BAGS of watercress are being given away for free to fitness fanatics at gyms as a healthy and cheaper alternative to protein shakes.

The superfood is packed full of vitamins, nutrients and minerals and scientific research has shown it can aid recovery after exercise.

Now the Dorset-based Watercress Company has installed fridges filled with bags of the salad in the foyer areas of gyms for users to grab for free.

Consumers can either eat it straight out of the bag or blended into a smoothie and it’s hoped the scheme will turn people away from man-made supplements in favour of more natural alternatives.

The Watercress Company is taking the huge fridge to four gyms across Dorset but hope the ‘grab-a-bag’ stations will eventually be rolled out nationwide. The company, that is the leading grower and supplier of watercress to UK supermarkets, hope to introduce the plant to a new generation of consumers.

James Harper, commercial manager of The Watercress Company, said: “Watercress is a total powerhouse and is at its healthiest best when eaten raw. It’s fabulous in a smoothie after a work-out or just eaten fresh out of the bag.

“Our grab-a-bag station will give people the chance to experiment. What we are hoping to do is to introduce watercress as a training and health food. It is stacked full of healthy vitamins and naturally repairs the damage you do to your body through exercise extremely quickly.

“It works similarly to these gym drinks you see in the shops but is completely natural and much better for you. Watercress is an incredibly powerful food but millennial and generation x don’t seem to know about all its benefits.

“We’re hoping by giving away free bags it will encourage people to go out and buy what is a really beneficial food. At the moment we have one fridge and one gym with another three lined up in the coming weeks.

“How big this could become is very open ended but we believe it could be a national project with thousands of bags being given away.”

“This is just the beginning, we have the stock it’s now a case of getting it out there and letting people know about how good watercress is.”

In the first day of the initiative 130 bags were taken from Anytime Fitness gym in Dorchester.

Watercress is ideal for physical activity and sport as it contains over 50 vital vitamins and minerals.

Gram for gram, it contains more calcium than milk; more folate than banana; more Vitamin C than oranges and more Vitamin E than broccoli. It is also high in fibre and rich in iron.

The plant is unique in that it is grown in flowing spring water and is most commonly found in southern counties like Hampshire and Dorset.

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