Role of American Pistachios in a Athlete's Diet

By Shiny Chandran - Sports and Weight Management Consultant


According to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), well-planned eating practices help athletes train hard, stay healthy and injury-free, and maximize their performance. An ideal athletic diet should contain well-balanced portions of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and fluids. Nuts and seeds are health-promoting foods that go hand-in-hand with nutritional significance. These super-crunchy, fulfilling foods are sources of fiber, protein, high-quality fats and antioxidants. They are chockful of essential vitamins and minerals.

Nuts and seeds are portable, versatile and environmentally friendly. Being a good source of plant proteins, nuts and seeds are well suited for vegan athletes to meet their nutritional demands. Adding nuts such as pistachios into salads, smoothies, desserts or any food preparation offer a range of cardio-protective, blood sugar- lowering, anti-aging, gut-healthy, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous perks to the body (Ros, 2010).Pistachios are edible seeds of the Pistacia vera tree, containing a wholesome punch of nutrients that help promote heart and gut health, control blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol and support weight loss. These green nuts contain proteins, antioxidants and fiber. Pistachios have been eaten by humans since 6000BC.

Here are some reasons to crack open these nuts for a wholesome snack for athletes:

    Protein, the foremost important nutrient for athletes, aids in muscle repair and recovery and hinders muscle tissue damage. Pistachios are a good source of vegetable proteins (21gm/100 gm). Also, they contain a proportionally higher amount of essential amino acids than any other nuts. L-arginine, an amino acid present in these nuts, plays a key role in dilating the blood vessels by changing into nitric oxide, which improves blood circulation in athletes (Hernández-Alonso P, 2016).
    According to Sousa M et al, a combined intake of carbs and proteins coupled with antioxidants promote muscle repair and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage. Consuming a handful of pistachios along with any other “carbs rich” food, 15 to 20 minutes post-workout, makes an ideal snack for athletes (Sousa M, 2014).
    Oxidative stress and inflammation are the top reasons for reduced performance among athletes, which leads to a decline in muscular activity and delayed recovery. Antioxidants have been documented to help with muscle recovery. Pistachios contain a plethora of antioxidants such as gamma-tocopherol (a type of vitamin E), polyphenols, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. A randomized, cross-control study of 28 hypercholesterolemic patients, who were on a pistachio-enriched diet for 4 weeks, had higher levels of lutein and gamma-tocopherols compared to the control group who did not consume pistachios.
    Lutein and zeaxanthin give green color to the nuts and promote eye health by lowering the risk of age-related macular degeneration. The good news is that around 90 percent of antioxidants, such as lutein, β-carotene, and γ-tocopherol present in pistachios, are well absorbed in the gut (Kay CD, 2010) (Tomaino A, 2010).
    Pistachios are a source of vitamins A, the Bs (excluding B12), E, and the minerals potassium, copper, magnesium and phosphorus (Bulló M, 2015). B-complex vitamins benefit the athletes by playing a key role in energy metabolism and formation of hemoglobin, which facilitates oxygen transport during exercise.
    Potassium (K) is an important electrolyte for athletes that regulates total body water and muscle contractions. During intense exercise, potassium is lost through sweat, instigating fatigue and muscular weakness. A single ounce of pistachios contains as much potassium as half a banana, which helps replenish potassium stores in the body, coupled with proper hydration.
    Magnesium and phosphorus, also minerals present in pistachios, promote bone re-mineralization, post-contractile muscular relaxation and improved aerobic capacity among athletes (Clarkson PM, 1995). Pistachios also contain zinc and selenium, potent antioxidants important for muscle repair and recovery(The Power of Pistachios).
    Nuts are considered to be the most energy-dense foods on earth, and pistachios are among the lower-calorie nuts. Many promising studies have shown that pistachios can go a long way in controlling the body weight of athletes and active people. A 12-week weight loss program showing people, who ate 53g of pistachios as an afternoon snack, had twice the reduction in body mass index (BMI) compared to those who ate 56g of pretzels (Li Z, 2010),
    Pistachios contain a generous amount of proteins and fiber that induce satiety and prevent overeating. Additionally, the MUFA and PUFA of pistachios can induce a higher thermogenic effect that can lead to less fat accumulation in the body. Another evidence also shows that fats from nuts are poorly absorbed, so the calories you get from eating pistachios would be comparatively less than predicted (Baer DJ, 2012).
    Eating a low-GI (glycemic index) carbohydrate food before exercise has been documented to prevent premature fatigue in athletes and positively impact performance. Low-GI meals improved carbs’ availability and increased the endurance of cyclists undertaking moderate intensity exercise (FACT SHEET- The Glycaemic Index and Sports Performance, 2009). Owing to the contents of proteins, high-quality fats and fiber, pistachios prevent an immediate spike in blood glucose and help maintain a continuous supply of energy throughout the exercise. A study showed that eating pistachios along with carbohydrate rich foods, such as pasta, rice or white bread, significantly reduced post-prandial glucose levels (Kendall CW, 2011) (Parham M, 2014).
    A randomized, controlled, cross-over feeding study showed that pistachio consumption increased the number of potentially beneficial “butyrate-producing bacteria” without affecting bifidobacteria in the gut (Ukhanova, Wang, Baer, & Novotny, 2014).
    Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Gut health literally affects your entire body.” Healthily functioning digestive system is essentially integral for the better performance of athletes (Hyman M, 2014).
    One serving size of pistachios is one ounce or about 49 kernels. These super-crunchy, satisfying nuts are an ideal and handy post-workout snack for athletes and fitness enthusiasts because they supply the body with energy and important nutrients needed to replenish after exercising.




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