Issue 204

April 2024

You probably don’t eat bitter food, but it is the flavor associated with the most health benefits that will accelerate your fight recovery faster than any other taste. 

By Ray Klerck

Bitter. It’s more yuck than yum. You probably haven’t eaten many bitter foods in quite some time. It might be linked to the taste of a poison, but avoiding bitter flavors may also shortchange your health and recovery. Bitter foods are among the world’s healthiest, connected to improved heart and lung function. New research in the journal Biomolecules found that bitterness is usually thanks to polyphenol antioxidants. These prevent cardiovascular disease, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation. The more polyphenols there are, the bitterer the food tastes, and the better things get for your training recovery. Here’s why embracing this flavor is the thinking fighter’s way to recuperate from a demanding training session and how to implement it into your weekly food plan in the best-tasting ways possible.


Bitter vegetables are a master at photosynthesizing inner stomach health, according to a Journal of Functional Foods paper. Broccoli in the diet helps tolerate more digestive issues such as leaky gut and colitis. These benefits extend to all bitter-tasting cruciferous veggies, such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. These foods regulate your stomach’s reaction to environmental contaminants, fight toxin exposure, and lower inflammation. 


You are not what you eat. You are what you absorb. Research in the journal Nutricion Hospitalaria found that the more inulin you have, the better your digestion and bowel function. Inulin-rich foods can help control diabetes, improve digestion, and promote weight loss. The richest source of inulin is chicory root, followed by artichokes, garlic, raw asparagus, and barley. Aside from the garlic, you’re unlikely to have eaten these in the last week. If you feel bloated, it's usually the absence, rather than the presence, of certain foods that make you feel more bloated than a blind bullfrog at a ping pong ball buffet. Bitter foods put a pin in this feeling. 


Protein is vital for recovery, and the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine guide the recuperation process and muscle growth. Of these, leucine is the G.O.A.T of GOATs. It and all the other BCAAs have a bitter flavor that makes you spit, even if your BCCA supplement tastes like tropical fruit punch. Leucine is the biggest contributor to muscle growth, according to a paper in Sports Medicine. It is by far the most anabolic of all amino acids, making it the hardest-working amino in every weight room. Without it, you’d never recover. Why can’t you taste it? Most proteins have additional taste profiles that counterbalance the palate sensation. 


Walnuts are the bitterest of nuts, largely thanks to their preposterously high antioxidant content. Research published in Nutrients found that foods with the highest melatonin levels often tasted bitterest. These were foods such as the skin of grapes, black rice, wild mushrooms, mustard seeds, and cacao. If you’re committed to being a boss at building muscle, burning fat, and having a high fight IQ, bitter foods give your body the sleep it needs to deliver.


Without enough vitamin D, you will only absorb 10-15% of the calcium you eat, so for solid bones, you want to eat these together. Not all vitamin D-containing foods - such as fatty fish, egg yolks, or red meat – taste bad. However, those with the highest concentrations have the most robust bitter undertones. These include broccoli, beef liver, and mushrooms. It’s best to pair these with high-calcium foods. These include the likes of sesame seeds, dairy, and leafy greens. A 3-egg omelet with cheese, sesame seeds, and spinach may be the healthiest thing you can do for strong bones. 


Bitterness is a taste present for many reasons. Firstly, something that is poisonous is also likely to taste bitter, and this is a fail-safe put in place to ensure you’re not super keen to eat something that’ll kill you. Much of the bitterness is a plant’s way of protecting itself against predators. Nature doesn’t like to make things easy because bitterness is often linked to nutrient density. Foods with high calcium levels, phytonutrients, and antioxidants are almost always very bitter. You aren’t hardwired to eat them because foods have changed over the years, and bitterness is less common than it used to be. They hold beneficial compounds used extensively in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to aid digestion, reduce food cravings, detox your liver, and help with weight loss. This is a long line of benefits that are not always fully understood but will improve your health, and if that’s a bitter pill to swallow, then it’s one worth pinching your nose for.


Fortunately, you can condition yourself to love bitterness, especially when considering how healthy plants can be for your ability to recover from training. You get used to the flavor the way a coffee drinker loves their brew at full strength via repeated exposure, but you can prep food to make this flavor more palatable. 

1. Roast

This can convert some carbs to sugars, making them seem naturally sweeter. Drizzle with high-quality olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast until slightly crunchy. 

2. Add fat

Everything tastes better with fats. Thanks to fat, the A, D, E, and K vitamins will be better absorbed in your bitter food. Drizzle bitter veggies with a bit of olive oil or grass-fed butter. You will never go back to dry and bland veggies again. 

3. Season correctly

Spices don’t have to overpower the bitter food's flavor, but they can enhance the tones you find more enjoyable. Elements such as garlic, chili, and ginger have the right notes to improve bitter foods. 

4. Add sweetener

Bitterness has a culinary counterpart: sweetness. Take the case of the green smoothie. They’re usually full of kale, so the natural counterbalance is something like pineapple and mango, which will complement the bitter flavors and give it a richer flavor. 


These are some of the highest-performing bitter foods every fighter should have daily. 

1. Coffee

With a taste pedigree that spawned a million baristas, coffee is unquestionably the god of bitter foods, especially when drunk without extras. Drinking 2-3 cups daily has even been shown to help people live longer. 

2. Walnuts

This is an antioxidant powerhouse rich in omega 3’s, will improve your gut health, and may even decrease inflammation. 

3. Cruciferous vegetables

You pushed them aside in your youth, but you can’t argue with their ability to fight cancer, inflammation, and bone health. 

4. Cacao

It can keep your heart healthy, reduce cholesterol, and even protect your skin from sun damage. 

5. Dark leafy greens

The spinach, chard, and kale of this world are hot on the lips of every health nut for good reason. They offer all the nutrients essential to a long, healthy life, and you should eat at least two servings daily.