The recent rise in plant-based eating may have you reaching for nutritional yeast to obtain a nutrient boost. Also known as “nooch,” nutritional yeast has been a long-time staple in the vegan diet, which provides a plant-based substitute for cheese while offering a salty, umami flavor profile.
But this nutrient powerhouse can be beneficial for all athletes, not just vegans. Here’s what you need to know before you go sprinkling nutritional yeast on everything.
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What Is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is made by a cultured strain of yeast (S. cerevisiae), which is grown on molasses. This is not to be confused with baker’s yeast (used to bake bread), which is purchased alive, then deactivated (or killed) during the cooking process. Nutritional yeast is deactivated, pasteurized, dried, and later fortified with B vitamins. In addition, beta-glucan—the soluble fiber found in nutritional yeast— boasts several health benefits.
“It’s a vegan-friendly and complete source of protein, providing all nine essential amino acids and 5 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons” Kumar says. Although there is variation between brands, one serving—2 tablespoons—of Bragg Nutritional Yeast contains the following:
- 40 calories
- 5 grams of protein
- 3 grams of carbohydrates
- 0 grams of sugar
- 2 grams of fiber
- 20 mg sodium
Nutritional yeast provides more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for many B vitamins, including thiamine (B1) at 520 percent, riboflavin (B2) at 480 percent, B6 at 420 percent, and B12 at 630 percent. It also provides minerals such as zinc, potassium, and manganese.
What Are the Nutritional Yeast Benefits for Runners?
1. It’s a B Vitamin Powerhouse
Runners following a vegan or vegetarian diet may fall short when it comes to B vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, which is normally found in animal products like meat, fish, and poultry. Nutritional yeast is a B vitamin powerhouse, providing anywhere between 200 to 600 percent of your daily needs.
“B vitamins are important for many aspects of running performance, including energy metabolism, immune function, and red blood cell health,” says Kumar.
In particular, a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue and increase the risk of anemia.
“With athletes needing potentially more B vitamins than the non-athlete, getting a food-based source should be top of mind,” Jennifer McDaniel, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, tells Runner’s World.
Research has shown that B-12 deficient vegan athletes who supplemented their daily diet with one tablespoon of nutritional yeast raised their B12 to acceptable levels.
2. It May Help Decrease Exercise-Induced Inflammation
Strenuous exercise results in a temporary increase in inflammation and markers of muscle damage (hello, soreness). Although more research is needed, yeast beta-glucan, the fiber found in nutritional yeast, may help with post-exercise inflammation. A recent study published in Nutrients examined the effects of two weeks of supplementation with yeast beta-glucan (250 mg per day) on exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation. The authors found decreased markers of inflammation in those who consumed the yeast- derived beta glucan compared to the placebo group after a prolonged treadmill run in the heat.
3. It May Help With Immunity
Marathon runners tend to report upper respiratory tract infections, due to “inhaling droplets, touching surfaces, and not eating or sleeping well [at or leading up to a race],” James Turner, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the University of Bath in the U.K., previously told Runner’s World.
And with the demands of life, (a.k.a.) stress, and the hours athletes put into training, supporting our immune system is of top importance, according to McDaniel, and the S. cerevisiae strain of yeast plays a role in supporting your immune system and also contains beta-glucans, a type of carbohydrate known to support the immune response.
Research has found immunity benefits (shortened duration and severity of cold symptoms) from the use of yeast beta-glucan supplements. A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that supplementation with yeast beta-glucan decreased the onset of upper respiratory tract infections in the four weeks following the 2007 Carlsbad marathon compared to a placebo.
Additionally, a newer study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that supplementation (45 days before a race, day of race, and 45 days after the race) with yeast beta-glucan incorporated into a dairy beverage decreased the severity of symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections following the 2017 Austin Marathon compared to a placebo.
And, another study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements reported a 37 percent reduction in cold and flu symptoms after a marathon. However, these studies used the supplement form of yeast beta-glucan, and further research is needed to determine whether these findings can be translatable to nutritional yeast.
How Much Should You Eat Per Day?
“As long as it’s tolerable to the gut, it appears to be safe to consume a few servings of nutritional yeast per day as a supplement to an overall healthy diet,” Kumar says. For example, individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s, or who are sensitive to products containing yeast should avoid consuming nutritional yeast.
How to Incorporate Nutritional Yeast into Your Diet
In addition to its nutritional qualities, “nooch” provides a flavorful alternative to cheese for vegans and individuals with a dairy intolerance.
“If you’re looking to add additional protein, zinc, and B-complex vitamins—including B-12—to your diet, try fortified nutritional yeast as a sub for parmesan cheese on avocado toast, salads, roasted veggies, and popcorn.” Kumar says.
McDaniel suggests folding nutritional yeast into smoothies, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, or muffin or pancake batter. You can even create a plant-based cheese sauce or a green goddess dressing, she says. The options are endless.
The Bottom Line: With its savory and cheesy flavor, nutritional yeast can be a nourishing addition to anyone’s diet. This plant-based option boasts potential health benefits for runners, including decreased inflammation, and immunity benefits. So go ahead and sprinkle away.
Kelly Pritchett is an Associate Professor in Nutrition and Exercise Science at Central Washington University. As a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, she has consulted with both elite and collegiate athletes as well as with active individuals. While in college, she competed on the swimming and diving team at the University of Alabama. Pritchett serves on the leadership committee of the Academy's Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group as the Education Coordinator, and served as a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Pritchett is an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine. She has authored research articles for scientific journals and presented at regional and national conferences. Her current research interests include post exercise nutrition for recovery, vitamin D and the athlete, and energy availability in spinal cord injured athletes. In her spare time, she enjoys running and spending time with her three active boys."