The Best Snack for Athletes

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Skip the cookies, the granola bars, and the sugary sports drinks, the best snack for endurance athletes is nuts. Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston studied trained male cyclists and triathletes who were randomly assigned to consume either 75 grams of whole almonds or cookies with a similar caloric value. The athletes consumed the snacks for four weeks each in a cross-over designed study. At the start and end of the study, they performed tests on a stationary trainer. Blood samples tested for glucose, and the athletes also were assessed for carbohydrate and fat oxidation, energy expenditure, and oxygen use. Results showed that almonds increased cycling distance, while reducing fat oxidation and oxygen consumption. Almonds also maintained higher blood glucose and antioxidant levels. The researchers conclude that almonds are the preferred snack for endurance athletes, since they contribute to carbohydrate conservation and utilization, and aid in effective oxygen use. 

In another study from Tufts, researchers report that pistachio nuts are rich in carotenoids, chlorophylls, phenolic compounds, and other antioxidants, but only about 10% of these compounds are actually absorbed after digestion.

Yi M, Fu J, Zhou L, et al: The effect of almond consumption on elements of endurance exercise performance in trained athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014; May 11th. 

Liu Y, Blumberg J, Chen C: Quantification and bioaccessibility of California pistachio bioactives. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2014;62:1550-1556. 

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