Whilst conventional wisdom points to summer fruits and the spring harvest as being the best time for a nutritional bounty – the winter harvest can provide plenty of performance boosting nutrition too, so long as you know what to look for…

Beetroot

Winter Harvest: Beetroot

“Consumption of nitrate-rich beetroot juice has been shown to raise running performance,” explains Kate Percy, dietician and author of Fuel Smart For Race Day (gofasterfood.com). But not it seems that beetroot can boost performance when it’s baked too – according to research from St Louis University in the USA. During an unusual experiment 11 amateur athletes performed two 5k runs – an hour before the first run they ate a portion of baked beetroot just over an hour. Before the second run, they ate an equivalent amount of cranberry relish – researcher used this as it has a calorific content on par to beetroot but without the same nitrate levels. The results, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, revealed faster times after the beetroot pre-race meal.

Brussels sprouts

Winter Harvest: Brussels Sprouts

The small green veggies that can divide family opinion on Christmas day are something of a seasonal super food – even if they may not taste like it. Among their purported powers are cholesterol-lowering fibre content thanks to an ability to bind bile acids making them easier to excrete. “Among the cruciferous vegetables their glucosinolate content is higher than most,” explains Percy. These are phytonutrients – highly regarded for their cancer-protective qualities. “They’re also very high in folate – which has been linked to better heart health.”

Winter chard

Winter Harvest: Winter Chard/Swiss

Swiss or winter chard is said to be something of a nutritional powerhouse – not only as an excellent source of key vitamins but also an ample prvi good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

The leaves of winter vegetable Swiss chard contain a range of polyphenol antioxidants – including the heart-protecting kaempferol. The syringic acid content – another antioxidant – has been linked to better insulin balance.

As an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and the mineral manganese, and a good source of the mineral zinc,

Apples & pears

Winter Harvest: Apples and Pears

There may well be something in that old adage about apples ‘keeping the doctor away’ that could be especially beneficial to endurance athletes. It’s the polyphenols in this rare commodity – rare in the fact that it’s a British fruit that’s naturally available in the winter – that are its headline nutrients. One polyphenol in particular – quercetin – not only supports the immune system but may also help improve endurance. Researchers at Osaka City School of Medicine in Japan found that apple extract proved much better at staving off fatigue during bike tests when compared with a vitamin C placebo. “Pears are an excelllent source of fibre along with vitamin C and muscle feeding potassium,” says Kate Percy. A single pear will provide around a quarter of your daily recommended fibre intake.

Cranberries, pomegranate and Quince

Winter Harvest: Pomegranate

Quince is low calorie fruit with similar antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to pears – as well as packing plenty of fibre in its pulp. “Fruits like these that are rich in vitamin C help remove harmful oxygen-free radicals from the body as well as helping to boost immunity,” says Percy.

Pomegranate juice has been linked through a number of studies – including one from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology – to reduced incidence of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Studies from Laval University in Canada also link cranberries to better heart health – extract from the winter berry was recorded as supporting peak athletic performance by augmenting blood flow after a series of 3k cycle time trials.

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