steamed to make tenderer.  You can blanch, boil, bake, or grill – being such a hearty vegetable it’s hard to mess up.

Can’t go wrong with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Just add fire.

Sources:

Fight Back with Food: Use Nutrition to Heal What Ails You. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 2002. Print.

“U.S. Department of Agriculture.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

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