Food Synergy

Food is our friend.  At times it can be hard to remember that when we’re being inundated with conflicting advice; dietary dos and don’t; strength-to-weight ratio comparisons and daily media images of the “ideal” body type.  But food enables us to row 2k, all-out efforts on the water; sweat it out through 4+ hour road races; endure Ironman triathlons; and even swims from Cuba to Florida.  It’s incredible, really.  

I recently had the honor of meeting Diana Nyad, the ultra-endurance swimmer who swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. Diana was given food by her handlers every 90 minutes throughout her nearly 53-hour swim. Diana dialed in her nutrition plan over many months of training swims, many lasting as long as 15 hours.  

I recently had the honor of meeting Diana Nyad, the ultra-endurance swimmer who swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. Diana was given food by her handlers every 90 minutes throughout her nearly 53-hour swim. Diana dialed in her nutrition plan over many months of training swims, many lasting as long as 15 hours.  


The reality is, though, it takes work and daily mindfulness to get the nutrients we need, and our food system isn’t always helping us out—the healthiest foods are often not the most accessible or affordable. With that said, in most American cities, we have access to an abundance of healthful, disease-fighting, high-quality foods, year round, especially in the health-conscious Pacific Northwest.  As athletes, we have to take advantage of that accessibility.  

Throughout this month, MDEC is focusing in on the magical effects that quality, nutrient-dense foods have within the human body, and the simple steps we can take to make the most of our food.  We’ll start with Food Synergy. 

To paint a picture of Food Synergy, think back to your favorite training partner over the years—the person you connected with, who inspired you, and who pushed you to a higher level.  Certain food pairings also have a powerful synergy—a connection that magnifies the nutrient value and healing properties within the foods.  There are many such connections, so keep exploring Food Synergy!  Here are a few powerful food connections to get you started in December.   

Spinach + Citrus:
The role of iron for the endurance athlete cannot be understated.  The mineral is essential for oxygen transport; in other words, athletes with low iron stores simply cannot adequately fuel working muscles (or the  brain, for that matter).  As a result, performance suffers.  Iron also promotes mood stability and happiness—both critical in keeping a hard-charging athlete motivated. 
Spinach is packed with iron, however, plant-based iron isn’t easily absorbed by the human body.  To increase that absorption, squeeze lemon juice on your spinach.  This food pairing is particularly important for vegetarian athletes who are working to meet their iron needs purely through plant-based foods. 

Lemons.  Perhaps one of the world's most delicious and healthiest foods.  Forego the next bottle of store-bought salad dressing and try a lemon-based, homemade dressing instead! 

Lemons.  Perhaps one of the world's most delicious and healthiest foods.  Forego the next bottle of store-bought salad dressing and try a lemon-based, homemade dressing instead! 

Whole Grain Bread + Peanut Butter:
On your next long ride, run or row, try leaving the condensed bars and gels at home.  Instead, pack a PB&J on whole grain bread.  Whole grain bread paired with peanut butter contains all the essential amino acids needed for growth and repair of muscle tissue.  That protein, combined with a low-sugar jelly, will supply both quick-release and long-lasting energy to fuel you through your long training session.   

Beans + Rice:
Beans and rice are another combination that provide all the essential amino acids, making it a quality recovery meal.  For the most nutritious combination, opt for red beans and brown or wild rice. 

Black pepper + Turmeric:
The spice turmeric is touted for its anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and black pepper unleashes turmeric’s full healing effects.  Sprinkle both on your morning omelette to reduce inflammation and promote recovery.    

Tomatoes + Olive Oil:
Tomatoes are full of compounds called carotenoids, the nutrient-rich molecules that give fruits and vegetables their color.  These disease-fighting compounds are fat soluble, which means our body is better able to absorb them when they’re paired with dietary fat such as olive oil.  Tomatoes also release more of their nutrients when cooked (with the peels on).   

Pair garlic with onions to maximize the release of organosulfer compounds that benefit cardiovascular health.

Pair garlic with onions to maximize the release of organosulfer compounds that benefit cardiovascular health.

Eggs + Cheese:
Calcium is well known for helping maintain strong, healthy bones, but what is often overlooked is vitamin D’s role in the body’s ability to absorb that calcium.  Egg yolks from grass-fed eggs are packed with nutrients—vitamin D being just one.  Pair calcium-rich cheese with grass-fed, cage-free eggs for a powerful combination of calcium and vitamin D.   Vitamin D is also a key good mood food, and one that PNW athletes are commonly deficient in. Added bonus: grass-fed egg yolks are loaded with omega-3s, which also work to reduce inflammation. 

Healthy food is a gift that keeps us feeling happy, healthy, motivated, and focused.  Try at least one Food Synergy pairing per day to unleash the most from your meals this December!