It seems like every day a study comes out touting the purported health perks of a new supplement or food or beverage. Gelatin can help you recover faster! Chili pepper supps could help solve the obesity epidemic! Apple peels and green tomatoes could help preserve muscle mass! And while there's certainly some validity to these claims and probably hundreds more, there’s still a lot “more research needed,” per the scientists behind the studies.
And while many of these things are worth trying in an “it can’t hurt” mentality, there are certain compounds in foods we're certain work.
So, if you’re going to add apple peels and chili pepper to your diet, you should definitely add these three things in, according to Dr. James Carter, Director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
The benefits: Perform better—and longer—during high-intensity endurance exercise. “In particular, nitrates have been shown to increase exercise tolerance,” says Carter. More recently, benefits have also been reported in intermittent exercise, similar to many ‘stop and go’ team sports, and also with the generation of muscular force, he adds. “These benefits, in particular, are relevant to the avid gym-goer (a.k.a the moderately-trained guy) who may engage in repeated high-intensity ‘cardio efforts’ or repeated force-inducing muscular contractions,” Carter says.
How it works: “Nitrates lower the oxygen cost of exercise,” Carter explains. “This means an athlete may require less oxygen for the same amount of work—or, for the same oxygen intake, they can generate a higher power output.”
Where to get it: You can get nitrates in beet juice, and these other foods high in nitrates. You can also stay tuned for a new product from Gatorade. “A nitrate-containing offering is currently in development and this may take the form of a beverage or bar designed to be consumed conveniently in the hours before practice or competition,” says Carter.
The benefits: Tendon and ligament (i.e. the connective tissue that joins muscle to bone and bone to bone) integrity and reduced risk of injury. Plus, improvements in force generation and performance (think: sprinting faster on the spin bike, lifting weights more explosively, or being better able to dunk a basketball.)
How it works: “The ingestion of protein sources that contain the amino acids required for collagen synthesis, such as gelatin, may have benefits for subsequent collagen production,” says Carter. Coupled with a regular training program, it can help you get all the benefits listed above.
Where to get it: Check out Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides.
CASEIN PROTEIN—AT NIGHT
The benefits: Taking it before bed could allow for more prolonged muscle building during sleep, per Carter. “Coupling prior exercise (be it resistance or endurance) with a pre-sleep casein protein snack may maximize protein building overnight and prevent an excess of muscle wastage,” he adds.
How it works: “For all exercisers, whether they're a professional NFL athlete or a fitness enthusiast who works out regularly, sleep is an opportunity not often exploited for nutrition purposes,” says Carter. But that’s too bad since we'll typically break down more muscle overnight than we build. “Casein, whey’s dairy protein ‘partner,’ whilst being a complete protein, has slower digestion and absorption kinetics [than whey],” notes Carter. “However, these kinetics are one reason why casein has been investigated as a pre-sleep option.” Read more about casein protein here.
Where to get it: Get it in dairy products such as cottage cheese or pick up a supplement. And stay tuned! “We're exploring a pre-bedtime product, which would deliver a high amount of casein protein in a form that will appeal to athletes,” Carter teases.