26th August 2015
I am sceptical about sports supplements – most have little solid evidence to back their claims – but I must admit to being more than a little intrigued by the new generation of food-based performance-enhancing supplements.
I wrote in a recent post how antioxidant supplements (namely vitamins C and E) can hamper your training efforts and prevent the very adaptations that athletes are seeking. Some of my clients have since asked whether antioxidant rich foods eaten after training will have a similar recovery-hindering effect.
The quick answer is no. Antioxidants in food are found in much lower amounts than in supplements and experts say these have a protective effect. Foods (such as blueberries, raspberries and cherries) also contain a variety of antioxidants that work together in tandem, rather than giving an unnaturally high dose of one nutrient. The latest research suggests that consuming antioxidant-rich foods before or after an intense workout may help boost recovery. Here are four to try:
Blackcurrants have the highest concentration of anthocyanins of all fruits and could prove handy if you’re seeking quicker recovery after intense exercise. These powerful antioxidants appear to dilate blood vessels and increase oxygen delivery to the muscles, and there’s mounting evidence that they can improve aerobic performance and reduce muscle soreness. Blackcurants’ performance-enhancing properties were first discovered in 2009 when New Zealand researchers showed that blackcurrant extract reduced exercise-induced oxidative stress and muscle damage. More recent research at the University of Chichester has found that 7 days of supplementation with 300mg blackcurrant extract (“CurraNZ”, available from www.healthcurrancy.co.uk ) improved performance in a series of repeated treadmill sprints and also improved lactate clearance (i.e. hastened muscle recovery) after exercise. A further study showed that blackcurrant supplementation improved 16.1km time trial cycling performance by an average of 2.4%. Other benefits include increased lactate tolerance (thus allowing you to train at higher intensities), reduced muscle damage and soreness (DOMS) and enhanced immunity.
Montmorency cherry juice is another supplement that may improve your recovery. Researchers at London South Bank University gave 10 athletes 30ml of tart cherry juice concentrate (provided by CherryActive) twice daily for seven days prior to and two days after an intense strength training regimen. The researchers found that the athletes’ muscle recovery after the cherry juice concentrate was significantly faster compared to a placebo. It is thought that the antioxidant flavanoid compounds in the cherry juice may well have reduced the oxidative damage to muscles, which normally occurs when muscles are worked to their max – allowing the muscles to recover more quickly. Another study in runners found that consuming cherry juice before and after a marathon improved muscle recovery and reduced inflammation. And a 2014 study demonstrated that cyclists who consumed cherry juice had less muscle damage and inflammation following high intensity cycling.
If you’re looking to increase endurance, beetroot juice could help give you the edge. It’s a rich source of nitrates, which are converted in the body to nitric oxide that dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow, both important factors for exercise performance. It allows you to perform at a given workload for a longer period of time before fatigue sets in.
In a 2011 study, researchers at Exeter University found that cyclists given 500ml beetroot juice 2 ½ hours before a time trial race improved their performance by 2.8% in a 4km race and 2.7% in a 16.1km race. More recently, the same research team found that 7 days of beetroot juice supplementation enhanced repeated sprint performance and improved reaction times during intermittent exercise (designed to simulate team sports). Can’t stomach beetroot juice for 7 days? Then swig two 70ml ‘shots’ of concentrated beetroot juice (providing 600mg nitrate) 2 – 3 hours before exercise – another study suggests this could be the optimal acute dose.
Watermelon is a rich source of the amino acid citrulline, which the body converts to nitric oxide, and therefore has the potential to be a more palatable alternative to beetroot juice. The research carried out by the same team at Exeter University, is only in early stages but the results are promising. Ten cyclists who were given citrulline supplements for 7 days had increased power output and better performance in high intensity exercise tests compared with arginine supplements or placebo. The only problem?Watermelon juice contains about 2.3g citrulline per litre so you’d need to drink about 2.5l of juice to get the same effect as the 6g dose of citrulline used in this study. Perhaps manufacturers can come up with a watermelon concentrate, similar to beetroot juice shots, to get round this issue.
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Fully updated to reflect the latest research, Sports Supplements is packed with clear, reliable and unbiased advice that will help you maximise your athletic potential. Renowned sports nutritionist Anita Bean takes you through each supplement and explains what they are, how to use them and if they really work – as well as suggesting other alternatives.
Covering the most popular supplements on the market – from beetroot juice to creatine, caffeine to whey protein, this is the essential guide for anyone considering taking supplements.