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Greens: the sleeper performance optimizer for athletes

Are greens an athlete's performance optimizer?

You already know that working out without proper nutrition will be fruitless—workouts and nutrition equals gains. But eating a dozen eggs, five pounds of chicken, and a salad with every meal isn't always practical. We're obviously exaggerating here, but the truth is that only one in 10 American adults eat enough vegetables.

One of the most common missing vegetables? Leafy greens. Depending on your calorie intake and activity level, you should be eating between a cup and a half to four cups of greens daily. Who do you know who devours bowls of kale every day?  

Good news—greens are more than just kale. They include leafy, non-leafy, and dark greens like:

  • Spinach
  • Romain lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber
  • Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mustard greens

    Greens are packed with nutrients, but if you can't—or don't want to—eat four cups of broccoli, greens powder might be the answer. It's got some powerful benefits, too, that we'll explore later.

    First, let’s take a closer look at the nutritional benefits of green foods.


    5 Daily benefits of greens

    Dark and leafy greens provide vital nutrients we all need to maintain a healthy body. But they're even more crucial for athletes. They're full of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and phytonutrients that keep your body at peak performance—even after completing an intense workout.

    Greens are powerhouses for health, aiding in:

    • Immunity
    • Gut health
    • Energy levels
    • Cardiovascular health
    • Weight management

      1. Immune health

      It's two days after leg day, and you're wobbly and sore. That feeling is from muscle tears and oxidative stress and a signal for your immune system to repair the damage. The best way to move it along? Feed your body the nutrients it needs to get the job done. 

      A recent study exploring how food impacts muscle recovery and inflammation post-workout found a decrease in T cells after strenuous exercise—like a triathlon. Between three and 72 hours post-workout, not only do your T cells drop, but you also go through your open window period—when your immune system is most vulnerable.

      But greens can help shorten your open window period while accelerating recovery due to their high concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. Another study proved their effectiveness, finding that antioxidants counteract oxidative stress while vitamins soothe inflammation and muscle damage.


      2. Gut health

      Gut microbiota—a complex group of microorganisms—live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and play a pivotal role in overall health. Maintaining the right balance of microbiota helps with:

      • Nutrient metabolism
      • Adapting to changes in your immune health
      • Fighting illness
      • Protecting the lining of your gut

      One of the main drivers of a healthy gut microbiota is diet. When greens break down, they release a plant-derived sugar, sulfoquinovose (SQ), that feeds the good bacteria in your GI tract. Plus, leafy greens are chock-full of fiber, folate, and vitamins—all help promote a healthy gut.


      3. Energy levels

      Whether you're training for your next Iron Man or enjoying an active rest day, you need energy. Not a temporary energy boost—sustainable, long-term energy.

      Mitochondria convert your food into energy. But first, vitamin B—specifically B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B5 (pantothenic acid)—breaks that food down into amino acids, fatty acids, and sugars that your body can use.

      Where does vitamin B come from? Greens.

      Swiss chard, kale, and other greens provide the B-complex vitamins that help mitochondria carry out metabolic reactions to turn your food into energy. Greens are also rich in iron and magnesium:

      • Iron maintains oxygenation by helping carry blood throughout your body, which aids in mental focus and alertness
      • Magnesium supports healthy sleep patterns—a requirement for healthy energy levels

        4. Cardiovascular health

        What can't greens do? Thanks to a combination of vitamin K and dietary nitrates found in greens, you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, protect arteries, reduce blood pressure, and promote proper blood clotting. Nitrates from greens also help with vascular homeostasis.

        A study of over 50,000 people found that people who consumed nitrate-rich vegetables like leafy greens lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by between 12 and 26%. And the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed that leafy greens yielded more substantial benefits to cardiovascular health than other fruits or vegetables.

        While there's still a lot we don't know about phytochemicals—compounds found in plants—new evidence suggests they can also have positive outcomes in blood flow and blood pressure. 


        5. Weight management

        You want your TRX workouts, HIIT sessions, and weekly runs to count for something. But without a healthy diet to support your efforts, you might be waiting for a while. Or, you could add greens to your diet.

        The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends you fill most of your plate with fruits and vegetables, but simply increasing your portion of greens can yield benefits like an infusion of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. And because greens are nutrient-dense and low-calorie, you can eat high quantities and still maintain your weight.

        Not a heavy eater? Or prefer to drink your greens? Greens powder delivers the nutrients and benefits of leafy green vegetables. 


        How greens powder supercharges athletic performance

        While exercise is a healthy habit, it can also induce oxidative stress when you don't have enough antioxidants to fix the imbalance of free radicals. Highly reactive, free radicals cause chemical reactions known as oxidation. But when you have more free radicals than antioxidants, that oxidation becomes oxidative stress. 

        Oxidative stress can trigger inflammation and impact training, recovery, and muscle building.


        1. Inflammation

        Oxidative stress can trigger inflammation by activating transcriptors that affect multiple inflammatory pathways. Your body's natural immune system response to oxidative stress can also cause temporary inflammation.


        2. Training and recovery

         When working out, especially during an intense workout, your body naturally creates more free radicals. While they help regulate tissue growth and jumpstart the antioxidant process, they also create a state of oxidative stress. In this state, your muscles will likely fatigue and you'll be sore when you exercise the next day as your cells try to recover.

        But as you train harder, your body overcompensates to prepare for your next training session. While exercise-induced oxidative stress ensures you don't plateau, you can get into trouble if you overtrain. Overtraining doesn't give your body time to create the antioxidants necessary to balance the free radicals, which can lead to:

        • A buildup of free radicals
        • Muscle fatigue and pain
        • Prolonged recovery time
        • Cell, protein, and DNA damage
        • Cell death

          3. Muscle building

          Muscle-building activities like weight training or powerlifting are great for your health, but they also increase your levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS)—free radicals—every time your muscles contract. ROS can lead to less force generation and increased muscle atrophy. If you do regular high-intensity workouts, your skeletal muscle fibers may experience oxidative damage and muscle fatigue. 

          Don't worry—antioxidant-rich greens can help combat the problems associated with oxidative stress. Here's how:

          • Muscle recovery and inflammation. Often found in greens powders, polyphenols—natural compounds found in plants—are somewhat of a superfood. Their high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory properties support post-exercise recovery by minimizing oxidative stress and inflammation. By accelerating muscle recovery, polyphenols are especially powerful for athletes looking to push boundaries.

          • Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and strength Many greens powders are packed with high-protein antioxidants—like spirulina—which combat oxidative stress. Spirulina adds to your body's protein reserves while providing amino acids necessary for muscle repair and growth. It also boosts MPS and muscle recovery, so you can get one more rep and improve overall performance.
          • Energy boost Thanks to the phytonutrients often found in greens, you may experience increased energy levels. Not only will you have more energy, but you'll maintain your energy levels throughout the day, helping you power through a workout after a long day.

            You work hard in the gym—make it count with proper nutrition. Greens (and greens powders) are healthy, but they can also supercharge your workouts by speeding up recovery time, reducing fatigue, and promoting muscle growth. 

            Want all the benefits without eating a salad with every meal? Add a nutrient-rich, third-party-tested greens supplement, like Jocko Greens