5 Heart-Healthy Nutrients for Athletes

4. Folate and B vitamins

A 2001 clinical study found that folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, along with vitamins B6 and B12, play a role in promoting cardiovascular health. Plus, B vitamins have been linked to increased energy.

Folate, originating from "folium," the Latin word for leaf, can be found in leafy greens such as spinach, lentils and other legumes. The good news is that only small amounts of B vitamins are needed to reach the recommended dietary intakes, and B vitamins can be found in many foods including meats, vegetables, dairy products, and beans.

However, most people do not eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables in order to gain the recommended amounts of B vitamins. Stock up on fresh, green leafy vegetables in order to enjoy increased energy to obtain your fitness goals.

5. Antioxidants

We often hear about the power of antioxidants, but many people don't know their function. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals.

To get your share of antioxidants, eat at least 4 to 5 cups per day of deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Here are some sources:

a. Beta-carotene is found in orange-colored produce such as apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, and orange citrus fruits.

b. Most people associate Vitamin C with orange juice, but it is best to obtain vitamins from whole foods rather than juices, since the fiber of the fruit is lost in juice form. If whole foods aren't available, choose 100 percent juices not from concentrate, canned fruits without added sugars, or frozen vegetables without added sodium or fat.

c. Finally, our favorite source of antioxidants is red wine and dark chocolate. These are excellent sources of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that have been linked to heart health.

A diet rich in these five nutrients will maintain a healthy and efficient heart. Make sure whole grains are your main form of carbohydrates, eat a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, incorporate Omega-3 fatty acids, and finally, make a habit of integrating consistent aerobic exercise into your day.

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