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Antioxidants: fantastic for your fitness

It’s that time of year when many of us reflect on the year that’s been and look forwards to the next, resolving to improve our health and boost activity.  If you’re thinking of starting a new fitness regime or simply want to maximise your winter workout, check out your local health store for some unexpected health helpers.

Beetroot

  • Beetroot has been used by those wanting to maintain good athletic performance. It can be used in its wholefood form, as a juice or a supplement.  Beetroot is believed to increase levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which improves blood flow and increases the efficiency of mitochondria – the powerhouses in our cells, as well as strengthening muscle contractions.  Research has shown us that beetroot might help sport and fitness in these ways:
  • faster times
  • increased work rate
  • extended time to exhaustion
  • higher peak power.

Several studies suggest that as little as one glass of beetroot juice may help maintain healthy muscles before, during and after exercise.

Blackcurrants

In other research, berries have shown positive effects on endurance and recovery. The polyphenol ‘anthocyanin’ found in high levels in blackcurrants and particularly New Zealand blackcurrants may help to maintain a healthy heart, manage inflammation and reduce oxidative stress following physical activity. Studies have been performed on amateur and elite athletes suggesting benefits for both groups. Most studies have focused on concentrated supplement sources of blackcurrant rather than wholefood berries which are likely to have a more modest effect. 

Cherries

Similarly, tart cherry juice also contains anthocyanins and may have comparable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Bing cherries are thought to reduce uric acid, associated with arthritic pain and C-reactive protein, a marker of excessive inflammation in the body. Studies have included research on wholefood, juices and powders which can be incorporated into pre- and post-training recovery drinks and snacks for maximum benefit. Further benefits also associated with cherries include helping with sleep quality and quantity attributed to the presence of melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep.   

There is some conflicting research into anthocyanins and sports performance. However, they are generally considered to have anti-microbial properties which may support the immune system and good general health to keep you in tip top shape this winter. Research suggests that it may be beneficial to combine the benefits of wholefoods, juices and supplements as part of a training regime, rather than relying solely on supplementation. Use powders and concentrated extracts at times when consumption of wholefoods is less desirable e.g. prior to a race or heavy training session.

The concentrated effect of supplements may mean that caution is required if used in conjunction with some medications. Always read the small print and if in doubt, seek the advice or a qualified Nutritional Therapist or medical professional. 

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Written by
Kim Cowan

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