Words: Rob Kemp
As every runner will know, fruits and vegetables are an essential element of your diet – together they contain plenty of antioxidants, which help boost immunity, prevent chronic diseases from developing, and reduce inflammation caused by training.
So juicing is seen as a shot in the arm for those addicted to a healthy diet. It’s the silver bullet that defeats the dietary deficiencies. “While most scientists agree that it is best to eat vegetables and fruits whole, most runners won’t consume as much as they should, which is why juicing is a great way to get all of your required fruit and veg in one quick hit,” insists nutritionist Frida Harju.
But not all of the experts are in agreement that juicing is the ideal way to speed up the delivery of these nutrients. “There’s no doubt that this current craze for pulping fruit and vegetables into a fast-delivery format has captured the imagination of athletes,” explains dietician Renee McGregor. “I’ve been working with top-level competitors whose own physicians have recommended they take to juicing for recovery from injury, among other reasons.”
But Renee has her concerns when it comes to the great juice debate. “I can appreciate their convenience – and with clients who are especially pressed for time I’ve even suggested opting for smoothies,” she says. “But that’s with a caveat that you add protein to the
mix via milk or yoghurt, unlike solely juicing fruit and vegetables, which in my mind has its pitfalls.”
GOOD FOOD FAST?
For Frida, the benefits for runners of a juicing diet go beyond simply condensing all the foods you do like into a convenient, fast-digesting form. “Some runners may not enjoy the taste of certain foods and therefore eliminate them from their diets entirely, thus missing out on essential nutrition,” she suggests. “Juicing is a great way to amend this – for example, if you don’t like spinach (a great source of lutein, which can help to prevent muscle degeneration), the taste can be balanced out in a juice if you also throw in a banana.”
Frida insists that educating runners as to which ingredients to juice (as well as which ones to avoid) is crucial to the success of the process. “Cherries are great in any juice as they contain large amounts of anthocyanin antioxidants, which are essential for healthy blood vessels and can even prevent the development of cancerous growths.”
“Similarly, some studies have found that athletes who consumed cherry juice experienced significantly less muscle soreness than those who didn’t. You can also try adding ingredients like leafy green kale, which has great anti-inflammatory qualities, especially useful for runners.”
But whilst the ingredients proffered by Frida have well-established strengths, it’s the process of juicing rather than the contents of the drinks it produces that Renee and other like-minded experts take issue with. “Why not just eat the fruit and the vegetables in their natural form, through the day, as part of a regular balanced diet?” she argues. “That way, you get to savour the flavour, eat the highly nutritious skins, and spread that intake of fruit sugars too.”
“I’m not convinced that mashing up the cell walls of the fruit in the process and consuming it all in one hit is the best for everyone either,” Renee continues. “The nutritional benefits start to evaporate from the moment the fruit is peeled or the vegetables are chopped. If you leave them standing in a juice for half the day whilst you take swigs intermittently, as many do, you’re reducing the amount of actual antioxidants you’re taking in when compared to just eating the fruit or vegetable whole.”
“If you’re recovering from injury or looking to add bulk, juicing can be useful as a conditioning tool, due to the high fruit-sugar content”
favouring forbidden fruit
For Renee, another reason to question the boost from a juice lies in its influence on eating habits and tastes. “I was talking to a new client recently who, every morning without fail, would mix kale, coconut water, banana and apple into a juice for breakfast. She told me this and then confided in me that she ‘absolutely hates it’.”
“I despair when I hear that. Surely healthy nutrition is as much about your relationship with the food; the enjoyment of healthy eating that creates a desire to continue. I love avocado – but drink it? No thank you.” Renee feels runners are confused by mixed messages too. “They’re throwing kale, so-called supergreens and stuff like spirulina into an expensive mix with questionable benefits and a foul taste, solely because the marketers of the device they’ve bought are telling them to do so.”
As an advocate of avocado in juices, among other ingredients, Frida concedes that taste needs to be factored into each athlete’s personal preference. “If kale isn’t to your liking, you can try spinach, as it contains plenty of minerals including magnesium, which is responsible for over 325 enzyme reactions in the body, most of which transport, store and control energy,” she says. “Bananas are also a good choice to add to your juice, as they contain carbohydrates to fuel your run, and potassium, which gets lost when you sweat, as well as adding a sweet taste to the juice.”
TIME TO BITE THE BULLET?
For those who have found that the ’just juice and go’ approach appeals to them, there’s the question as to when should runners be using juicing around their training – and when should they opt for fruits and vegetables in their natural form?
Renee agrees that juicing may have its place in improving physique as opposed to performance. “If you’re recovering from injury or looking to add some bulk, I think they can be quite useful as a conditioning tool, due to the high fruit-sugar content – but if you’re looking to drop a few pounds, I’d steer well clear.” Frida maintains that the best time for juicing is before your run. “Firstly, having a juice before your run will hydrate you and, secondly, juice is a great source of nutrients but doesn’t contain fibre, which can often cause stomach upset in runners.”
However, Frida adds a cautionary note around the high fruit-sugar intake that comes with having your five-a-day pulped and gulped in one go: “You should still drink the juice an hour or two before your run, as the fructose can cause stomach irritation in some runners, so it’s always best to leave yourself a bit
of time for digestion.”
“Don’t drink the same juice with the same ingredients over and over again,” warns Frida. “In addition to the nutrients and vitamins, we also consume toxins that fruits and vegetables release to avoid being eaten. In small quantities this doesn’t matter, but if done over and over again, the toxins can cause kidney stones.”
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