How nettle helps with post-exercise recovery


Optimizing recovery post-exercise is crucial to preventing injury and maximizing the results of one’s efforts. A nutritious diet is a vital component to recuperation because exercise stresses the specific metabolic pathways where micro/macronutrients are required, thereby increasing the turnover and loss of these nutrients. Coincidentally, the very same nutrients often found to be lacking in athletes’ diets include those found in nettles; calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin E, and beta carotene (converted into vitamin A in the body) to be specific. Antioxidant vitamins like A and E assist in some ways with protecting the cell membrane from oxidative damage. Because exercise increases oxygen consumption, thereby inducing chronic oxidative stress, consumption of antioxidant vitamins can enhance recovery post-exercise by combating oxidative damage[1][2].  Fifteen grams of freeze dried nettles can provide 76% of daily vitamin A needs and are a good source of Vitamin E, making them a natural antioxidant supplier.[3]

Iron, zinc, and calcium are minerals of concern for female and vegetarian athletes in particular. Among other things, calcium is responsible for repair of bone tissue while zinc is responsible for the repair of muscle tissue (as well as growth of muscle tissue). Both aspects of recovery are crucial to preventing injury from physical stress caused by exercise. Meanwhile, iron assists with the formation of oxygen-carrying proteins in the blood. The oxygenation of body tissues is essential for proper recovery and muscle performance during exercise, making iron a particularly important component of an athlete’s diet. Nettles contain more iron on average than spinach and are good sources of both zinc and calcium (in fact, a serving of fresh or dried nettles can provide up to 30% of daily calcium needs). Calcium also increases the absorption of iron, which makes nettles particularly suitable for individuals trying to optimize their iron intake.[4][5]

Nettles also contain a favorable amount of essential amino acids, more so than most other leafy vegetables. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and a crucial nutrient in regards to muscle tissue repair. Post-exercise ingestion (up to 2 hours after exercise) of 20-40 grams of a high quality protein (such as those containing essential amino acids) has been shown to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Additionally, nettles contain a mix of carbohydrate and protein (higher than most plants and grains), making them the perfect snack for both endurance and resistance exercise. For endurance exercise when recovery time is limited (e.g. a triathlon where activities follow one after another), the combination of carbohydrates with protein has been shown to optimize glycogen (i.e. energy storage) replenishment. As for strength training, consuming a protein/carbohydrate combination has been shown to increase muscle glycogen, lessen muscle damage, and facilitate greater training adaptation than just protein or carbohydrate alone.[6]  Because of their nutrient-dense composition that supports post-exercise recovery, incorporating nettles in your post-workout snack can be a useful tool in optimizing your training program.

Emily Bridges, MS, RD

[1] Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance [published correction appears in J Am Diet Assoc. 2013 Dec;113(12):1759]. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(3):509-527. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.01.005

[2] Smith-Ryan AE, Hirsch KR, Saylor HE, Gould LM, Blue MNM. Nutritional Considerations and Strategies to Facilitate Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation. J Athl Train. 2020;55(9):918-930. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-550-19

[3] Shonte TT, Duodu KG, de Kock HL. Effect of drying methods on chemical composition and antioxidant activity of underutilized stinging nettle leaves. Heliyon. 2020;6(5):e03938. Published 2020 May 23. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03938

[4] Rutto LK, Xu Y, Ramirez E, Brandt M. Mineral Properties and Dietary Value of Raw and Processed Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.). Int J Food Sci. 2013;2013:857120. doi:10.1155/2013/857120

[5] Adhikari BM, Bajracharya A, Shrestha AK. Comparison of nutritional properties of Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) flour with wheat and barley flours. Food Sci Nutr. 2015;4(1):119-124. Published 2015 Aug 7. doi:10.1002/fsn3.259

[6] Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4

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