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Polyphenol supplements for recovery
Following preparation for competition or performance, one of the biggest areas that elite athletes try to maximise is recovery. We are seeing more and more football fixtures placed mid-week, we have the rugby world cup currently being played where the winner would have played 7 fixtures in less than 30 days and the 21-day tour only has 1 rest day in the middle of the ruthless endurance event. Effective and efficient recovery is critical to success.
Nutritionally, one candidate that has received lots of attention in recent years are food compounds called polyphenols.
Polyphenols are micronutrients which are typically found in plant-based foods like mixed berries and dark chocolate. Much of the research performed within the sport science arena has focused on Montmorency tart cherries, with purported positive effects on muscle soreness, and muscle function being shown in laboratory football simulation trials (1), marathon running (2) and lower body strength exercise (3). Interestingly however, these studies asked participants to refrain from consuming diets that
contained polyphenol rich foods leading into each intervention study. Although this maybe relevant for laboratory-controlled studies, asking athletes to refrain from consuming polyphenol rich foods in the real world is not a common nutritional strategy for any practitioner.
With this in mind, recent studies outside the laboratory and in the applied world, have performed similar intervention studies but this time allowing athletes to consume normal habitual diets leading into the study period. In particular, following a professional soccer match (4), researchers report no effect on muscle function loss or muscles soreness when consuming tart cherry juice when compared to an isocaloric cherry flavoured control drink.
The same university also wanted to test the effects of cherry gel supplementation in contact sport athletes (5) and so they asked professional rugby union players to consume either tart cherry juice or an isocaloric cherry-flavoured control gel two days before, the day of and two days following an 80 min match. As expected, muscle soreness was elevated after the match however there was no different between each gel group. In summary, when administered in the real-world environment, tart cherry juice does not reduce soreness or alter wellbeing in professional rugby or football players.
Is it time to stop spending money on relatively expensive supplements and come back to a food first approach with our athletes? A simple mixed berry and dark chocolate milk smoothie should be just as good!