In recent years, bodybuilding and fitness diets have rapidly shifted towards an attitude of, “Eat whatever you want as long as you reach your macronutrient goals.” Some people may know this type of dieting colloquially as “flexible dieting” or “if it fits your macros”. While there is some merit to that dieting ideology, there is much more to a proper diet than just macronutrient intake.
Many flexible dieting advocates seem to overlook the importance of micronutrients. Micronutrients are typically categorized as essential vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols; these compounds are vital for proper health, and plenty of research has shown they can enhance both fat loss and muscle building.
Thus, this article will cover nine of the most micronutrient-dense plant foods that many bodybuilders and fitness-enthusiasts almost never include in their diet (but absolutely should be).
This perennial plant gives curry dishes their distinctive taste and golden color. Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine throughout Asia for thousands of years thanks to its unique compounds called curcuminoids. Curcuminoids, especially curcumin, are found abundantly in the root of turmeric plants. These compounds act as antioxidants and support the immune system.[i]
Moreover, recent data has shown that curcumin may decrease expression of genes that increase muscle wasting, suggesting the potential anti-catabolic role of this plant.[ii] Research also suggests that curcumin can help maintain healthy circulation and relieve joint aches/pains, among myriad other beneficial health properties.[iii] It’s key to note that curcuminoids are not very bioavailable in oral preparations, so black pepper fruit extract (piperine) should be consumed alongside any turmeric extract supplements.
This antioxidant-rich fruit is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, polyphenols, and potassium. Research has shown that pomegranate consumption can support healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular function by inhibiting angiotensin - a peptide that causes blood vessels to constrict.[iv] Thus, pomegranate would be a great fruit to consume as part of a preworkout meal to enhance blood flow and muscular pumps during training. Of course, don’t forget to take CelluVOL prior to training as well for maximum cell volumization and enhanced pumps.
Also known as the Lycium berry, this fruit contains more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than oranges (per serving). Goji is also rich in zeaxanthin, a chemical closely related to lutein that supports healthy eye function and enhances the absorption of essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).[v] Moreover, goji has been shown to have positive effects on immune function and inflammation by reducing oxidative stress.[vi]
This white, fleshy fruit is renowned for its refreshing taste and bounty of micronutrients, particularly magnesium and manganese (which are commonly lacking in typical Western diets). The polyphenols - called xanthonoids - in mangosteen have been shown to support healthy immune, pancreatic, and cardiovascular function.[vii],[viii]
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus), and in general pretty much all berries, contain a multitude of potent phytochemicals with therapeutic properties in the human body. Such phytochemicals include ellagic acid, catechins, and quercetin, which have been shown to support healthy inflammatory response and enhance the absorption of many vitamins/minerals.[ix]
Raspberries also contain a potent fat-burning compound called raspberry ketone that gives them their ruby red hue. Research has shown that raspberry ketone acts differently in the body than ketone bodies (like beta-hydroxybutyrate) and significantly increases catecholamine-induced lipolysis, particularly in white fat.[x] Studies have also shown that raspberry ketone inhibits lipase - an enzyme that helps breakdown fat so it can be absorbed by the small intestine[xi]; in turn, raspberry ketone can help reduce total calorie intake.
Chlorella is an exceptionally nutrient-dense algae packed with bounties of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and B6. A recent study provides evidence that chlorella supplements can promote healthy blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol, expedite tissue healing, and bolster immune system function.[xii]
Furthermore, chlorella has an abundance of essential minerals that typical Western diets lack, such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Not to mention it contains a high concentration of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which appears to decrease risk of cardiovascular complications and enhance insulin sensitivity.[xiii]
This variety of cabbage contains astonishing amounts of micronutrients, with over 100% of the daily value of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K per 100 grams. Kale also contains a class of rare compounds called glucosinolates that help detoxify the body by activating important enzymes.[xiv]
This berry may be small in size, but it packs a punch of anthocyanins that is unmatched. Anthocyanins are a class of antioxidants found in plants that have been shown to support healthy blood lipid levels.[xv] They also help with digestion, weight loss, immunity, energy levels and longevity.[xvi]
This tall evergreen and flowering tree shrub has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as a means of supporting gastrointestinal function. Noni contains a large amount of alkaloids, compounds that help lower blood pH and maintain an alkaline state; in turn, alkaloids have a variety of beneficial properties in humans, especially with regards to vascular and immune function.[xvii]
Take-Home MessageAs discussed in the introduction to this article, micronutrients play just as much of a role in physique enhancement and overall health as macronutrients. If your diet is loaded with micronutrient-devoid foods, odds are your performance in, and out of, the gym will be far from optimal. Eating any (or all) of these foods in even nominal amounts will surely benefit you, no
[i] Prasad, S; Aggarwal, B. B.; Benzie, I. F. F.; Wachtel-Galor, S (2011). Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, eds. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine; In: Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects; chap. 13. 2nd edition.
[ii] Sahin, K., Pala, R., Tuzcu, M., Ozdemir, O., Orhan, C., Sahin, N., & Juturu, V. (2016). Curcumin prevents muscle damage by regulating NF-κB and Nrf2 pathways and improves performance: an in vivo model. Journal of Inflammation Research, 9, 147.
[iii] Perrone, D., Ardito, F., Giannatempo, G., Dioguardi, M., Troiano, G., Lo Russo, L., & Lo Muzio, L. (2015). Biological and therapeutic activities, and anticancer properties of curcumin (Review). Experimental and therapeutic medicine, 10(5), 1615-1623.
[iv] Stowe, C. B. (2011). The effects of pomegranate juice consumption on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 17(2), 113-115.
[v] Koo, E; Neuringer, M; Sangiovanni, J. P. (2014). "Macular xanthophylls, lipoprotein-related genes, and age-related macular degeneration". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100(Supplement 1): 336S–346S.
[vi] Vidal, K., Bucheli, P., Gao, Q., Moulin, J., Shen, L. S., Wang, J., & Benyacoub, J. (2012). Immunomodulatory effects of dietary supplementation with a milk-based wolfberry formulation in healthy elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Rejuvenation research, 15(1), 89-97.
[vii] Tang, Y. P., Li, P. G., Kondo, M., Ji, H. P., Kou, Y., & Ou, B. (2009). Effect of a mangosteen dietary supplement on human immune function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of medicinal food, 12(4), 755-763.
[viii] Bumrungpert, A., Kalpravidh, R. W., Chitchumroonchokchai, C., Chuang, C. C., West, T., Kennedy, A., & McIntosh, M. (2009). Xanthones from mangosteen prevent lipopolysaccharide-mediated inflammation and insulin resistance in primary cultures of human adipocytes. The Journal of nutrition, 139(6), 1185-1191.
[ix] Jean-Gilles, D., Li, L., Ma, H., Yuan, T., Chichester III, C. O., & Seeram, N. P. (2011). Anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenolic-enriched red raspberry extract in an antigen-induced arthritis rat model. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 60(23), 5755-5762.
[x] Morimoto, C., Satoh, Y., Hara, M., Inoue, S., Tsujita, T., & Okuda, H. (2005). Anti-obese action of raspberry ketone. Life sciences, 77(2), 194-204.
[xi] Park, K. S. (2015). Raspberry ketone, a naturally occurring phenolic compound, inhibits adipogenic and lipogenic gene expression in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Pharmaceutical biology, 53(6), 870-875.
[xii] Tang, G., & Suter, P. M. (2011). Vitamin A, nutrition, and health values of algae: Spirulina, Chlorella, and Dunaliella. Journal of Pharmacy and Nutrition Sciences, 1(2).
[xiii] Chapkin, R. S., Kim, W., Lupton, J. R., & McMurray, D. N. (2009). Dietary docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acid: emerging mediators of inflammation. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 81(2), 187-191.
[xiv] Traka, M., & Mithen, R. (2009). Glucosinolates, isothiocyanates and human health. Phytochemistry Reviews, 8(1), 269-282.
[xv] Qin, Y., Xia, M., Ma, J., Hao, Y., Liu, J., Mou, H., & Ling, W. (2009). Anthocyanin supplementation improves serum LDL-and HDL-cholesterol concentrations associated with the inhibition of cholesteryl ester transfer protein in dyslipidemic subjects. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(3), 485-492.
[xvi] Tsuda, T. (2012). Dietary anthocyanin‐rich plants: biochemical basis and recent progress in health benefits studies. Molecular nutrition & food research, 56(1), 159-170.