Legumes - Fill Up Your Plate

Abundance is not a word you’d often hear used when it comes to legume consumption. Don’t get me wrong – I like them and don’t eat them in large quantities. And according to a recent poll by Our World Data … the rest of you aren’t either. *Exception for any athletes living in Rwanda and Burundi whose population consume around 130 lbs a year (versus 7.5 lbs a year in the US); you all are killing it.  Beans and legumes suffer from a public relations problem. After reading through Fuelin athletes’ food logs in the app, I feel confident calling them the forgotten food regarding carb and protein consumption. For clarity in this post - Legumes are plants that bear fruit that grows in pods. Beans are the seed from different varieties of plants, although typically, the whole plant is referred to as beans. In other words: all beans are legumes, but legumes aren’t necessarily beans.

The Benefits

Let’s review the bountiful benefits of beans, shall we? Eating legumes can help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria. Athletes are often surprised to learn just how nutritious legumes are. They provide fiber, protein, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous. Legumes are naturally low in fat, are practically free of saturated fat, and because they are plant foods, they are cholesterol free as well.

I’d like to highlight a couple of benefits of training and performance. Beans are rich in folate, which is essential in red blood cell production and tissue repair. Folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) is a vitamin needed by several enzymes essential for DNA synthesis and amino acid metabolism. Inside Tracker has found many endurance athletes deficient in this B vitamin. Long-term, low levels of folate can impact heart health. “Strenuous physical activity can alter the status of folic acid, a vitamin directly associated with homocysteine (Hcy); alterations in this nutrient are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” [1] 

Another benefit of beans, they are high in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants fight the effects of free radicals. Prolonged exercise at 65-80% VO2 max increases the production of radicals in the contracting skeletal muscles. This exercise-induced radical production often results in oxidative damage to skeletal muscle fibers and contributes to muscle fatigue.” [2] Scott and I have spoken about the negative impact of supplementing with high-dose antioxidants; therefore, getting them naturally in your diet is ideal. 


And if you’re into sustainability (as we all should be), beans are a much more environmentally friendly food than meat. Raising cattle, pigs, and chickens uses 77% of the world’s agricultural land while only providing 37% of the global protein supply. The ratio is almost inverse for beans: Just 23% of the land is used to grow plants for human consumption, from which the world gets 63% of its protein. They are also more efficient at utilising global resources. Because plants can add nitrogen to the soil, they help improve soil health and act like a natural fertilizer. 

How to incorporate more beans/legumes into your diet? 

Best Beans:

Let’s start by listing a few of the healthiest and most mineral-rich beans:

chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans and navy beans. 

The Research: 

One study of more than 3000 people found that those with the highest intake of lentils and other legumes had the lowest rates of diabetes and atherosclerosis. [3] Peas are a particularly good source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for proper blood clotting and bone health. [4] Peas are also an excellent source of protein for both animal and plant-based athletes.  A study including 120 men who engaged in weight training for 12 weeks found that taking 50 grams of pea protein per day led to increased muscle thickness compared with a placebo [5] Afraid of soy… you shouldn’t be. A large study combining the results of 21 other studies found that eating high amounts of soybeans was associated with a 15% lower risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers. Soybeans’ effectiveness appears especially significant in women [6]. Research also suggests that taking isoflavone supplements during menopause may help reduce hot flashes and prevent loss of bone mineral density. [7] Last but not least – the good old black bean. Research has shown a variety of beans, especially black beans, enhance gut health by improving intestinal barrier function and increasing the number of beneficial bacteria. [8]

The Diet:

Mix Beans Into Breakfast - Add hummus made with chickpeas to an egg sandwich or avocado toast. Eggs, black beans, guacamole and salsa also make an excellent combo for a savory morning!

Put Them in Pasta - Add white beans to pesto pasta or tomato sauce.

Stir Them Into Soup - Beans are a great addition to any soup, from chicken noodles to chilli. Add your favourite type of bean to your next batch.

Spread on Sandwiches - Hummus tastes excellent and is easy to add to any food, especially sandwiches. It’s a great substitution for mayo or other high-calorie spreads.

Top Your Salad with Beans - Try topping your salad with chickpeas, black or kidney beans or edamame. You also can make a blended white bean dressing.

Roast Beans for a Delicious Snack - Roasted chickpeas are a low-calorie option to eat alone or add to your trail mix.



[1] Molina-López J, Molina JM, Chirosa LJ, Florea DI, Sáez L, Planells E. Effect of folic acid supplementation on homocysteine concentration and association with training in handball players. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Feb 21;10(1):10. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-10. PMID: 23432819; PMCID: PMC3605276.

[2] Powers, S.K., and M.J. Jackson (2008). Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiol. Rev. 88:1243-1276

[3] Becerra-Tomás N, Díaz-López A, Rosique-Esteban N, Ros E, Buil-Cosiales P, Corella D, Estruch R, Fitó M, Serra-Majem L, Arós F, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Fiol M, Santos-Lozano JM, Díez-Espino J, Portoles O, Salas-Salvadó J; PREDIMED Study Investigators. Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in adults: A prospective assessment from the PREDIMED study. Clin Nutr. 2018 Jun;37(3):906-913. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2017.03.015. Epub 2017 Mar 24. PMID: 28392166.

[4] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/#ref

[5] Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, Guérin-Deremaux L, Saniez MH, Lefranc-Millot C, Allaert FA. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jan 21;12(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0064-5. PMID: 25628520; PMCID: PMC4307635.

[6] Lu D, Pan C, Ye C, Duan H, Xu F, Yin L, Tian W, Zhang S. Meta-analysis of Soy Consumption and Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk. Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 22;7(1):4048. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-03692-y. PMID: 28642459; PMCID: PMC5481399.

[7] Chen LR, Ko NY, Chen KH. Isoflavone Supplements for Menopausal Women: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 4;11(11):2649. doi: 10.3390/nu11112649. PMID: 31689947; PMCID: PMC6893524.

[8] Monk JM, Lepp D, Wu W, Pauls KP, Robinson LE, Power KA. Navy and black bean supplementation primes the colonic mucosal microenvironment to improve gut health. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Nov;49:89-100. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.08.002. Epub 2017 Aug 10. PMID: 28915390.

May 6, 2024
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