Tomatoes contain many incredible nutrients for athletes, including lycopene - a phytochemical called a carotenoid - that gives vegetables and fruits that bright red/orange color.
Lycopene's main benefit is its antioxidant function. An antioxidant works to fix the damage done to cells, called oxidation. You may have heard of this referred to as "oxidative stress". Antioxidants work to fix that damage and help cells recover. Lycopene (and other antioxidants) work by donating an electron to the free radicals (damaged cells) that are floating around with missing electrons. That missing electron makes those free radicals nasty and dangerous. The more antioxidants we have around, the more electrons we have to neutralize the threat of those free radicals.
This study showed that track athletes were able to make more glutathione (a specific antioxidant), improve running time and efficiency by eating just a bit of lycopene after workouts for 2 months. Imagine if you just threw a few tomato slices on your post-training sandwich?
Lycopene is part of the Vitamin A pathway and also helps support eyesight by building a specific protein called rhodopsin that helps our eyes to see in low-level lighting, and keeping a nice clear cornea.
Antioxidants like lycopene are incredibly anti-inflammatory, lowering risk of heart disease and strokes as shown in this study. And as you may know, most of us have heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all over our family medical history. Eventually, that risk trickles down to us. Even professional athletes.
Our friend Dr. Edward Giovannucci over at Harvard would love us to get in 10,000 micrograms of lycopene each day in order to protect ourselves against disease and boost our health span. Check out how fast tomatoes can get you there:
Micrograms of Lycopene
½ cup canned tomato puree
1 cup canned tomato juice
½ cup ready-to-serve marinara sauce
1 tablespoon canned tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon salsa
One sun-dried tomato
One slice of raw tomato
One cherry tomato
Check out my Pinterest page for tons of tomato recipes here.