As the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and other NBA teams celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with special green uniforms, you too can remember the Irish saint by going green—and we don’t mean by dying your pint. Green vegetables are chock-full of important nutrients and vitamins that can give you a heart-healthy boost (and even help cure a hangover). Here are five green foods any athlete ought to eat more of, especially on cheat days.
According to the findings of the Journal of Food Science published in 2009, asparagus can help protect the liver and rid the body of hangover-causing toxins. Enzymes in asparagus metabolize chemicals known as congeners, or the by-products of alcohol’s fermentation process that make you feel sick. It also helps flush your body of acetaldehyde—a toxic, cancer-causing chemical that is created when your body breaks down ethanol—by helping along the process that turns it into harmless acetic acid. The leafy tips of the spears have the highest concentration of the hangover-fighting amino acids, which also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Protein. Healthy fats. Pairs well with an ice-cold lager. What more could you want? Forget a side order of chicken wings, because edamame contains the same complete set of essential amino acids that meat offers, without any of the cholesterol and bad fats. They also have many nutrients that high-performing athletes can find beneficial, including iron, magnesium and phosphorus—which, combined with antioxidants such as Vitamin C—are a recipe for a healthy immune system. A serving of the beans also help lessen hangovers if eaten over drinks, as methionine (a protein present in the beans) stimulates alcohol breakdown.
You got us, green tea isn’t technically a food, but it deserves a mention based on its reputation as a superfood. It helps along detoxification and speeds up the fat-fighting processes of your body on top of helping it stay cancer-free. L-Theanine, a rare amino acid present in the tea, boosts brain function as well. While your typical steeped varieties can give you plenty of benefits, matcha green tea is a tea made of the ground leaves, ensuring you get an especially potent kick of virus and bacteria-fighting nutrients your body needs to keep its immune system strong.
Beet juice has become trendy for its paradoxical performance-enhancing properties—it decreases your body’s oxygen consumption while simultaneously increasing athletic output. This is possible because of its high levels of nitrate, which is converted into vasodilator nitric oxide, which is further converted into nitric oxide. Arugula boasts almost five times the amount of nitrates that beets do—although it admittedly doesn’t make quite as sexy a juice. In addition to better performance on the court, nitrates can ease hypertension and decrease heart disease.
These healthful thistles are a must for athletes concerned about muscle maintenance. Artichoke’s key nutrients of magnesium and potassium keep your muscles firing in synch. Four grams of protein per serving ain’t bad, either, but that comes coupled with 10 grams of dietary fibre, making them a cleansing powerhouse, too. Add to that that artichokes boast 10 times the antioxidant properties of spinach (which is famous for its Vitamin C content), and you’ve got a winner on your hands.