Loving the BITE: Pesto for the Big Ride or Recovery
Who here wants to reduce fatigue and inflammation, optimize blood flow, and stay healthy this season? Yes, please. And, who wants some pesto? Yes, pretty please. Well, it must be your lucky day, because here at Loving the Bike, we’re about to make it all happen.
Recipe of the week: Simple Fresh Basil Pesto
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves*
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (or substitute sunflower seeds)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated**
Place basil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, and lemon peel in a food processor or blender, and process until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Process until fully incorporated and smooth. If desired, add salt and pepper to taste. If serving immediately, add remaining oil and mix until smooth. Top with cheese. If allowing to set, refrigerate and add remaining oil and cheese when ready to serve. Or, if freezing, transfer to container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese. (Freeze in ice-cube tray to form perfect sized servings to add to foods later). *No basil? Use spinach instead! **Want to keep it dairy-free? Parmesan mostly adds texture and a salty flavor, so simply omit and salt/pepper to taste.
- The night before a “big” ride or race, try whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or sourdough bread with chicken and pesto. It will provide long-lasting carbs, protein, super-nutrients from basil, and healthy fats.
- On a long ride, try these for whole food fuel: Split 1 whole pita bread into 2 rounds. Sprinkle 3 Tbsp pesto and 3 Tbsp parmesan cheese onto one round. Top with other round. Bake at 350 deg F for 10-12 minutes and cut into 6 wedges. Eat 3 wedges while stopped and fueling up on ride (15-20 grams carbs).
- Recovery: Try a sourdough pesto chicken sandwich or leftover Pesto Chicken Pasta (from #1). It will hit the spot with carbs, protein, and sodium. Make sure to drink a tall glass of water on the side.
As one of my favorite flavors, basil is in high demand in my kitchen. But, it’s more than just great taste. Fresh basil provides:
Reduced inflammation and oxidative stress: Basil’s flavonoids, especially orientin and vicenin, are phytonutrients that protect cell structures from radiation and oxygen-based damage (free radicals/oxidative stress). And eugenol, one of basil’s volatile oils, works to block the inflammatory activity of an enzyme (cyclooxygenase) in the body. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, also work to block this enzyme. Remember, this not only has implications for inflammatory conditions like arthritis, but also fatigue in endurance athletes.
Blood flow: Want good blood flow while you pedal your bike up that next climb? Get some vitamin A and magnesium from basil. Like other dark leafy greens such as spinach, basil offers a good source of beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor). Beta-carotene is a strong antioxidant that protects arteries and many cells from free radical damage while reducing the oxidation of cholesterol (oxidation allow cholesterol to form plagues in artery walls). By eating your leafy greens, you can keep your artery walls strong and clear of plagues. Then, the magnesium in basil prompts muscles and blood vessels to relax, which improves blood flow out of the heart and throughout the body.
Bacteria Protection:If you’d rather be riding your bike than in bed with food poisoning, try basil as an antibacterial tool. Basil’s specific volatile oils have anti-bacterial properties that can restrict the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O:157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. What’s more, these oils from basil leaves may have a role against bacteria that’s become resistant to antibiotics. In fact, a 2004 study showed that washing produce in solution containing either basil or thyme essential oil, even at just a 1% solution, resulted in dropping the number of Shigella below the point at which it could be detected. Two applications possible are to 1) add a basil essential oil solution to your produce-washing regimen and 2) add fresh basil to foods that may potentially pose a risk such as fresh salads, fresh fruits and meats (such as pesto on top of chicken).
Bonus Recipe: Oh-So-Fresh Lemon Basil Smoothie
Place 1 cup plain yogurt, ½-1 cup fresh basil leaves, Zest from one lemon (~2-3 Tbsp), 1 cup berries, ½ cup water, and 1-2 tsp organic honey in a blender. Process until smooth. Add ice and process until at desired consistency.
More basil options than you can shake a stick at. For a healthy, high-energy, low-inflammation cyclist, it’s just the way it should be.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.