Healthy Habit #4: What Popeye and Elvis can teach us about good nutrition

Elvis & PopeyeOne of my favorite things about MyFitnessPal is that it tracks nutrients as well as calories. You can set a quick view for the nutrients that are most important to you, but all of the major vitamins and minerals are covered, along with carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Without question one of the biggest issues I struggle with during periods of intense workouts and diet maintenance is muscle fatigue. When I’m training or trying to burn more calories, I’ll workout 2-3 times per day. However, I could only maintain that schedule for a few weeks because of the muscle fatigue that would start to creep in even though I was diligent in getting 80-110 grams of protein per day.

I consulted with my new fitness app to discover I was really low in my potassium intake. How low? The recommended daily allowance for children older than 13 and adults is 4,700 milligrams per day. I was getting around 2,000 miligrams per day, so I thought I’d do a little homework to see what this little mineral does.

Now, the only people that I ever heard talk about potassium were fellow endurance athletes swallowing bananas whole in their attempt to avoid cramping during triathlons and cycling events. But potassium is a critical mineral for electrolyte and protein distribution, helping muscles contract and regulating hydration and cell health.  Bottom line: if lots of exercise is part of your workout plan, you’re going to need potassium.

Like most people, the first food that came to mind when I thought about potassium was bananas, but if you’re trying to cut calories, bananas may not be your best option.

Enter…spinach!

Yep, the ol’ standby veggie made famous by Popeye the Sailor Man was a perfect addition to my diet. Lots of potassium, low on calories and about $0.98 per can.

Check the tale of the tape:

One Dole Banana: 105 calories, 27g carbs (14g sugar), 1g protein, 467mg of potassium

1/2 Can Del Monte Fresh Cut Spinach: 53 calories, 7g carbs (all fiber), 4g protein, 840mg of potassium.

Well, blow me down!

Plus, that little serving of spinach gets you almost all of your required Vitamin A and half your recommended allowance of Vitamin C.

If you’re not a fan of good ol’ canned spinach, try the fresh baby leaf variety. It’s practically tasteless, available as a free topping at Subway or as a salad substitute at most restaurants for its nutritionally worthless sibling, iceberg lettuce. Or, buy it in bags and mix it into your favorite recipes.

As for those bananas…

They still play a key role in my diet, but only in the mornings before or during a training ride. Surprisingly, one of the best pre-workout meals came to us from the King himself, and based on how he treated his body, I’m assuming it was by accident.

However, I’ve found the toasted peanut butter, sliced banana sandwich to be a great, easy and delicious kick starter of a meal. Using Nature’s Own Whole Wheat Bread, here is the slash line:

395 calories, 55g carbs, 16g protein, 955g potassium

The results have been dramatic. I’ve been able to train harder without fear of cramps, so instead of gearing down on hills, I can stay up and attack. Since March, my 30 mile rides have gone from a 16.5 mph average to Sunday’s best 18.7 mph.

For more information on the benefits of potassium, click here.

Thanks for reading.

Author’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories I’m writing about healthy living as I prepare for my first 150-mile fundraising bike ride in support of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. To learn more about the ride or support my fundraising effort with a donation, click here

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About Matt DeMargel

Public Relations Flack, Health-Conscious Cyclist, Personal Finance Nerd, Global Wanderer and slightly deranged fan of St. Louis and Mizzou Sports. I only write when I have something to say, but I talk constantly!
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