What foods pack the biggest protein and antioxidant 1-2 punch? Eggs and meat come to mind first for high-quality protein sources. As for antioxidants, I think of dark berries, such as blueberries, goji berries and blackberries. But, I would be wrong in both cases.
One of the most nutrient-dense, powerful foods on the planet is algae. The two forms with the largest health benefits are spirulina (a freshwater, blue-green algae) and chlorella (a green algae).
What are they?
Let’s start with chlorella. It contains over 40 nutrients, including potassium, all of the B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and iron, and 18 amino acids, known as the “building blocks of protein.” In fact, chlorella contains the largest spectrum of amino acids of any food and the highest concentration of protein – 60%.
Spirulina also packs a powerful nutrient punch. It’s the richest source of antioxidants and vitamin A, and the most concentrated source of protein on the planet. You’ll also find almost 50-times more iron in spirulina than raw spinach.
Now, I’m not a plant-based eater (a topic for another day.) But I can get on board with the principles behind eating algae. A quick glance at its health benefits and you’ll see why its worth exploring.
So that’s what I did. I went to the makers of one of the best algae products on the market, called ENERGYbits, and tried them out. I’ve heard a lot about them over the past couple years from prominent athletes, coaches and health experts. (The list of athletes using ENERGYbits is impressive.) But, I wanted to see for myself.
There are several different products, but I tried the ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits a few weeks ago. Once I used a serving (30 pieces) post-workout, the other pre-workout.
My morning schedule was tight one morning, an early business meeting after my regular morning swim. I needed something to hold me over because I didn’t have time to make my normal eggs and sauteed vegetables for breakfast. Aside from making sure I cleaned my teeth before my meeting (the bits do leave a green color in your mouth that fades after drinking water), they were very convenient. The test was how I felt for my afternoon workout a few hours later. The verdict? I felt great. Now you might be thinking this was just a placebo effect. Maybe. But, I did feel energized, which says something.
I felt similar heightened energy levels and alertness when I used the bits immediately before a session.
There are some pros and cons to ENERGYbits. I already mentioned the green tinge that’s left in your mouth after you eat them. Sure it fades with a sip of water. But, for someone on-the-go with a client, for example, these might not be the best choice. They are also a little on the expensive side.
At the same time, because they are small, they’re super convenient and they pack a major nutrient profile. Also, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking for a great plant-based fatty acid source, this is it. Algae is also at the bottom of the food chain, so you don’t run into some of the concerns about toxins that accumulate in higher-level food chain sources. It’s also important to note the primary type of fatty acid, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). GLA is a precursor for compounds in the body that reduce inflammation and blood pressure. And because there is overlap in the biochemical processes in the body that use GLA (an omega-6 fatty acid) and omega-3 fatty acids (like DHA and EPA found is fish, for example), there is benefit to consuming algae if you aren’t eating cold-water fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
I want to mention one interesting potential for algae. One of the many hats I wear is in global health and international development. I’ve spent several years working for several organizations on food systems, food policy and nutrition issues. And while many in the U.S. and other developed countries look to algae as a “superfood,” for some it might be life-saving food. Experts see huge potential to support farmers and combat malnutrition, which affects more than 800 million people around the world.
Have you tried ENERGYbits? I’d love to hear your experience of how you’re using them and their benefits to your health and performance. Please share in the comments below.
Note: I did not receive any financial compensation from ENERGYbits for writing this article.