Lauded by health experts, doctors and your mom (remember “You’re not getting any dessert until you eat all your broccoli”?), vegetables don’t have a sexy rep, but their therapeutic and healing properties are essential to keeping you as healthy as possible for maximum gym efforts. And a bodybuilder in optimal health will make gains faster than one who isn’t. So ignore vegetables at your muscle-gaining peril. From fighting disease to revealing your washboard abs, there are so many reasons to spend more time in the produce aisle that we could fill an entire issue.
Unlike fiber and vitamins, what you don’t see in those vegetable nutrition charts are the powerhouse antioxidant chemicals called phytochemicals. A vegetable will produce them to protect itself during growth, but many phytochemicals, such as lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in carrots, can also protect us against many ailments. There’s even a group of phytochemicals called indoles (found in cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage andbroccoli) that stimulate enzymes to make estrogen less effective—a definite advantage if you yearn for more mass. Acting as antioxidants, phytochemicals also aid in post-workout muscle repair.
Vegetables are a great source of something often neglected in bodybuilding nutrition—fiber. As a source of bulk, veggies can slow digestion, which helps regulate blood-sugar levels. Improperly timed spikes in blood sugar (which often come from eating high-carbohydrate, low-fiber foods like white bread) promote fat storage, and sudden drops can cause energy “crashes,” making it less likely that you’ll push serious weight at the gym. Add vegetables to your lunchtime stir-fry and you could say adios to those ups and downs. You’ll also tend to eat less because low-calorie, higher-fiber veggies take up room in the stomach and release chemicals that tell the brain to shut down the appetite. And don’t overlook the fact that by improving digestion, vegetable fiber can support the absorption of vitamins, minerals and amino acids—all of which your muscles need for further growth.
Vegetables are a “free food” with a very low calorie-density, so you can eat almost unlimited amounts while still burning fat. This lean indulgence is all because of a biochemical quirk that only veggies (except the starchier ones like corn and beets) enjoy—the body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as they contain in the first place. The leftover calories don’t even have a fighting chance of being stored in a fat cell.
BY MATTHEW G. KADEY, MS, RD