This was a lesson imparted to me years ago that I have called upon many times, but have modified the ending to “their pantry and fridge.” As Geneen Roth states, “What we do with food, we do in our lives.” Essentially, what we eat is a reflection of our how we live.
The pantry and fridge are magnets; understandably so, given the immediate satisfaction they can provide for a busy athlete in training. It’s funny how many times I’ll watch someone stand there surveying all the items and then turning away empty handed. Back and forth they go, desperately trying to satiate an appetite in short order before hunger takes control and the microwave is opened—a hard road to travel down for an athlete interested their health and performance.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As I stated in the first two parts of this series, basic components based upon the system in my book The Athlete’s Plate are a crucial part to the success of an athlete’s diet. But, some of those components can also double as stand-alone snacks, such as the focus of this installment: Nuts and seeds, an incredible addition to an athlete’s diet.
Within each seed and nut lies the potential for a mature plant. All an almond tree wants to do is produce more almonds to proliferate its own genes. However, once the seeds of a plant are produced it’s not in the best interest of the plant for those seeds to begin to grow as soon as they touch the earth. Increment weather, seasonal changes, animals, and humans can all destroy a plant’s efforts were it not to have all the proper circumstances it needs to mature. (This is why wild animals do not produce offspring during the winter because their chances of survival rapidly diminish.) For nuts and seeds to have their nutrients activated, they need to be germinated, or sprouted. This is a process of soaking and rinsing the nut or seed in water to wake it up from dormancy. As this happens an incredible flow of energy is released and made available to the body in an easily digestible form.
The sprouting process dates back to the time of explorers like Captain James Cook, who used it as a way of maintaining his crew’s health when they didn't have access to a constant supply of fresh produce. Not only does sprouting make nutrients available, it actually increases their content within the nut or seed. In fact, this nutrient value continues to increase right up until you eat the product. This is particularly true for Vitamins B and C.
Although it might seem challenging, sprouting is really very simple. There are also a number of small companies who have created some wonderfully tasty products. Keep in mind that nuts and seeds should also be purchased raw and sprouted whole, as butter, or as unrefined, cold-pressed oil.
There’s another perk to seeds beyond their potential to create new life: they are packed with a concentrated form of vitamins, minerals, beneficial fats, fiber, antioxidants, and amino acids (protein). All of these are crucial to the healthy upkeep of an athlete’s body. Since the nutrients are so concentrated, the oils from certain nuts and seeds are extracted to offer their benefits. Hence, the pantry list from this piece will mirror some of the list from Part II: Oils and Vinegars. It might seem redundant to have both the seed (or nut) and its oil in your culinary arsenal, but you shouldn't view this as an either/or type choice. Consider it an opportunity to keep a diversity of nutrients in your diet by using a variety of products. For example, you can use pumpkin seeds in your daily diet by using the seeds for some meals and the oil for others.
Following is a list of raw nuts and seeds that I keep in my pantry, either pre-sprouted or raw and ready to sprout myself. Try my recipe for Spicy Maple Walnuts with Papaya and Ginger, a quick pick-me-up loaded with the nutrients you need.
- Almonds: 100 grams of almonds has over 16 grams of protein and 20 milligrams of vitamin E as part of its profile, also a powerful antioxidant to help collect free radicals created from aerobic activity.
- Cashews: Rich in protein, carbs as well as iron, zinc, and copper.
- Walnuts: Excellent source of essential fatty acids.
- Brazil Nuts: Abundant in selenium, zinc, and magnesium.
- Hazelnuts: Rich in protein and unsaturated fat, contain significant amounts of thiamine and vitamin B6.
- Macadamia Nuts: Contain the highest amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats of any known nut.
- Pistachio: In rats, consumption of these nuts increased beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) without lowering LDL cholesterol.
- Pecans: Contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including A, E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins, and zinc. One ounce provides 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for fiber.
Chestnuts: The only nuts that contain vitamin C
- Pine Nuts: The highest concentration of oleic acid, helping to eliminate harmful triglycerides from our body.
- Pumpkin: Good source of the minerals magnesium, manganese and phosphorus, and a good source of iron, copper, and protein. Believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol.
- Flax: Has an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Hemp: Said to contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life.
- Sesame: Good source of manganese and copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, and dietary fiber. Also contain the unique substances sesamin and sesamolin, which belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, that have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans.
- Chia: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, source of antioxidants and a variety of amino acids.
- Sunflower: An excellent source of vitamin E.
- Broccoli: A powerful antioxidant.