It sounds cliche but it’s true: eating a rainbow of foods is very beneficial for health, especially for boxers, who engage in high-intensity workouts regularly and therefore need the proper fuel for performance and recovery. But what does it mean to “eat the rainbow”?
Plants contain different pigments, which give them their colors. These pigments are known to have beneficial health effects on humans and are referred to as phytonutrients – “phyto” meaning “plant.” A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables has been associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. Eating different colored fruits and vegetables exposes you to a wider range of health-promoting benefits from plants, so the more diverse your plate’s color palette, the better.
The Colors of the Rainbow
Red-colored fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, a group of pigments with high antioxidant potential, which are able to scavenge free radicals and reduce cell damage. Lycopene, a type of carotenoid, has been found to protect against prostate cancer and lung cancer. Carotenoids have also been associated with promoting heart health and protecting against sun-related skin damage.
Found in: Tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, guava, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, and red peppers
Beta-carotene is what gives some fruits and vegetables their vivid yellow and orange coloring. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that gets converted into vitamin A, which has been shown to support eye health and cell growth and development. Yellow and orange vegetables are also great sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant that plays a role in collagen production and helps the body fight infections.
Found in: Carrots, sweet potatoes, mango, bananas, yellow peppers, pineapple, tangerines, squash, corn, oranges, and apricots
Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives green fruits and vegetables their bright color. These foods also contain cancer-blocking chemicals, such as sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). A high intake of green leafy vegetables is associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and age-related cognitive decline. Green leafy vegetables are also a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, natural compounds shown to have anti-cancer properties.
Found in: Brussels sprouts, collard greens, spinach, kale, broccoli, avocados, asparagus, kiwi, broccoli, and green herbs, such as basil, thyme, mint, and parsley
These foods are rich sources of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that may delay cellular aging and prevent the formation of blood clots, supporting heart health. The purple pigment found in some fruits and vegetables also contains flavonoids, such as resveratrol, which can help relax arterial walls and decrease blood pressure. Anthocyanins have also been associated with reducing the risk of cancer and potent anti-inflammatory properties which provide therapeutic effects against many systemic diseases (circulatory, nervous, endocrine, sensory, digestive, immune, and urinary systems). Beets are especially important for boxers as they contain nitrates, which have been shown to increase blood flow and improve athletic performance.
Found in: Blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, blackcurrants, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, purple cabbage, and beetroot
Don’t be mistaken, although colorless, white vegetables are very nutritious. They contain anthoxanthins, water-soluble pigments that give vegetables their cream or white color and have been associated with many medicinal benefits. For example, allium vegetables, such as garlic and onions, contain sulfur compounds which are suggested to have anti-cancer properties. These vegetables are also high anti-inflammatory foods and may be beneficial for keeping cholesterol levels within a healthy range and lowering blood pressure.
Found in: Garlic, onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, parsnips, and turnips
How To Eat a Rainbow Diet
Boxers, in particular, can benefit from eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These benefits help with muscle recovery, lowered exercise-induced inflammation, improved training performance, and illness prevention. Now that we understand how eating a “rainbow diet” can help boxers, let’s get artsy and paint our plates with colorful foods! One great way to start is to aim for a minimum of 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day, as recommended by the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Here are a few easy ways to accomplish that:
Add ½ cup of fresh berries to yogurt
Top oatmeal with ½ cup diced apples
Add one or two handfuls of spinach into a green smoothie
Mix chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, or peppers into eggs
Enjoy avocado toast with ½ an avocado and a slice of tomato
Lunch and Dinner
Fill half of your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables
Add vegetables to sandwiches and soups
Add ¼ cup cauliflower rice to grain bowls
Enjoy more salads, aiming for 2 cups of leafy greens
Add ½ cup shredded vegetables into pasta sauces or stir-fries
Have a banana before a workout
Munch on raw vegetables (mini cucumber, baby carrots, celery) with hummus
Snack on apple slices with peanut butter
Incorporate dried fruits into your trail mix
Add one or two handfuls of leafy greens into your post-workout smoothie
Brighten Up Your Training and Your Plate
“Eating the rainbow” is a great way for boxers to ensure they are meeting their daily nutritional needs and supporting exercise performance. Beyond their highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory profile, these polyphenol-rich, colorful foods are excellent sources of dietary fiber, which supports a boxer’s gut health, metabolism, and digestion. Regular consumption of colorful foods supports a boxer’s well-being in and out of the ring, while also providing long-term health benefits.
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