My husband and I just completed our first long-distance bike tour this weekend. We rode in the Courage Classic, a 3-day tour of the beautiful mountain passes of Summit County, Colorado. The Courage Classic is a benefit ride to raise funds for Children’s Hospital: we got to be part of the Cardiac Climbers team which specifically rides to support kids in the cardiac unit. How inspiring! Between the friendly and supportive team members, getting to meet some of the kids we were riding for, and the amazing scenery, the weekend was an amazing reminder of how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful state with such a wonderful community.
On a health note, this weekend was also an excellent reminder to me of how we can best support our bodies during the summer months. During the summer, we focus on eating and drinking for optimal performance of physical tasks. Whether we are putting our energy towards tending the garden or farm, climbing mountains, riding bikes, or other sports, we tend to spend much more time outdoors being active during this time of year.
With this in mind, the body systems that need the most focus during the summer are the cardiovascular system, muscles, and hydration. The cardiovascular system is essential to athletic endeavors because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to the body; the heart must keep up with the demands on the muscles. Foods high in bioflavonoids such as berries, peppers, and tomatoes support healthy blood vessels. Foods with a high Omega-3 fat ratio such as salmon and flax oil help to keep cholesterol levels balanced and our arteries clear. Also, high fiber foods such as leafy greens, apples, flaxseed and carrots will help rid the body of excess cholesterol.
Healthy muscles can be supported on several levels: Muscular growth and maintenance requires protein. Although we generally need less heavy meats throughout the summer, making sure you eat adequate proteins from nuts, seeds, fish, dairy, and other animal proteins will provide the building blocks for healthy muscle tissue. Electrolyte balance is also critical for muscle performance. Regular salt, of course, is important, but including good sources of potassium such as avocado or coconut juice, and magnesium from nuts and seeds is also critical. Finally, hydration is absoutely key for athletic performance: 6-10 cups of water or herbal tea per day and even more when you are exercising will prevent muscle cramping and help with good blood flow.
Also, because foods from the garden are abundant and fresh, we want to maximize their nutritional value. Summer is an ideal time to shift our diet towards more raw, vegetarian fare. Vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients are most intact in foods that are fresh from the ground and uncooked. Because the weather is warm, the body can break down foods more easily and has more “digestive fire” to utilize the nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables. Foods that must be cooked, such as meats, should be cooked to just done on a grill or under the broiler rather than stewed or put in the slow cooker.
This summer, find what inspires you and go out and do it! Just make sure your body is getting the nutrition to keep up with the inspiration. Eat well, drink plenty of water, sleep enough and go get ‘em.