This popular summer fruit can help you recover after a workout

If there's one fruit that screams summer it's watermelon.

There’s nothing like biting into a juicy watermelon on a hot summer day. But watermelons are more than just a sweet summer treat. Watermelon is full of nutrients that your body needs all year round!

True to their name, watermelons are rich in water and hydrating electrolytes. They also contain the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to heart health. They even have some protein and a noteworthy amino acid that might reduce muscle soreness.

Watermelon nutrition facts

One cup of watermelon has:

  • 46 calories

  • 1 gram protein

  • 0 grams fat

  • 12 grams carbohydrates

  • 1 gram fiber

  • 12 milligrams Vitamin C (13% daily value (DV))

Watermelon health benefits

One of the most beneficial properties of watermelon is not listed on most food labels — it has more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that has been studied for its role in lowering blood pressure, preventing certain types of cancer and contributing to glowing skin.

A meta-analyses of current research found that supplementing your diet with 12 milligrams of lycopene per day may reduce systolic blood pressure. While there’s no recommended daily value for lycopene — that's why it's not on food labels — a 2-cup serving of watermelon has 12.7 milligrams of lycopene, the amount found to be ideal. Moreover, a randomized controlled trial of 40 participants with prehypertension and hypertension showed that taking a watermelon substitute extract for six weeks reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Due to its ability to fight inflammation, a marker of cancer, lycopene has also been examined for its role in reducing cancer risk. The research in this field is limited, but observational studies have found a link between higher lycopene circulating in the blood and lower incidences of prostate cancer.

Another observational study of over 80,000 women found an inverse association between lycopene intake and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. While the National Cancer Institute acknowledges this field of study is promising, there isn’t enough current research to determine whether lycopene can prevent or treat prostate cancer.

Lastly, you may notice that lycopene is an ingredient in your favorite skin cream, and that’s no coincidence. Research suggests this antioxidant may protect the skin from harmful UV light.

Looking beyond lycopene, watermelon has another benefit that in its name — it’s made up of 92% water. Water is essential for life and plays a key role in many bodily processes, like temperature regulation and organ function. Eating watermelon can contribute to overall hydration. Watermelon is also a top-notch snack for athletes, since it has carbohydrates for energy, as well as potassium, an important electrolyte lost in sweat.

Is watermelon high in sugar?

If you’re worried about the sugar content in watermelon, don’t be. One cup only has 9 grams, which is less than some other fruit, and natural sugar is not cause for concern. As a matter of fact, the natural sugar found in fruit provides energy for normal bodily functions, like brain and organ function, as well as exercise. Plus, the other nutrients in watermelon make it a healthy part of the diet, unlike foods that have a lot of added sugar and are devoid of other nutrients.

The only concern regarding sugar is that watermelon is high in fructose, a sugar that triggers gastrointestinal symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This juicy melon is on the high FODMAP list, so it might be best to avoid it if you are living with IBS.

Fun facts about watermelon

In case all the lycopene isn't enough to convince you, these are so many more reasons to add watermelon to your grocery list.

Watermelon juice may reduce muscle soreness

One hundred percent watermelon juice contains copious amounts of the amino acid l-citrulline, which is being studied for its ability to reduce muscle soreness after a workout. A small study of seven athletes who supplemented with watermelon juice found that it decreased their muscle soreness and lowered their recovery heart rate for the 24 hours following a workout. A recent meta-analysis suggests that l-citrulline also increases blood levels of nitric oxide — a vasodilator that helps the working muscles get oxygen faster and reduces time to fatigue. The study authors also state that ingesting l-citrulline one hour before exercise reduces perceived effort and muscle soreness.

You can eat the rind

There’s no need to toss the juicy melon’s vibrant green rind. Believe it or not, the watermelon rind is 100% edible. It doesn’t have the same sweet taste as the pink melon, but it goes really well in savory dishes. Cut off the outer tough green skin and set aside the white part of the melon. Use it to make pickles, throw it into a stir fry or soup or roast it with other vegetables.

A yellow spot means it’s ripe

Since most watermelons look and feel similar on the outside, it’s difficult to tell which one is ripe. Your best bet is to look for a yellow spot among the green skin. This is also known as the “ground spot” or the part of the watermelon that sat on the ground while the fruit ripened in the sun. You can also hold two similar size watermelons and see which feels heavier. Since the watermelon is mostly water, the one that feels heavier is ripest.

Healthy watermelon recipes

The mouthwatering juicy summer fruit adds a brightness to basically any dish. It's a great seasonal addition to salads, blends into a delicious juice for cocktails and makes a cool, hydrating dessert. Here are some simple sweet and savory ways to use watermelon:

Sesame-Lime Watermelon 'Poke' Bowl by Joy Bauer

Tomato and Watermelon Salad by Jessica B. Harris

Summertime Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad by Pati Jinich

Pearl Couscous Watermelon Salad with Herb Vinaigrette by Will Coleman

Grilled Watermelon Gazpacho by Elizabeth Heiskell

Watermelon Caprese by Nino Coniglio

Watermelon Rum Punch by Katie Lee Biegel

Frozen Watermelon Mojito by Elizabeth Heiskell

Boozy Watermelon Popsicles by Thumbtack

Joy Bauer's Watermelon Dessert 'Pizza' by Joy Bauer

Watermelon Rosé Granita by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

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