It’s that time of year again:
PSL season or Pumpkin season.
Everything turns orange and we are bombarded with memes of the pumpkin spice latte and being “basic”. But what if I told you that pumpkins and pumpkin spice actually could make you a better athlete? Well, here are 6 ways that pumpkins, pumpkin spice and pumpkin seeds can improve your athletic performance.
1) Pumpkins can decrease inflammation.
Packed with beta-carotene, a micro-nutrient known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, pumpkins can fight off oxidation produced after workouts. This can decrease recovery time and allow muscles to heal faster to get you to your next workout.
2) Pumpkins can improve your gut health.
Many athletes deal with gut issues, whether throughout training or on race day. Creating a healthy gut environment is more than just taking probiotics. It is about prebiotics or dietary fiber as well. The average human needs about 25 grams of fiber per day, which comes mainly from fruits and vegetables. Enter pumpkins! In just 1 cup of pumpkin, you can get 4-7 grams of fiber. That sounds like a tasty supplement to your daily fiber intake.
3) Pumpkins can boost your immunity.
In addition to beta-carotene, pumpkins also contain vitamin C, which protects your immune system when combined with beta-carotene, also known as vitamin A. This combination helps produce white blood cells which fight off infection in your body. Learn more how vitamin C can ward off illness.
4) Pumpkins increase electrolyte intake.
Pumpkins contain potassium, manganese, and magnesium, making it a great refueling option for athletes. In just 1 cup of pumpkin, there is over 10% of your daily recommended potassium, which is about the same amount as in a banana. Manganese and magnesium can be forgotten electrolytes, but are just as crucial for muscle recovery. Pumpkin seeds provide over 15% of daily magnesium needs in just 1 oz of seeds, and over 10% of daily needs for manganese. Manganese is crucial for bone health, connective tissue formation and metabolizing proteins. Learn more about pumpkin seed benefits from my Health Warrior video.
5) Pumpkin seeds can improve sleep quality.
Pumpkins contain an amino acid named tryptophan. This essential amino acid helps make proteins inside the body and create serotonin, which is the chemical that controls our mood and sleep. Make pumpkin seeds a bedtime snack to help you get to a faster quality sleep. Read more how food can improve sleep quality in my blog on sleep.
6) Pumpkin spice can improve recovery time.
Pumpkin spice is a mixture of different spices that actually can help decrease your recovery time. With cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, the power of the pumpkin spice has anti-inflammatory and blood sugar regulation properties, which for athletes means keeping a constant energy level rather than having spikes and valleys in energy AND decrease inflammation. Here’s a recipe on how to make your own pumpkin spice to avoid the sugar and syrups.
Pumpkins as a whole are all around great fruit [because they have seeds] for any athlete. From improving sleep quality to maximizing recovery time, pumpkins are not just a fad diet, but a nutrient-dense food that will help you get to your goals.
You might say “this is all great Lydia, but how can I get all these benefits? Just buy anything with pumpkin?”
Well here are 4 easy ways to add pumpkin into your diet.
1) Add to smoothies: buy pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling (packed with sugar and syrups), and you can either use it fresh or frozen.
2) Snack it up: pumpkin seeds are the way to go for snacking and they are the small, powerful part of the pumpkin to get lots of the benefits listed above. As athletes, it is okay to grab the salted version in the store, as salt is something that we need for electrolyte replenishment. You can even make it at home, by throwing fresh seeds in the oven and roast them.
3) Roast it!: Just like all other gourds and squashes, you can cut up a pumpkin and throw it in the oven to roast it. Pair with some protein and a grain and you’ve just created a complete training plate!
4) Baking all the treats: From muffins to pancakes, pumpkin puree can be used with any types of baked goods. Find your favorite and enjoy!