Cranberries: The Secret to Boosting Athletic Performance

A new study by researchers at Concordia University has found that cranberries, a common fruit, can give competitive athletes the extra edge they need to improve their performance. The study, published in the journal Physical Activity and Nutrition, involved a series of trials with trained distance runners.

The researchers discovered that consuming a cranberry supplement for 28 consecutive days led to notable improvements in both performance and muscle fatigue after running 1,500-metre time trials. The athletes experienced faster reoxygenation rates and a 1.5 percent increase in running speeds.

“When it comes to elite athletes, any advantage can make the difference between finishing fifth or on the podium,” said Andreas Bergdahl, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and the paper’s senior author.

The study recruited 14 high-level runners who performed two time trials over three separate visits. The first visit served as a baseline, while during the second visit, the athletes were given a single large dose of cranberry extract two hours before running. For the next 28 days, the athletes consumed a small daily dose of cranberry extract before repeating the runs for a third time.

The researchers measured the athletes’ post-exercise blood lactate levels, a marker for potential muscle fatigue and lack of oxygen, and used a portable near-infrared spectroscopy device to measure muscle oxygenation levels before, during, and after their runs.

The results showed that 28 days of cranberry extract consumption led to a trend toward increased speed in the 1,500-metre time trial and reduced lactate buildup following the 400-metre run. The data also indicated that the cranberry extract promoted better oxygen extraction by the muscle, improved lactate clearance, and slower muscle deoxygenation.

Cranberries, which are rich in polyphenols, a natural compound with antioxidant properties, can help protect the body from the harmful effects of free radical molecules produced by strenuous exercise. Quebec, which produces roughly 60 percent of Canada’s cranberry yield, is a major producer of this runner’s best friend.

“The beauty of this is that it is all natural,” said Bergdahl. “It is an ergogenic aid, meaning that it is performance-enhancing, but it is not an anabolic steroid. Athletes can get this important boost in their performance just by consuming more cranberries.”

Read the cited paper: “Cranberry supplementation improves physiological markers of performance in trained runners.”

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